What Poetry Means to Me? - Amrita Valan



Robert Frost said, ‘A poem begins in delight but ends in wisdom.’

I couldn’t agree more. To even write about what poetry means to me, is an immensely joyful stress-relieving exercise. Then imagine what actually writing poetry, constructing a verse, following a trend of thought can do.

I spent four hours today at my Mac, trying to meet deadlines and commitments before the month-end. It was a bright sunny afternoon at four when I started, and the world gradually got dark outside my window, while I was lost in a wonderful internal world, where rhyme and resonance, alliteration and simile, tight metaphors came alive and painted a high-resolution picture of where I wanted to go, the world I wanted to…not just visualize, but create.


That’s right. Poets are makers, world builders, in ways differing from the fictional world-building that prose entails. The world of a story is self-contained and fits the plot and theme like a snug glove for a story to be authentic. The poetic world is blurred, universal, ethereal, even while employing concrete images, it hints at abstracts that are higher than my highest aspiration. It leaves something to chance, to wonder upon, to mystify. (Speculative fiction does that too.)

I know I have succeeded, when I am at a tantalizing threshold, of sharp discontent, because the Muse smiles at me, and says, ‘This far, but no further.’

Going beyond that point is a poetic hope of Nirvana, a blissful Mukti, or liberation.

When I am at that taut threshold, words come to me, which, I kid you not, I did not even know existed in my vocabulary, and to my astonishment, the meaning of the word is almost exactly that which I wished to convey.

This is not to say I won’t employ conscious craft, twinning the two processes, till at a point they merge, and one is indistinguishable from the other. I can and do weep for joy then. Since saying I feel such and such, is not demystifying the process, let me try.

I was writing about wanton excesses of a mythical woman, and the adjective that persistently occurred to me was ‘Liberace’ a pianist known for his flamboyance, also associated with the blingy house of Liberace jewellery. (Remember the Friends episode where Joey forces a tawdry gold bracelet on Chandler?). I dismissed it, to use the staid ‘liberated’, but the word buzzed around my brain, wouldn’t let go, so I finally used it. And an entire verse fell into place, as the lady came to life.


So, poetry, whether I read it or write it, brings me great joy, catharsis and stress relief.

But it also makes me a better human being. I am going to be a wee bit mushy and say, when life hardens me, poetry keeps me soft. It reminds me we are a family, and not just a human family, not just a living family of all beings, but that our indestructible atoms will disband from their earthly ties, becoming much more one day. I visualise meeting mother in a ray of the moon and being a tiny cloud that covers her.

Poetry teaches me that death the inevitable must have dirges, just as life must have lyricism.

We will be gone, as far as our material form goes, but the concentrated essence of what we signified, what valuation we placed on tangibles and intangibles, will remain in our words.

Poetry then to me, confers immortality. Not of this fickle transient body but the interactive empathetic impressionable mind. Our new age philosopher Jason Silva stopped me in my tracks, as he described a Mexican legend about the three deaths all of us die.

‘The first death’, he said, with that habitual twinkle in his eyes, ‘is that moment when you are first made aware of your mortality, that you are going to die one day. The second death is when you actually die, your physical cessation.

But the third death? It is the last time; someone says your name.’

So unless you are a celebrity, when the last person who knew you is gone, your name will most probably never be said aloud again. You will be wiped off of human collective memory.

This third death, I call death by negative poetry or the poetry of absence.

Word is our last life-giver; word keeps our memory alive.

Is it a coincidence, the Bible begins to describe, genesis or creation, with, ‘In the beginning was the Word. And the word was with God?’

God the creator as the ultimate poet, Brahma the poet god dreaming creation into reality, our earliest mythology and heroic poetry as our identity, as a race, as a nation, as humanity.

Goodness! Poetry does mean an awful lot to me then, doesn’t it?


A mesmerizing exercise in joy and the sheer exhilarating nobility of elevated thoughts, a soothing cathartic balm, a standard of valuation that guides and determines my character and the deepest principles of inner truth it responds to, a bestower of immortality and Prophetic mirror of our transitory nature.


Yet poetry my friends, mean more than even this, that it confers upon me the privilege of creation, but that it blesses me with connections. I am a seer of the future and the past through poetry, and I touch base with you, my readers, in the present, in this rough and tumble world of rude reality.


Poetry is my portal to the unknown, beyond the lintel of comfort zones, the gatekeeper of my grief and also the medium I gauge truth by. Because it seeks the truth, it keeps me very honest, real and grounded while I reach out for the sun, moon and stars. And whatever lies beyond my wildest imagination.

I came to you to seek a friend

I found a guide with a hand to lend

I found a teacher in my heart

And became the lover of your art


© Amrita Valan 2021