It was a short session but it left many emotional, on stage and in the audience.
Lines from Wilfred Owen, Adrienne Rich, Jessie Pope and other poets filled the air as writer-translator Sampurna Chattarji, Literature Across Frontiers director Alexandra Buchler and writer-activist Sreyashi Ghosh discussed war poetry and lesser-known poets of the genre.
The conversation began with how war poetry is often associated with British poets. Yet, as Buchler pointed out and later read, there have been many across frontiers all over the world. She specially mentioned some Czech and Jewish-German works in the context.
But why write verses on something as traumatic as war? “Keeping the pain vocal is what poets do with resonance,” Chattarji explained.
The focus of the discussion was on women poets who are often not as widely read. “When the men went to war, women also worked in ammunition factories. World War I also redefined gender roles.…. Writing had a cathartic effect on women,” Ghosh said.
War and its related issues like equal wages and how women made better ammunition with their nimble fingers were discussed too as Ghosh recited from Madeline Ida Bedford’s Munition Wages.
Another role that women fitted into well during World War I was that of nurses, often termed as “World War I’s glamour girls”. The audience even got the nurse’s side of story as Chattarji read out an extract from Mary Bolden’s The Forbidden Zone.
Chattarji also read out her own composition Easy, that is part of the compilation 100 Poets Against the War.
As verses kept pouring out, there was one unifying quality that bound them all together — pain. “The futility of war is apparent everywhere,” Buchler signed off.