You Are Not Alone - A Letter

Woke up this morning and couldn’t stand my own writing or the person I have become as a poet and an artist. I wake up many mornings feeling this way. Drowning in a sea of no thank you’s and overdue bills, I am unable to bring myself to look at the words that I put on paper. I cannot write “droplets of water/trembling leaves,” I cannot write about love, and I cannot write a check that will not bounce. Lying awake into the morning, wondering why I cannot be any of the things that all about me are so comfortably, my questions bounce around within my being like footsteps in an empty apartment late at night. I lie awake many nights feeling this way and dread how I will feel when I rise the next morning. Why am I so powerless in the face of this obsessive urge in a world that seems to have abandoned art to an island of its own inhabitants?

Old Man by the Fireside by Paritosh Sen, 1968, Mixed media on Board

I recently wrote a post about poets who blog. I cannot express in words the admiration I have for people who choose to live the life of a poet even though I puzzle at why one would do so. It is like choosing a chronic and fatal illness. Those who are reading this and wondering what I am talking about are the lucky ones. The life of one who chooses to be a poet is one endless struggle, not just with words and a career, but also with why one must do what one must do. I saluted the poets that I wrote about in that post by doing something I have never done - using my own paintings and drawings as images for that post; as soon as I did so, I was seized with the urge to take them off. There will be some of you who will wonder – what does he mean?


To those of you who know what I mean, who know the pits of despair that look back at you from the page you are writing on, who know the lifeless apathy of the colors in your palette, my respects for your courage, your commitment and your choice to become “one of us.” You probably already know that there will be more downs than ups, more rejection than you can ever imagine without having gone through it. You also probably know by now that your compulsion to be an artist is more than just desire, it is a necessity. There is pertinence and urgency for each of us to communicate "something," and for – some will say - an unlucky few, that "some thing" is incommunicable or ineffable without a certain music attached. To me, that is a poet’s being.

I am not saying there is any importance to what this "thing" is or whether or not its communicating would (or should) be considered valuable or worthless. All I am saying is that some of us get stuck with a moving itch, which we can blame on shoddy wiring and chemicals in our brains, or follow late at night until we are hearing our lines as corresponding colors or oozing wounds. I don’t think either has more or less merit or is universally true or should be broken into such binaries. But for some of us there’s no option, it just is. It does not matter what people say about whether it has worth or not. The only thing that matters is whether you feel that what you have struggled to communicate is worth hearing.

If you are like me, you have known the hours spent in writing something that at the end of it you just select all of and hit delete, or tear the page out and crumple it over to the corner of the room. You have known all the things that you have said no to just in order to be able to say yes to your identity as a poet. You have known the miracles that have kept you alive just so that you could say what you have not been able to say as yet. You have known the days and weeks, months perhaps that go by without experiencing the satisfaction of having said anything worth saying. In my case, years have gone by and my muses, varied and weathered, have all but given up on me.

I do not know anything that can help another poet do what he or she must do. What I feel at the pit of my stomach has no measure and cannot be contained in seventeen syllables. I can only pass on the desperation with which those who have gone this way before you and me have lived each day, each hour of their lives. I can only invite you to write and speak until whatever it is gets said, and then repeat until obsession. Say it better until it feels like a memory to the reader, something they’ve always felt or known but had lost access to until then. You will be scoffed at for saying the same thing over and over, you will be ridiculed and branded, and people will try to avoid you. Yet, if you keep at it, they will know in their hearts even as they close the page they were reading, that what you said was what they needed to hear. In some senses, that is an indication that both the poet and the reader are on the right road.

The greatest obstacle that you will face is the dejection that comes from not being heard. You are not alone. This is the work of the devil, since poetry is not really about being able to be heard, it is about being able to speak. It is about being able to do justice to the gift of language, of words and of memories. It is the struggle to be able to speak with the full range of inflections that are contained in the sorrows and joys of existence. My dear friend, if you have chosen to walk this path, rejoice in just the walking and suffer the tribulations gladly for they teach you how to walk justly. It is nice to be heard, it is nice to hear people say that they liked what they heard, but being a poet is not about being heard; it is about attempting to speak, to let the voice, the word and the language do what it was destined to. In the process, if you find what makes its way to the surface worth hearing, that is all that matters.

If you heard me speak, leave a comment, share this on twitter, gplus, or your facebook wall and say what you mean. I know that I am not alone.

..............

Two must read pieces in this context - Ars Poetica by Archibald McLeish and Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. Google them if you have not already read them.

55 comments:

  1. Well, you must be in quite an emotional state of mind to have penned out in such a profound manner. I can understand quite a lot of the agony and the struggle that goes into writing...

    Very well written - but it pained me to read it as well. Hope the new Monday brings out lot of madness and cheer to you...

