A Call for Return to Dilettantism in Poetry

'Is there any need for a new manifesto for poetry?'- learned friends will ask, we are sure. And if there is, at all, who are we to write it? And thirdly, what of those who feel the 'scene' is fine as it is? They are all fair questions and we shall try to answer them as honestly as possible. Let us tackle the second part first.

It is from the position of a dilettante – a word we intend to reclaim – that we write this manifesto, for the simple reason that we feel there is a need for poetry to relinquish or at least modify its newly acquired quasi-professional trappings.

This is not a moralistic position. It is not our case that poetry must be 'pure'. There is no such thing. Professional choices must be respected. Our concern is only this that too much professionalism in poetry does not bode well. For the simple reason that poetry as an art encompasses everything that might be anathema to the 'system'. If it becomes a 'system' in itself, it will lose out on what gives it its unique character.

The return to dilettantism in poetry, as opposed to its newly acquired professional character is only to preserve that which we consider to be its raison d'ĂȘtre: to seek epiphanies in overheard gossip and visions in day-to-day banality.

And still, dilettantism in poetry does not mean poetry for poetry's sake. It means that when the professional trappings are removed, it becomes free to focus on that which is really essential: to see, hear, feel that which is 'less' important, 'less' grand, 'less' exciting. To poeticise the everyday, as Rilke said.

Moreover, it seems to us that there is a little too much emphasis on formal sophistication these days. In itself, a greater knowledge of craft is welcome, but not at the cost of that which is truly valuable in poetry. For it is our case that too much attention to craft can smother its real purpose- which is to communicate with the reader at a different plane than what he or she is used to, to peer into his or her secret heart in way that it becomes known irrefutably, even if the meaning, as Agha Shahid Ali wrote, is delayed. To put it simply, in Namdeo Dhasal's words, there should be a stain on every shirt. Too much perfection is another kind of corruption. Folly is welcome, especially where language is concerned. In India, even English has different flavours. We intend to promote Indian poetry in English written by those who have not necessarily have been trained in how the elites use it. .

We would also like to point out that as admirers of the Beat School of poetry, we favour the “personal” because it adds to the uniqueness of the Voice and illuminates the Universal.

The need for a return to dilettantism in poetry is also crucial, we believe, because the new emphasis on its professional character is fundamentally exclusionary. As it is, to write poetry in English in India is limited to a very small section that had a commensurate education denied to most. To put further conditions on its practice is not encouraging for the marginalized sections.

We think the reasons for a manifesto have been provided. We have also tackled our own position, hopefully to the satisfaction of discerning readers. We do not intend to impose any diktat on any one, least of all poets who never work well under forced conditions.

Now, the question about what about those who disagree. They are most welcome to do so. It is not our intention to cause a confrontation. To each, his or her own. This is only a humble attempt to see things a little differently.

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