Seeking Refuge in Poetry – Best American Indian Magazine | San Jose California


There’s no denying that the world has been looking damaged for a while now. We have the multi-pronged crises of a global health pandemic, the impact of climate change, mass shootings, war and a turbulent economy. Everything that could go wrong has actually gone wrong.

With the gradual easing of restrictions around the world, for many of us, returning to some normalcy brings joy. But for others, especially those who are more vulnerable, even these highly anticipated changes can be a bit difficult. The prospect of getting out as the virus continues to wreak havoc across the world and the easing of lockdowns can be a real worry. It can harm your mental health.

As such, we all try to cope by turning to things or activities that comfort us. For me, poetry has been the best escape.

Change the subject with poetry

I’m usually an avid reader of all things fiction, but these days I find myself too distracted to sit down and read a novel. It certainly doesn’t help matters if I accidentally choose a sad story with an unhappy ending.

However, with poetry, I can read a few poems at a time and escape the new normal for a bit. I even like to take this time to scribble a few lines in my journal and let my thoughts and creativity run free.

It is said that “a change of subject is a kind of rest”. That’s exactly what poetry does for me. If you love to read and are going through a similar phase where you don’t want to engage in complex stories but still need a book, believe me, try indulging in some light poetry. And, if you want to try writing a few lines, don’t hold back; Go for it.

Poetry helps the mind wander

“Here, at last, we will be free.” – Iain S. Thomas

When we read or write poetry, we let our train of thought flow. We connect with what is inside. Sometimes when I sit down with my laptop or journal, I’m surprised at what I end up writing. Letting my mind wander helps me get rid of stress. It clears my mind of negative thoughts and distracts me from all the negativity that seems to plague the news.

The same goes for reading poetry. Sometimes when I read a verse or a poem, I am able to tap into deep-rooted feelings and navigate through them. It helps me stay in touch with my inner self by forming a bridge to my emotions and giving me access to my deepest thoughts. Poetry can be the best self-induced therapy. We could all use some of it now.

One of my favorite South Asian poets is Kiran Kapur. His work sits at the intersection of his two worlds – North America and South Asia. As an NRI I find her work so relevant and as a woman it stirs my soul. For example, his description of the Statue of Liberty takes my breath away.

She writes:
Turns out I was never a girl, I was everything

these girls, a statue of a girl, a torch held up, you know that one –

standing in the port, wearing a sari.

In the same poem, she also says, “I am proof that nothing is lost.” She gives me courage and hope. She inspires me on so many levels.

Another South Asian poet I love is performance artist and gender-nonconforming writer, Vaid-Menon. Their work studies the body and society’s response to anyone who does not adhere to norms, race and transmisogyny. Born and raised in Texas by Indian immigrant parents, Vaid-Menon’s themes of alienation, finding hope in grief, and identity battles are relatable.

An excerpt from one of my favorite AVM poems:

it is much easier to desensitize us to the world.

but what about the romance of life?

the tundra of sorrow, of effort, of becoming like

each breath is an invitation to another way of being?

what about the dignity of being?

I won’t settle for anything less.

Poetry comes from within

Another reason I love poetry is that it comes straight from the heart. It is an act of spontaneous expression and helps to release clogged thoughts. In the midst of all this going on, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night feeling overwhelmed by a bad dream or just a bad feeling, and I can’t get back to sleep. I just pick up my phone and scribble a few lines on my notepad.

I read these lines over and over and within minutes I fell asleep again. One of the best things about poetry is that it’s an all-inclusive art form. The scope of creativity is vast and helps me release all harbored thoughts, almost like a deep exhalation of the mind.

For times when I’m too tired and not in the mood to write, I always keep a book by my pillow so I can read some poems if I can’t sleep.

Strict lockdowns in Singapore have isolated and the thought of going back outside is frightening. With everything going on in the world, poetry helps me cope.

These lines of Churchill taken from his poem Seedsremind me that even when I feel empty, I can plant seeds of change to occupy myself and grow:

I plant seeds in

my hollow places

just in case of rain

memories that are dear to me

treat with love

before any pain

I plant seeds in

my hollow places

sterile knowledge

can be devastating

to know love

can grow anything

Sourabhi Pandey

Surabhi, a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a Singapore-based journalist. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to over 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. She writes on lifestyle and travel related topics and is an active journalist on the tech startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia. She is the editor and founder of The Vent Machine, an online magazine that covers lifestyle and travel stories. More Surabhi Pandey

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