    You must never stop writing though:)

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    1. Oh!, this is not an indicator of my life state at any particular point in time. As far as trying to express myself through poetry and the written word goes, it is always this way. Thanks for your encouragement. I am perpetually in a state of madness and good cheer and have no plans to abandon writing.

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  2. Thank You so much for sharing the more difficult aspects of being a poet and writer. Any kind of writing is putting oneself out there, for the world to scrutinise and judge. The fear is not just that they will, but also that the won't. With every creative piece that one comes out with this cycle must be lived through.

    Knowing that one is not alone makes it easier to still forge ahead. I have always thought that having a writers' group to share experiences with would make it easier. Haven't been able to find one. What do you think? Would that help?

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    1. Thanks, Juggler. I am glad that it got across to you. Talking about a writers group or a support system for writers, in many ways, I see the discussions that follow posts as a support system. If you are thinking of a more brick-and-mortar group, pop right over and join us for a cup of tea, our doors are always open to those who use their gifts to make a difference to their times.

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    2. Tea would be lovely! I think I will take you up on that offer. You may have to endure some distractions alongside, though.

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    3. Distractions welcome. Will connect.

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  3. Anonymous10:10 PM

    Brilliant work kid. I felt another Nietzsche is shaping up but don't end up in mental asylum. May be your bad karma with people is effecting your life. Spice up man and set things straight. Hopefully you listen to my words and follow me. If it is hitting your individual goddamn ego escape it or else put this comment in your blog.

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous. This morning has been a downpour of "superlatives," in a number of unrelated realms, and I am smiling at the irony of the universe. A common error is to classify consequence as good or bad, favorable or unfavorable. All consequences are essential. To take it a step further than just the ownership of consequences, I would point out that the playing out of karma is a choice, and is driven by our commitment to either speeding it up or dragging it out for eternity.

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  4. All of art is about communication, Subho! And genuine art is about hanging out your own self for others to sit in judgment over. Painful enough a process but the artist's most ardent plea would be "Love me or Hate me, please do not ignore me". What is the point in communication if there is no one to listen?
    Yes, poets do face the brunt of being ignored far more than most. The elegance of poetry, the subtlety is takes some ability (and desire and time to savor) from the reader and, in this madly rushing world, there are lesser and lesser people who are able to do so. Poets, in truth, are patient servants of the muse, probably more than any other artist.
    We, humans, live in the islands of our minds amidst a crowd and what makes us lonely is the thought that our struggles are ours alone. This piece of yours has bridged the gap between islands and given solace to people who suffered the vagaries of their muse in isolation.

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    1. Suresh, your comment is so beautiful. Many of the great poets did not find recognition during their lifetimes. Many others were discovered after they were no more. One wonders how many great poets never get discovered. Yet, through all this, they never abandoned their commitment to their art. Though no one was listening, they continued to say what they needed to. That is the magic of a life of art.

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  5. Your piece reminded me of the saying, 'Mediocre poets become famous, the true ones commit suicide'..Living literature..can be one of the MOST taxing professions in the world..& wile it is associated with a lot of love & self satisfaction too..the inner churning makes one wonder if its all really worth it. Thanks for the piece.

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    1. Thanks, Maitreyee. My guess is that true poets don't really have a choice. They must live their art irrespective of the cost it entails.

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  6. Even scarier is having to comment on a tsunami of emotions. Always leaves me tongue-tied.

    Is it true, one has to suffer to be a poet?

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    1. For some, suffering leads to poetry. For others, poetry leads to suffering. The the rest, there are painkillers of various kinds. But at the end of it, suffering is a part of the human condition. The premise of all religious and philosophical thought is suffering. It is just that some are more sensitive to it, Purba.

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  7. Brilliant poets and shairs end up being bitter, frustrated souls for the reasons you point out. How does one force someone else to pause and appreciate beauty and elegance. Sometimes, I find it hard to decipher everything that the poet is trying to convey. Alas, all mortals are not equally gifted in partaking what is on offer. All crave appreciation, and creative people even more.

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    1. Not certain I agree with the "end up being bitter, frustrated souls," since the joy of being able to put out on paper what one has in one's heart surpasses most other pleasures on earth. The mission of being able to create resonance in the reader is not only a difficult one, but one that is linked to our universal interconnectedness. If I look at the work of Whitman, Auden, or Eliot, or Jibanananda or Harivansh Bacchan, (or even the more disturbed poetry of Brodsky or Celan) it appears to me that they felt a good deal of satisfaction at being able to tap into that interconnectedness.

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    2. I am not certain if the joy is experienced especially if unappreciated or unsung. Aren't there stories of many poets who took to the bottle to drown sorrows? Also, because creative people are overtly emotional. This is a generalization and certainly does not apply to all. Just my view of what I have perceived and read.

