Editor’s Note: Poetry and the City
By Sayan Aich Bhowmik
The city or the urban space has always been the fountainhead, a sort of cultural, socio/ political hotbed where the ways of the world originate and play out. It has been the object of envy and desire for many and every year millions of people from the outskirts and the geographical margins make the journey to seek their true calling and fulfil their dreams and ambitions. And yet, there is this spectre of loneliness and lack that hangs over the skies and the roofs of the tallest buildings in town.
This longing and restlessness found an expression in Wordsworth where he talks of the “fretful stir” and the “fever of the world” (“Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”) looming large over his spiritual self. In the last year and a half, this feeling has been accentuated further, with a raging pandemic leading to a lockdown of every facet of social life. What it has done is also highlight the sharp divide between the different social and economic groups, some of whom have perished unable to sustain themselves in the urban fabric which has revealed itself to be demanding and sometimes outright unforgiving. Our minds go back to the times of Dickens’s London, where due to the unemployment caused by the Industrial Revolution, the rich got richer and the poor stayed poor. Even in modern times, there are cities within cities – shanties and settlements sprouting under flyovers and beside railway tracks – lives and living beings, who have not been welcome to the urban milieu, and thus are pushed to the fringes, who belong in a no man’s land.
The metropolis or the urban centre has played a fundamental role in the shaping of a nation-state and the socio-political fabric across cultures and time. From being the epicentre of dominant ideologies serving as a model for the entire population to adhere and follow, cities have also become the site of violence, be it ethnic clashes or riots which have held up for scrutiny the once yearned-after social and cultural space of belonging. Contrary to popular belief, the once centres of progress and prosperity have now noticeably become home to a lot many people suffering from depression or alienation – either at the lack of opportunities or under the burden of a robotic work culture.
The poems in this issue deal with these themes and more. Not only do we have poets addressing the glitz and glamour and the neon-lit airspace of the cities, we also have poignant expressions of the loneliness and the solitude that such a life brings with it. Cities have known to swallow up individuals or alter them in ways beyond comprehension – we are reminded of Ruskin Bond’s words when he talks of Delhi: “In Delhi, you either come first or you get lost.” As an editor of this issue of Café Dissensus, I was struck by how many submissions came in addressing this concern, so much so, that at times one wondered whether the urban life that so many of us pine for is actually worth it after all.
Metropoles have also been the seat of power and sites of political tug of war, not to mention the eternal yardstick against which the standards of living are measured, yearned for and judged. This has not only led to a sharp divide and the creation of the city/ country binary but also brought to the forefront the inherent cultural and economic arrogance that sometimes punctuates our outlook towards the outside external world. One is reminded of how this has always been the case, be it the city comedies ruling the stage in London in the 17th century, to how Modernism as a literary and artistic movement was not only underlined by a white presence but has also been critically investigated as an urban and elitist movement, pushing similar movements like the Harlem Renaissance to the background of literary and cultural history.
I hope the readers would enjoy reading the poems, that the poems would be a source of not only delight, but also make us think, ponder and contemplate the protean nature of the urban space and milieu.
Painting: Jerome Poumes
Sayan Aich Bhowmik is currently Assistant Professor, Department of English, Shirakole College, West Bengal, India. His poems have appeared on forums such as South Florida Poetry Journal, Madras Courier, The Punch Magazine just to name a few. He is also the Co-Editor of Plato’s Caves Online, a semi academic space dealing with poetry, life, culture and politics.
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