KARACHI: The panel discussion on “Poetry and Privilege - Poetry in English” ran out of steam a mere fifteen minutes after it began, following a brief disagreement between panelist Zulfikar Ghose and moderator Adrian Husain.
The session got off to a promising start with Husain outlining the parameters of the discussion: “Poetry has increasingly become esoteric,” he said. “It is the preserve of the genteel… we were wondering whether we are still relevant or not.” Panelists and poets Zulfikar Ghose, Salman T Kureshi and Joe Dunthome were invited to air their opinions.
Ghose ventured that “from the 20th century onwards, poetry became a very niche thing.” Dunthome concurred, saying that poetry was enjoyed by only a small group of select individuals. However, Dunthome didn’t seem to be put off by this idea. “Poetry is probably at its natural level of popularity,” he said. “And I like that.”
Husain asked whether the world of poetry was becoming an elitist world, and wondered out loud whether poets had distanced themselves from everyone except other poets. To this, Ghose amusingly replied “I am proud to be an elitist! I never wanted to be mediocre!”
As Ghose continued, Husain appeared to be itching to say something. When he finally did interject, a loud voice - Sheema Kirmani’s, actually, piped up from the back of the room, saying, “Let him [Ghose] finish!” After a brief good-natured verbal skirmish between the two panelists, Husain asked Khaled Ahmed to approach the dais to recite a poem by Taufiq Rafat. One hoped the discussion, which was quite engaging and relevant, would continue after the recitation, but what followed was only more poetry reading.
A number of people including Sheema Kirmani, Moin Faruqi and Sherbano Zafar Iqbal read poems by well-known poets such as Maki Qureshi, Zeba Hasan Hafeez and Alamgir Hashmi, which were applauded by the audience. The panelists also read some of their own work, which unfortunately was mostly not preceded by any sort of commentary.
At the end of the hour-long session, most of which had been spent reading poetry rather than talking about its relevance, members of the audience could be overheard whispering, “Where was the discussion?”
For people hoping to gain insight into the world of Pakistani poetry in English, many questions were left unanswered.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.
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