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When poetry is cool!

What does a poet say when a bunch of teenage boys surprise her by listening to poetry in silence and even admit to liking it? “That’s cool!”

A lecture on Why I Write: Poetry as the Voice of Reason by Bashabi Fraser, the joint director of Scottish Centre for Tagore Studies, School of Arts and Creative Industries, Edinburgh Napier University and Royal Literary Fund Fellow, University of Dundee, saw students of St. Xavier’s Collegiate School listen in rapt attention as Fraser took them through the journey of her life.

“We don’t need to move literally as we can always move through literature,” she said. A fantastic storyteller, Fraser narrated how as a child she had to move to England with her parents. There, she befriended Julian, a friend of her parents, who bought her books and for whom she began to write. And she began with poetry.

Fraser confessed how winning a Commonwealth Scholar Prize when she was seven or eight years old was a joke because “it was full of bad spellings. Yet my parents treasured it”.

As she grew up, Fraser realised poetry wasn’t “fashionable”. “As a post-Midnight’s child,” she said, referring to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, “I was sent to St. Helen’s School, Kurseong. I had continuously disowned the fact that I write but after I won the first prize for a poem, I came out in the open. Eventually, after I had heard my PhD superviser read out poetry with passion, I knew I could own poetry publicly.”

Among the poems Fraser read was one about her mother, a university professor and later a patient of acute dementia. “So I had kind of lost her before I physically lost her,” she said.

The epic of the day was her poem, From the Ganga to the Tay, which was received with loud applause.

Of the aspiring poets in the audience were Surojit Ghosh and Aditya Bhattacharya of Class XI, who had queries for Fraser. While Surojit wanted to know how to resist too many ideas at one point, Aditya was interested in finding out if free verse or structured rhymes was better.

“This was a new experience and I really loved the way she recited. I loved From the Ganga to the Tay. I am very much into serious poetry-writing after I realised that prose wasn’t enough to express one’s thoughts. And for me, there’s nothing like free verse,” said Aditya. Surojit’s favourite was I’m the Absolute More.