We’re all always spontaneous. But we aren’t always brilliantly spontaneous. Most of the time, therefore, powerful spontaneity comes in the form of a perfumed after-thought or brilliance that exists in our minds only. The world thus misses out on millions of such quotable spontaneous responses each minute… and spontaneity remains, at best, mediocre. In the midst of such grim facts, can poetry really be a ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’?

The four keywords here are ‘spontaneous’, ‘overflow’, ‘powerful’, and ‘feelings’. These aren’t lesser words that anyone can get up and play around with. And importantly, these giant words come together in this one sentence wishing to be linked to a delicate entity called poetry! I wish there were some fairy tale called ‘The four beasts and the beauty’… but I think I can guess how the story goes. Spontaneity simply gobbles up the other three words and then decides to change its name to ‘deliberate’. It is serious deliberation that then attempts to woo this delicate princess called poetry and generally manages to formally marry her. What happens to poetry in this relationship is what we finally get to read… and so what we read can be any of these: sultry, sensuous, haranguing, lusty, mundane, haggard, tiresome, enervating, energetic, pumped up, snooty, false, meaningless, complex… well, the list is actually as endless as the forms of emotions.

So spontaneity is a big misnomer and really non-existent. I don’t think I’ve heard of any real poet enter a room and then rattle off some immortal lines simply on seeing this ravishing beauty sitting in a corner. This happens in films… and in the minds of non-poets. Believe me, I have written more than 1800 poems and every time I’ve had to sit and get into some sort of a custom-made trance where only a select group of thoughts get privileged entry to help me rearrange them into what my mind decides is the appropriate form. To add to this confusion for the non-poet, alien thoughts that are quite unrelated to the group that is dancing in the poet’s mind keep sneaking in until the final shape of the poem isn’t what even the poet thought it would be. Now all those who didn’t understand what I wrote can please stop pretending that they know what poetry is all about… and just get on with their pathetic prosaic world and blogging contests.

This word ‘spontaneity’ is defined as an act ‘performed or occurring as a result of a sudden inner impulse or inclination and without premeditation or external stimulus.’ Now imagine a sequence where you slowly walk to a heavily curtained window and then dramatically open it to look out and see… nothing because it is pitch dark outside, but the powerful stench of the cowshed below rushes in and overwhelms you. Would you rush to your desk to open your laptop and pen your latest rhyme? You wouldn’t do it even if you dramatically open that window and see your favourite actress in a bikini beckoning you to come out and follow her to play with the ripples that feet make when they are dipped in the shallow end of a swimming pool. Well, you wouldn’t immediately set off to write a poem even if what you see are majestic snow-covered peaks or the restless waves on a sea-shore or Kejriwal sitting on another dharna right below your window. No, poetry is never this sort of a spontaneous expression. Yes, there can be intelligently arranged lines that even rhyme… but that isn’t the sort of poetry we are talking about, right? This last category of poetry is what I have done in abundance on twitter… and I’ve gone tippet-tap on my laptop keyboard for hours to churn out 140 character rhymes on certain hashtags or prompts. These must have been impressive because I have won quite a few prizes in twitter contests for churning out this ‘spontaneous’ poetry. But this is NOT poetry. Intelligent couplets with rhymes and even a perfect syllabic count are not necessarily poetry… and you can read such examples if you just click on the poetry tab on my blog and reach out for my twitter verses.

So, is there any connection between poetry and spontaneity?

Yes, there is. Poets let the spontaneity of the overflow of a powerful emotion remain in their being… and they need to keep shaking it awake as if it were some thixotropic solution that would settle into deep slumber otherwise. The next step is to do nothing and let this spontaneity mature within you like whiskies are matured for years in casks. Be that cask. And when the time is right, this spontaneous overflow of emotions that you have painstakingly preserved, will emerge dressed in words of its choice and become a poem that is a real poem.

Twitter has produced a lot of spontaneous poetry wizards!

Twitter has produced a lot of spontaneous poetry wizards!


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Arvind Passey
23 May 2014