A poet’s journey is reflective of the ages of their time, with all its mores and hues. And rightly so, poetry seeks to reflect the same – it is often a bolder, more explicit mirror of the truths of any age as compared to plain fiction.
Gulzar’s A Poem a Day (which involved selecting, translating, and compiling poetry in over 34 languages across India over a staggering period of nine years) reflects the sensibilities and choices that have shaped him to be the master we know today. “My only request to the readers,” he says, gently, on a warm Spring afternoon over an extensive Zoom call, “was that they tolerate my choice. After all, I was compiling these poems based on the poems that have been essential to my being a poet in the first place.”
Gulzar credits AJ Thomas, editor of Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature, for helping him scour through reams of archival poems in different languages. While Gulzar’s editor, Udayan Mitra, helped him structure the book around the moods of different years. And that the CEO of HarperCollins, Ananth Padmanabhan, took on the responsibility of publishing this ambitious project in the first place, is heartening to the poet.
The collection begins with poems on the birth of verse, initiation of life, and later confronts darker themes like mortality, death, and the burden of memory itself. But with Gulzar, poems dealing with these themes, in and of themselves, mean nothing if they don’t relate to wider truths about society at large. “The collection is more sociological than simply personal. There is an attitude to poetry, and we all have a different one. My attitude is not one that simply defines subjects like loneliness and death, in isolation. Poetry that links these themes with the larger questions of life appeals to me,” he says.
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