Is a poet really born?

By MITHUN DEY

It is said that a “poet is born and not made” which means a poet possesses a talent that cannot be taught. However, our thoughts, ideas, feelings can change over time. So, I don’t think ‘poet is born’. If we have obsession and strength of mind, we can be anything. Poet and poetic thoughts are shaped by life experiences, attitude and every situation. Poetry is the secret of happiness, I believe. Poetry lies within each and everyone for some it is dormant and for someone it is active. Poems are a way of expression, of what you experience or what you imagine since it deals with experience and a thought process, you don’t have to be a born poet.

A poet is simply in touch with common humanity as well as with firm thought which he or she earns experiences from the ambiance around him or her, a poet’s interest towards the changing face of language and his or her presentation is more influential when touches both mind and heart at multiple levels. Both the pain and love a poet or poetess feels in a different light, the same pain and love that other feels in a same situation. Just the trigger is different, the atmosphere is different and the degree of pain and love is different but the basic experience is the same.

To answer whether poets are born or created, I have come across that many poets who used to be a doctor or an engineer but they were well-known for their poetic genius. Robert Burns was a farmer but he reached heights of poetry and was famed as a Scottish poet. Interestingly, those who disliked poetry most in early life, later they became poets and William James Dawson, an English poet is one of the finest examples of it.

Some became inspired to write poetry as it is said poetry comes from inspiration. William Shakespeare was also inspired from his most favourite authors Geoffrey Chaucer, Plutarch and a Roman poet Ovid. It is stated that Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” was a powerful source of inspiration for William Shakespeare. Wilfred Owen became interested in poetry after being inspired by John Keats and Shelley. On the other, Robert Frost was inspired and motivated by his wife Elinor Miriam (White) Frost. She was the foremost inspiration for his poetry. William Wordsworth drew inspiration from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal. More, Rabindranath Tagore drew encouragement from the people and life around him. Tagore received much inspiration from The Upanishads. His poetry works were influenced by the devotional poets Ramprasad Sen and Kabir. Later he was influenced by the Baul tradition.

I have presented in this piece urging from both sides from a number of poets and scholars. 

Poet and critic, Adil Jussawalla said, “It’s experience that makes a person a poet and that no one is born a poet”.

Sitakant Mahapatra, a notable Indian poet and literary critic explained that poets are both born and made: they are born with a special gift and by their sensitivity and social culture they become poets. The intensity of absorbing experience is very essential for true poets.

On the other, Abhay Kumar, an Indian poet-diplomat said, “Poets are not born as leaders or singers are not born. I think it is just a matter of discovery. As we grow up, we find different ways to respond to our surroundings, express ourselves. Poetry is one of many ways to do so”.

More, Prof. Makarand R. Paranjape, an Indian poet said, “Poets are both born and made, but the making part is, perhaps, more important. Many, for instance, who have a natural talent or inclination for verse, don’t make it because they haven’t put in the kind of effort and training required to master the medium. On the other hand, by trying and struggling, over and over again, some, albeit a few, do become authors of considerable renown”.

This is not all. The most prominent poet-critic, Dr. Harekrishna Deka said that poetry takes birth in a poet’s mind. Nobody is a born poet. A person with fine sensibility, imagination and desire to express his or her feelings/emotional stimuli will try to express it in a heightened form in the language he or she cultivates that gives experienced sensibility and the medium of expression is language mastered through practice in which he or she endeavours to attain the maximum suggestibility.

A poet and critic, Dr. Zinia Mitra quoted, as John Keats famously said, “if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.” (Letter to John Taylor, Hampstead, February 27th, 1818). Dr. Mitra also said that it is true that great poets have a unique way of perceiving and expressing things that all of us do not share. We have the famous story of Kalidasa the great Sanskrit poet who while all other poets described a dry tree trunk as “SUSHKANG KASHTHANG TISHATI AGRE” cried out “NIRASA TARUBARA PURATA BHAAGE”. This singular imagination of a dry tree trunk as a dead tree is unique and cannot be perceived by all. No doubt the Romantics had given such an importance to the power of Imagination.  

She also said that there is another view, however, that cannot be ignored, especially with the flood of poetry on facebook, on e-magazines, with the self publishing houses promoting verses, arranging symposiums, albeit for business purpose. One can become a poet. There are tools available on internet to help one rhyme, maybe also to help them with unique images, help them juxtapose and use other tools to create poetry. There are hoards of poetry available on- line from where one could ‘draw inspiration’ as Shakespeare did from Plutarch. Though most of what is read is forgotten, sometimes these pieces do become poetry. Yes they do. We readers still sometimes achieve that sense of heightened experience. So I would like to say, it is not that a poet is born or is made- it is poetry that is born, out of the ashes of a smouldering life. And with the death of the author, it is poetry that lives on.

On the other, Arundhathi Subramaniam, a poet and writer explained as “I think an excitement about kinetic language is something every child is capable of. And kinetic language is, in essence, is poetry. Everyone sings — at least in the bathroom! And likewise everyone has written a poem — at least by the age of 16! Why? Because music and poetry are ancient arts, that fulfill a very primal human need for self expression. Does that mean everyone is a poet”? She answered that potentially, yes.  But poetry, like music, and any other art, takes work. It takes years of listening and reading, years of painstaking craftsmanship, rigour and immersion. There is no shortcut to that. So everyone is a potential poet, I do believe, but it takes hard work and humility and rigour to become a full-fledged poet. 

She also said, “It’s unfortunate that many young people write poetry, but don’t necessarily read poetry. I think it’s important to remember that to be a poet you also need to cultivate the art of listening — the art of listening acutely, sensitively, attentively. That’s in desperate short supply in the world today”.

Nandini Sahu, a poet, writer and critic told me that ‘is a poet really born’ sounds interesting. Poets are shaped by life experiences and wide reading–no doubt about it. I still believe, poets are born, to be shaped/ nurtured.

Writer and poet Minakshi Thakur said, “I do think poets are born as poet. Of course they can evolve over time and become a poet of the world. The environment, circumstances shape them and hone their skills”.

A Somali American educator, poet and writer, Sofia Samatar told me that while people may be born with different levels of sensitivity to language, poets are not really formed by this sensitivity, but by desire. To me, the most important element for becoming a poet–or any kind of writer–is a will. A person may have talent, time, energy, connections–everything else that contributes to being a poet–but without the will, nothing will happen.

In view of all these, let’s finally come to a conclusion on the issue.

In order to understand poetry, it’s not mandatory to be a poet. You just need to love poetry and engage with poetry’s dynamics—the feelings and emotions that are enmeshed with the language which carries them. We find poetry everywhere and it serves every level of sensitivity and situation, both real and emotional. We can find poetry in musical structure of language, lyrics to songs, one’s love, one’s grief and pain. Poetry is the image of nature. Poetry is thoughts, poetry is feeling confessing itself and poetry is affective. Every flow of ocean makes poetry. Poetry seeps on to the subconscious while addressing the conscious.

mithun_deyMithum Dey is a columnist, fiction writer and poet, based out of Bongaigaon, Assam, India. His works were published in several newspapers, magazines, journals and anthologies. More, his works were appeared in an Anthology of Poems titled “Rainbow Hues” released by the 7th International Poetry Fest-2014, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India and in an anthology of poems and short stories Titled: “Lovelets” from New Delhi, India.