Between February-April, two books of poetry have been publicised heavily: Meanwhile, a collection by editor and poet Prerna Gill, and Girl To Goddess by the Instagram-popular content creator Nishi (who uses one name). To an already small-yet-hungry audience of the genre, the titles bring hope and despair, respectively.
Gill’s book is endorsed by big names from the world of books and cinema: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Twinkle Khanna and Gill’s grandfather, yesteryear Bollywood star Dharmendra, who says her poems are “magical”. This may be a stretch, but there are sparks of brilliance.
The best poem in the collection, with delightfully strange thoughts stemming from silences and memory, has to be Bucketsfull. In it, the imagery is vivid: Gill homes in on frogs in buckets in her Dadi’s home. She could have been a child, observing how one of them had “…turned/ The water a trembling green”. A grown-up now, she wonders about the absence of these creatures, once a big part of her life and imagination: “The words balloon my throat/And the only ones who would understand them/ Have long skipped town.” The zoomorphism is a masterful conclusion.
The rest of the collection, however, suffers from an unfortunate combination of phrases written in indirect voice and close to no punctuation. Even if in the form of extra spaces or text (mis)alignment, punctuation in poetry is a necessary guide.
Sample this frustrating bit from Shark: “Because: pride bitten bright/ By unrequited awe reminds/ Of far more promised back.” Meaning what? Reminds whom? Yet, the strength of the imagery offers hope for her future work.
The same cannot be said of Nishi’s book. The creator’s bio on Instagram, where she has 134,000 followers, claims she uses “prose & poetry as spells”. But Girl To Goddess, also advertised as self-help, is only full of what we would all find on our phones—hastlily written 3am texts to help a heartbroken “bestie”. It represents two big problems in popular poetry today: utter laziness masquerading as “free verse” and the fact that (even good) spoken-word poetry may not transition well to page.
Even when read in the impassioned nature of a performance-poet’s delivery, Nishi’s work is, at its best, basic, and at its worst, cringe-content. Pick any page. On page 231, for example, she writes, “I’m glad you didn’t choose to stay./ If you had stayed, what we would have built wasn’t/ going to be worth living anyway. I’m in a much better/ space now. It must be hard for you to believe that I/ did choose to stay alive without you. But trust me,/ I’m doing good…”
The American poet Gwendolyn Brooks had famously said that “poetry is life distilled”. This definition is now an urgent reminder. Poetry should be the decoction, not the dregs. Perhaps poets and publishers can both take note.