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  8. Loved your post - the thought behind it and also the way you have communicated it! I am a comparatively new reader to your blog but I think you definitely belong to the camp you've written about or will get there soon, in case you have any doubts:-)

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    1. Thanks, CW. Winter always turns to spring, this I know, and the struggle of a poet is reward in itself. It becomes apparent only in the context of time.

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  9. Very emotional self introspective post Subho and as it is said there would be light at the end of the tunnel for sure. I am not articulate in dictation as many of you in blog sphere ...... i do agree with hitting delete buttons after painstakingly writing something if it does not convey your thoughts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts of being a writer and a poet. Wishing you the best !!!

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    1. Thanks for your appreciation and good wishes, Engram.

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  10. Beautifully written. And how very true. I am a poet. When very young I was advised with good intention to give up writing poetry if I was to ever succeed in life as a writer. I did move on to writing fiction, non-fiction but never ever gave up writing poetry-my first and last love.
    Thank you for writing something that all writers identify with.

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    1. It is such an honor to have you here and leaving a comment, and that too such an encouraging one. Hope you will keep coming back and continue to find value in what I am trying to do.

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  11. Beautifully written and how very true. I am a poet and was advised way back with good intention to leave writing poetry if I was to ever succeed in the field of writing. I did move on to writing fiction/non fiction but never gave up writing poetry. And I am thankful to the Almighty for giving me the courage to do so.

    Thank you for writing an article that makes poets like us identify with your thoughts.

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  12. I have not read a more stimulating and deep piece of writing for a long time. I am no poet or artist though I have always dreamed to be one and realized that they are not skills that can be developed but gifts that one should be born with and nurtured through a burning passion. I have tried my hand at art and failed miserably and have not dared to do the same with poetry. And for that singular reason, I am always in awe of any poet or artist. I believe they are gifts of God on this earth.

    But still I can definitely sense your feeling as I have felt that way several times. That search for words, for emotions, for that elusive voice has given me sleepless nights as well. The magnitude might not be the same but the emotion is common.

    “Being a poet is not about being heard, it is about attempting to speak!” Brilliant line that will find an echo in my mind for a long time.

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    1. You spoil me rotten, Raj. Thank you so much. My guess is that these are feelings that apply to all creative artists, whether they be writing or painting or making music. I watched The Dark Knight Rises and there is a beautiful sequence of Bruce Wayne breaking out of the prison that has only been broken out of once in the past. If you have seen the film, you will know that for the artist, each work of art is like an attempt to break out of the prison of limitations, of finiteness. In most cases, only some of the works that an artist creates are successful prison breaks in his (or her) own eyes.

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  13. I have not read a more stimulating and deep piece of writing for a long time. I am no poet or artist though I have always dreamed to be one and realized that they are not skills that can be developed but gifts that one should be born with and nurtured through a burning passion. I have tried my hand at art and failed miserably and have not dared to do the same with poetry. And for that singular reason, I am always in awe of any poet or artist. I believe they are gifts of God on this earth.

    But still I can definitely sense your feeling as I have felt that way several times. That search for words, for emotions, for that elusive voice has given me sleepless nights as well. The magnitude might not be the same but the emotion is common.

    “Being a poet is not about being heard, it is about attempting to speak!” Brilliant line that will find an echo in my mind for a long time.

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  14. I totally understand when you say, "Woke up this morning and couldn’t stand my own writing or the person I have become as a poet and an artist. I wake up many mornings feeling this way"

    There are times when an artist lashes himself for he's never sure. I once read these words, "The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence."

    We have to surpass ourselves each day. We have to believe in ourselves. That's the only way out. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :)

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    1. Thank you, Vaishali, for your hope-filled words. Poets (and artists) can do more than just warn, they can create islands of resistance against the tide of stupidity, of ignorance, of pettiness, and of greed.

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  15. Quite deep and emotional. Surely makes one ponder. Nicely written.

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    1. Thanks, Sabyasachi! Coming from someone as committed to their creative calling as you, it means the world to me.

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  16. I have not reached to the level where i could relate to every emotion dealt in this wonderful post, but certainly learn that when i will be there facing those i will be knowing that i am not the only one.

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  17. First of all let me congratulate you on a searing piece of writing. The anguish and the emotional highs and lows is palpable when reading through your piece. I hope it is all balanced by the readership and comments left here by your peers.

    Humans are driven by the powerful need to communicate with each other; artists are driven by the need to put words, paint daubs and musical notes to their experiences and thoughts. Even though I am a very optimistic person, I cannot deny the suffering an artist has to go through in order to put out his/her work out in the world. As the world soon catches up with what the artist is trying to say, it is already too late.

