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29 March 2017 | Last updated 01:21 AM
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'A poet has to find his tenor and timbre'
Manohar Shetty, in an email interview with Dibyajyoti Sarma, answers ‘What it means to be a poet in today’s chaotic time?’, ‘How poets should realise the importance of being contemporary’, his influences and the poets that he admires.
When people talk about your poetry, the first thing they mention is the animal imagery. How did you start with it? I’m sure the Panchatantra was not an influence.
No, the Panchatantra was not an influence, but perhaps the shadows of Ted Hughes and DH Lawrence were. Animals are a useful vehicle to comment on the human animal. Lately, I’ve been running out of creatures great and small. Perhaps I need to invent my own imaginary creatures.
Your poetry seems to be obsessed with spaces. Your first book was called A Guarded Space, and the new HarperCollins book is Living Room. There is also Domestic Creatures…
I don’t think I’m obsessed with ‘spaces’, only in terms of feeling constrained and locked-in. Oddly enough, poetry opens up the world. It’s like a safety valve.
I am guessing it has to do with how and where you live. Is this why you have two books called Personal Effects and Body Language?
I’m not much of a traveller, at least in physical terms. Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore — that’s my coastal territory and that’s big enough, though I spent two quite unhappy years working in
What does it mean to be a poet in a world that’s increasingly becoming chaotic?
People will continue to write poetry whether it ‘matters’ or not. It is a response to an inner compulsion and acts as an internal stabiliser. It freshens up language. And politically too, it has mattered. Think of Pablo Neruda, the poems of Dylan Thomas during World War II, of Paul Celan, Antonin Bartuzek, Nelly Sachs, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and so many others. I’m not a directly ‘political’ poet, but among my favourite poems is Politics by WB Yeats.
Publishers claim that poetry does not ‘sell’ in India, yet there seem to be more young poets than ever writing/performing poetry, thanks to the internet, among other outlets…
When I recently judged the Srinivas Rayaprol (Hyderabad) poetry contest, I was inundated with hundreds of entries even if the prize was quite modest. But, when 90 per cent of the entries could be discarded at first glance, the job was not as daunting as I supposed. Poets should realise the importance of being contemporary.
You mentioned about the importance of saying less in poetry. Can you tell us about your approach to poetry, and your inspirations, influences?
I mentioned it in the sense that poetry is about economy of expression, of beauty in brevity. My ‘influences’ have not really changed over the years — Ted Hughes, Thom Gunn, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Norman MacGaig and Richard Wilbur. In the recent times, I’ve admired the poetry of Simon Armitage. Influence is such a nebulous term. A poet has to find his own tenor and timbre.
What are you working on these days?
I’ve written several short stories over the years. I’m trying to put a collection together though I know publishers are not too keen on short story collections which seems rather odd in these times of alleged ‘dwindling attention spans’. By all accounts, this should be the age of poetry and short stories. But, outsized novel still prevails.
(Dibyajyoti Sarma is a poet and author based in Delhi. His recent book is a collection of poems, Pages from an Unfinished Anthology, published in 2014.)
The year 2014 was fruitful for Goa-based poet, Manohar Shetty. His new collection of poems, Living Room came out from HarperCollins, whereas all his animal poems found a new home in Creatures Great and Small, published by Delhi-based Copper Coin. Then, there was an anthology, Goa Travels which he edited for Rupa Publications.
So far, Shetty has seven collections of poems, including the classic Domestic Creatures (OUP, 1994) and Body Language (Poetrywala, 2012), and he has been featured in various anthologies. Among them, Shetty is especially proud of being part of The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.
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