Geetika Kohli Amla
Last year, I laid my hands on a fascinating book of poetry by Tishani Doshi, ‘Girls are Coming Out of the Woods’. The evocative poems and the strings of images therein continued to haunt me for days. The title poem became an echo I would sleep and wake up to. I knew instinctively, that I must read the poems aloud when alone. I did not think whether this would be an amplification of the verses. But when I read them aloud, I found myself repeating the exercise. I felt I needed to know more of the poet. I then came across Tishani’s performance of the title poem on YouTube. But unlike what I had imagined, this was not merely a recital. It was a dance recital. In the video, Tishani swayed gracefully on stage to a self-recorded version of the poem. With each recurrence of the phrase, ‘girls are coming out of the woods’ the poet-dancer’s movements communicated an even more arresting intensity. This performance, to me, I concluded, was beyond dance, beyond poetry. It felt like a language I have always known but never used to create any experience with.
My thoughts on this took me back to questions I have always had about performance poetry. While I enjoy composing and reciting pieces with a musicality inherent in their words and forms, and teach my poetry students to motion along with the words, I am not sure whether there is more to the performance that magnifies the art. Are there aesthetics that I overlook? For example, planning about whether one recites from memory, or reads from a diary, a piece of paper, or a phone, or a pad? Planning about wearing a particular thing or a certain colour? And working on the ambience?
I do not deny I imagine myself embodying characters and ideas from my poems. I picture myself transform into a prop for my poetry – paint on my face, tears trickling down my cheeks – my hair silver-powdery like the image of a galaxy – my arms unleashing frayed satins – and me, chanting a refrain, whispering two lines until silence perches on my lips. But I have never done so, really. I am unsure whether such manoeuvres would improve my poem and the delivery? More often than not it feels like debilitating the verse, adding an artificial limb to what I amputate myself. Why?
Further, the art that is the open-mic – I admire it for the life in it, the urgency, and the visceral offerings. But I just cannot ignore the guitarist in the background, lending tenderness and/or aggression to the spoken word – is the word not enough? And all the lighting and branding, and the calculated darkness, and the resounding cheering and finger-clicking – again, why? I almost ask the performer – did you mean to touch me? You know, I had been walking to you but I fell into a pothole!
What craft are these crutches? Instead of assuming that one is delivering to those intellectually handicapped or naïve, one must let the lines out into the Universe for the few who would grasp them – for those who would read them aloud, unaware of their amplifying the song – for those who would wear their eyes red for the unsettling shape of your letters – for those who would call it déjà vu.
Imagination is the augmentation – words conjuring images in the mind of the reader; rhyme compelling the reader to read it aloud, give it a tune. Adding lights, instruments and other such effects to a recital reduces the poem to a mood, a frame the listener’s mind cannot crawl into. Punctuation is the only cue your patrons need to follow. Some would find meaning, some would plant it.
Tishani’s movements, unlike being cues to the theme, are the theme – open to interpretation. Fluid, they are an abstraction independent of the poem, I feel. Is this why the poem and the dance have stayed with me?
I have made several paintings and sketches as afterthoughts of poems I wrote. I have used the lines and pictures together many times on my blog, books and otherwise. Though the art does not serve an explanation of the poetry, I am aware that when they appear together, they lead the reader to a connection, which may or may not be the connection. Does seeing the link spur the reader’s imagination? Does the picture then, augment my poem? And standalone, what are the two creations?
I once wrote: ‘Two poems were never a pair.’ May be I am right.