    My hero, Vincent Van Gogh, surely endured the agony and indifference in his brief life. When the art world finally understood and appreciated his vision, he was dead. I hope that with a powerful new tool called Internet, an artist can finally get his due; here's me being optimistic again.

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    1. Sandeep, can't agree more!

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    2. Some of the response that I have got to this piece has been truly encouraging. Some of it (not all of which is out here in the approved comments thread) has assumed that I am sharing my despondency and am in need of urgent repair. Thankfully, most artists know the critical gaze that never leaves, like you have pointed out, and the comments here are proof to all artists that we are not alone. With time, the artist learns to live with the voice that keeps saying not good enough, and learns to turn poison into medicine, using the derision and the scoffing as an impetus to bring congruity of emotion and creative output. I have no clue what that means, but it sure sounds good.

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    3. That does sound good! Ofcourse you know what it means :-). I mean, besides the fact that you are showing off your immpeccable vocabulary. I will just say that I am in congruence.

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  18. Anonymous8:43 AM

    "Misunderstood genius", are we? More like "poseur" whom one wouldn't pay to read anytime soon? Would perhaps be more readable if one wrote about ones real struggles, the ones to make enough money or to get it up when the missus wants it, instead of this crap about creative constipation.

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  19. Subho.. I just read it.. and I think the one line that sums it up so well for me is "If you are like me, you have known the hours spent in writing something that at the end of it you just select all of and hit delete, or tear the page out and crumple it over to the corner of the room"

    Very well written. And I know it happens to everyone.. we all have our own writer's block but the beauty is in doing, keep writing and re-writing. And I think it is not just with poets, its with everyone who expresses himself whether its through poems, prose, paint, clay or anything.

    And just like you said 'I am not alone'..

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    1. Thank you for your beautiful comment, Surabhi. I used the poet as a metaphor, but it applies to all creative processes, including bringing up a child!

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  20. Ah the life of an artist! It doesn't make you use colors or words, the journey is full of emotions; the expectations, the denial, the solitude and failure but you know the most beautiful thing is - An artist has the ability to capture the emotions in physical form for the rest to see.

    We are not alone...:)

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  21. Well to the most part of it, I agree with it.

    I remember I read somewhere that the most successful of the posts are those who at least once had a suicidal thought !!

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    1. VIvek, every time I turn on the news, I feel suicidal. In the case of the creative artist, even that is not needed, I guess.

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  22. This is undoubtedly one of the most powerful posts of yours I have read--perhaps because I resonate with it...I hear ya, I read ya, I feel ya...
    Nothing is worser than your work not being heard or read or felt...I know that deeply. I too cannot offer any solace but merely a promise to be a faithful and critical reader, Subho! Continue writing as you have always done...stay strong, stay well, stay in spirit!

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    1. Thanks, Bhavana. The crisis that is greater than not being read is not being able to say what you need to in the way that you feel best says it. There is no greater anguish than that for a creative artist, and I know that you know what I mean. Loving your new photoblog.

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  23. Beautifully written. Every artist goes through these emotions of self pity, doubts about the worth of us as individuals as well as the worth of our art. Beautifully expressed ....

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    1. Thank you, Santosh. You have put a name to it that I did not have courage to put.

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  24. I speak to the universe,
    Good wishes and curse,
    I fear not the word that drops,
    Light it floats, heavy it plops!

    I speak my mind almost always,
    Irrespective of the hearers' ayes,
    When silence creeps out,
    I am looking within, not without!

    Love,
    T
    14.9.12

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    1. What a wonderful surprise, T! Thanks a million and have a super year ahead.

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  25. Yes, perhaps all I can do now is to share it...

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    1. The greatest thing we can do is stand up and be counted, and we are living that greatness out each day, aren't we?

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  26. Could relate to it at many many levels Subho ...I first started out as a poet and somewhere down the line I realized ...the more honest I am with my words, the lonelier I become . Poetry was my escape route and escapists never rejoice , don't they ? Now I write prose. Prose helps me connect with the mundane , prosaic things I missed out while crying my heart out watching a beautiful piece of reflection in a slush of mud pool . I feel calmer now...more composed . But sometimes , when I am in the mood, I just let the silences take over ! Ofcourse cannot help , but sharing this ! :)

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    1. Somewhere in the silence of introspection, the line between prose and poetry blur, and all that matters is being available to the universe to be used as an instrument, a vessel, a voice. Thanks for sharing, Sridevi.

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  27. I don't know I am qualified to call myself a poet/poetess, but, I do write poetry. People are generally appreciative...but, for the most part, it is my emotions I bring out in not so many words. I can relate to your problem...sometimes I have been able to write 2-3 poems in a day and sometimes zilch.

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

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