Poetry is a pilgrimage: Dev Mishra

This week Odisha Story was in conversation with a young wordsmith whose works represent the versatile generation next of Indian English Writing.

A young PhD scholar at NISER, Odisha, Debasish Mishra, has bagged the Bharat Award for Literature in 2019, the Reuel International Best Upcoming Poet Prize in 2017 and was given an Honourable mention for Rabindranath Tagore Award 2019. An ex-banker who hails from Bhawanipatna, Odisha, Dev Mishra resigned from service to devote more time to literature, his first and foremost love. He has over fifty national and international publications, which includes the likes of Melange, featuring Ruskin Bond and Vikram Seth as well as thirteen volumes of poetry brought out by Kaafiya Milao , a Delhi based poetry movement. Let us hear him.

Pratyush MishraCongratulations on getting the first place and the Bharat Award.  What was the first thought that crossed your mind when you heard about it?

Dev Mishra- Thanks a lot. It was elating to be at the top. Having won the Poiesis Award thrice, I wanted to scale the summit.

(P)-  Having scaled quite a few summits in a span of twenty nine years, at times do you feel that when it comes to poetry Youth is a double edged sword?

DM- (laughs) Youth as a double edged sword?

(P)- Having churned out a huge amount of poetry, do you feel burdened by what poetry demands from you?

DM- No way! It has always been an effortless exercise for me. It pushes itself out, the words just trickle on and I am nothing more than an agent or a witness. If it were laborious, it would lose its charm and appeal.

(P)- Often writers rewrite their works multiple times before giving it a final shape. What are your takes on it?

DM-Editing is always necessary to hone a poem. Why infuriate a serious reader with little mistakes or lack of clarity? Having said that- the skeletal framework of the poem must be a spontaneous one. No compromise with spontaneity! As far as short story or other forms go-well, there may be a number of glitches which might have escaped the writer in the first instance. So as long as the content and the purpose remain undiluted, one can go for multiple drafts.

(P)- Dev, you also write short stories.  How would you distinguish between your own process behind the forms of poetry and short story?

DM– Entirely different processes! In my case, poetry is more spontaneous in comparison to a story, which demands a little more patience because of its length. Liberty of leisure is definitely more while writing a story.

(P)- Any significant difference in the thought process before the actual process of writing, between these two? 

DM– The words must be preceded by the clarity of thought and emotion in the head and heart of the poet/writer. The technical demands of the genres are different. For example, the proper framing of lines with adequate brakes, the employment of figures of speech, emphasis on musicality and such qualities are more relevant in poetry than in short stories. For the latter, the emphasis is more on clarity and lucidity. But I feel that the boundaries between the genres are slowly getting blurred in the postmodern era.

(P)- A good number of young poets are opining that mediocrity shouldn’t be tolerated in poetry. What decides whether a piece is mediocre or poorly written?

DM– I have always maintained that poetry is subjective. A poem which I may find boring may appeal you and the vice-a-versa.

However, one surely needs to stick to a basic minimum, to call himself/herself a poet. First of all, the language should be polished. That’s a prerequisite!

Thereafter, the poet should have the ability to communicate, even while dealing with the complex thoughts. Merely adding jargons doesn’t make any sense! And poetry has to soothe a reader aesthetically. One cannot write an essay in the name of poetry.

(P)- Do you believe that shortening attention spans and a restive impatience is acting like a death knell for poetry and literature, overall?

DM– Yes. That’s true. Not only poetry, but good literature as a whole. Patience and attention are the basic requirements for any lover of literature. Many from our generation and the upcoming ones are more inclined towards writers who are simple, colloquial and away from “literariness”. This is setting a wrong precedent. I have had many such experiences during my stay at different places— the younger ones are familiar popular fiction but fail to recognise the works of Tagore, Narayan, Manoj Das or Ruskin Bond to name a few of the masters.

(P)-Don’t you think Facebook is contributing to this uphill trend of impatience? Everybody has an opinion, but very few understand the need about quality of one’s opinion. What do you have to say about it?

DM-Facebook is also a double-edged weapon. The good thing is now poetry is no more confined to a select few. Anyone can write and share it on his wall. Getting access to contests has become easy. These are the positives.

On the contrary, you have every Tom, Dick and Harry proclaiming himself to be a poet. Doggerels have become ubiquitous. I may sound harsh, but as per my experience, only one or two out of ten poems seen on FB have quality.

(P)- Do you mean to imply that some forums do maintain a standard in FB?

DM– Forums and groups are dime a dozen! It is difficult for a beginner to identify ones that matter. At times, the wannabes are swayed and flummoxed by the fake pride of virtual certificates, which are available at a windfall. Having said all that, I daresay a few platforms like The Significant League by Dr. Ampat Koshy, Kaafiya by Yaseen Anwar, Poiesisonline by Gopakumar Radhakrishnan and Wordweavers are forums of substance, which are tried and tested by me. They endorse meritocracy. Of late, On Fire Cultural Movement is also taking significant strides in this direction . YOPE (Young Odia Poets In English) which is the our own flesh and blood also shows promise.

(P)- A banker who turned a student then again into a lecturer and researcher. Now that is quite an interesting journey. How has this shaped your poetry?

DM-Experience is the best teacher. My poetry has definitely become rich with the meanderings in my career (laughs)

On a serious note, being a student/researcher again has given me the scope of reading a lot many books. And the more one reads,  the more one grows.!Thus, I’ll say, I may have bartered my security but have definitely bettered my poetry after the transition.

(P)-   Indeed! I  see you experiment rigorously with many forms and styles even new formats like the Roseatte Sonnet. Which format is truly the most challenging one for Dev Mishra and why?

DM– No format is impossible if you intend to do it. However, I will consider the Roseate Sonnet Couplette — a merger of two novel forms, done by me — to be the toughest. A Roseate Sonnet is devised by Dr. Ampat Koshy. It is pretty simple. A traditional sonnet re-modelled with an acrostic at the end reading ROSE. A couplette, on the other hand, demands the rhyme of syllables. For instance, the first syllable has to rhyme with the second, the third with the fourth and so on. This is relatively challenging because you have to take care of the rhyme of syllables and the acrostic at the end, without compromising with the idea that you have.

The form Couplette (not couplet) is invented by Dr. Duane Vorhees.

(P)Wow! Oodles of knowledge on technical aspects of poetry!  But a question a question -Should the meaning of a poem be easily accessible?  Or should it be a tad bit mysterious, like it ought to be “solved” by the reader?

DM– That’s again a subjective thing. I usually go with spontaneity, without thinking too much on the outcome. If the words are easily understood, it is well and good. Otherwise, the reader has an important role to play. Even during my stint as a lecturer in Central University of Orissa, I always emphasised on the fact that there’s no ‘one way’ in poetry. A reader can interpret it differently; but then, he should be able to justify his stance.

(P)- Which languages apart from English, do you like to read literature in?  What draws you to them?

DM– Of course, Odia. Though my exposure has been less but significant. I love reading pieces now and then. Keeps me connected- to my roots!

(P)- Any plans for translating works of Odia into English ? Whose works?

DM- Yeah, that’s a wonderful idea. But I reckon, I don’t have sufficient expertise. As of now, I would rather sharpen my writing in Odia. In future I would like to translate my prize winning poems into Odia as I am familiar with their premise and purpose . Apart from that, I have a humble wish to translate the works of my father “Byangashree” Prasant Mishra.

(P)- So the thirst for literature is more of an inheritance! Tell us about your father.

DM-My father,  Prasant Mishra, is a retired state Govt employee, who worked as a Sub Assistant Auditor General of Cooperative Societies. His poems in  Odia as well as articles have been published in  Kadambini, Taapoi, Manorama, Suravi and Pratidhwani. The Loharakhandi Sahitya Sansad and Kalahandi Sanskrutika Anusthan, among others, have honoured him for his contribution to poetry. For his deep love and contribution to the genre of satire, Samachar Surabhi accorded to him the title of Byangashree.(smiles)

(P)- Tell us something about Dev Mishra, the man and the relationships in his life.

DM-Debasish Mishra is my name for all official purposes. ‘Dev Mishra’ is short, catchy and trendy, meant primarily for the FB generation (laughs).

On a serious note, Dev Mishra is a family man. His family means everything to him. Luckily, I have a supportive family to stand by my erratic decisions (at least in relation to a career). I have very few friends, but trustworthy ones. Overall, without giving in to blunt self depreciation –  I am A Choosy Freak (laughs out loud).

(P)- Does poetry have a pilgrim soul?

DM– Honestly speaking, yes. Poetry is like a pilgrimage. It ought to be so. Nowadays, it is trivialised for petty reasons — insipid weekly contests, daily prompts, free-for-all certificates. This is a disservice to poetry! (gestures angrily)

(P)- Whose works would one find on your bookshelf now ? Any specifics?

DM- The translation of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities was the last novel that I read. It was bulky and challenging, over eleven hundred pages. I’m currently reading the translated version of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls and Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines. There will be plenty of texts that I’m going to read in the next few years, thanks to my research work at NIISER.

(P)- Your views on the present scenario of Indian writing in English and where do you see it heading in the near future?

DM- It is queer mix of opposites. On one hand, you have the class of Amitav Ghosh, Mahesh Dattani and Girish Karnad. On the other hand, you have self-proclaimed connoisseurs. It is important for the young nibs to have the right kind of inspiration.

As I was telling you, the young generation is more acquainted with the popularly prevalent writers and ignorant of someone like Tagore or Manoj Das. Proper parental guidance is vital. If we aren’t into literature, then how can we understand what is good literature? If we don’t, how can we as a generation disseminate our gleanings to the next? It is simply impossible!

To quote from personal experience, my siblings will always prefer a RK Narayan, Tagore or Anita Desai over the popularly prevalent writers. It has to do with an upbringing that inculcates that dedication for the written word. I don’t see any other possible way, as of now. If we fail, then the prospects will become bleaker.

(P)It was a treat to have this conversation with you, Dev.

A message you wish to convey to poets between the ages of 15-35 who are writing poetry! What do you find most promising about them and what you would say they could do without?

DM-The pleasure was entirely mine.

The youth home immense possibilities in them. They must read as much as possible. There’s no end to learning. One has to learn the nuances and it happens involuntarily. And that’s possible only when one reads. I’ve already placed my perspective about what or whom one ought to read. And I will say -One should not run after fame. It is always important to remember that Poetry as a profession is thankless, as a passion it is exquisite. Thus, every bit of it must be enjoyed.


About the Author

Pratyush Mishra
A physician by profession yet an ardent student of life by passion, Pratyush Mishra's self-searching and inquisitiveness fueled his poems. Pratyush also dabbles in short fiction specifically in the Sci-fi genre. He writes in Odia, Hindi and English.