Robert Frost once espoused, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” I resonated with this quote when I read Love in the time of Pokemon: Poems about love, loneliness, and other funny things by debut poet Anurag Verma. As someone who doesn’t like to read poetry per se, this book was oddly captivating and relatable. The collection of 23 poems induces themes of tragic humor, isolation, randomness, nostalgia, love, and urban sprawl. The book was ranked number 4th on Amazon bestseller list, while its free Kindle version topped the charts.
We got an opportunity to have a tête-à-tête with Anurag about writing, weird names and lonely people living in matchbox apartments. Excerpts:
Why does the name on your book read Anurag minus Verma ?
There is an interesting story behind it. I was a confused kid, so while I was filling the class 10th board exam form, I forgot the spelling of my surname due to nervousness. ‘Verma’ or ‘Varma’, I thought. I called up my father but he was busy in a meeting. So wrote my name without any surname. Therefore all my official documents like passport, Aadhar Card were without any surname because they are based on my class 10th form. Although on Facebook it’s mandatory to write a surname. So I wrote Anurag Minus Verma. I found it more interesting and from then on I use it as pseudonym.
Most of your poems like ‘The man who did nothing’, ‘Sadness of building after rain’, ‘Big city loneliness’ and ‘Add Poem’ are set in an urban backdrop and give a sense of cynicism. What personal experience and observations shaped these poems?
Most of the poems are a result of wandering on the streets of the city. Eavesdropping on the the conversations of strangers, looking at people sitting alone in apartments or having random conversations about life with drunkards at a wineshop. The more you talk and look at them, the more you realize the amount of loneliness which is out on display on city streets. Though I don’t look at it from hopeless gaze because there is also a great deal of humor among people which somehow becomes the tool for survival in this strange world. That is the reason I want to incorporate various shades of human life such as loneliness, humor, nostalgia among various other things. City plays an important character to incorporate these elements.
Can you share your favorite lines from the book?
all the weight of those years
which have piled up into
minutes, days, week, years
are right here,
unfolding in the
Hotel Supreme Heritage
where two people watching a separate dream together,
are walking through their own nightmares
and I wonder that from the weight
of the collective loneliness in the room
the building will collapse and we would
be just another 2 people of the world dead
by the volcano of love.
When was the first time you decided that writing was was something you had to do? Was there a moment of epiphany, or the realization seeped in gradually?
I think it was during engineering. I was living kind of a purposeless life. I wrote some stories and poems during that time. For the first time I felt mildly felt good about my existence. I had serious issues with expression in the form of spoken words. As an introvert, it was difficult for me to talk and say what I feel. When I am writing, I feel powerful, maybe the only time. I can say things which are not possible to say otherwise. Writing gives a certain degree of power to the misfits. In fact the first time I proposed a girl was through an SMS, while she was sitting in front of me.
What is the best thing about writing poetry?
Poetry gives you the chance to mix your nostalgia with fantasy. It gives a certain degree of meaning to many random events that had happened to us, and if a poet can express that with immaculate observations then it can create magic. So even a painful breakup from your girlfriend becomes an exciting opportunity to write poetry. All poets subconsciously love pain.
What’s the worst thing about writing poetry?
Difficult thing about writing the poetry is the vulnerability associated with it. You need to dwell in your past events to derive minute details and observation. For example, to write about your first love you need to time-travel to that event in your mind. So, after so many years you are back at that lost world again which you have tried to hide in your subconscious mind. You are there, smelling the perfume of your lover, feeling the texture of her dress. It opens up barrage of memories associated with it and then evenings become lonelier.
Do you think that poetry is reviving again these days, especially with the advent of online platforms?
In the contemporary times, distribution of any art has become much easier. It’s easier to find an audience as there are lots of distribution channels available like Instagram, blogs, etc. But in terms of form and content it has become more mediocre than it was before. Now the sensational content and loud performances have taken the place of poetry which comes out from deeper observations of life. It’s more or less dead. Until someone brings a revolution, to transform it into humane, playful and contemporary form, the way it was imagined to be.
Few days ago I was reading about the writer who did a social experiment to prove shallowness of poetry in current times by posting meaningless verse on Instagram from his alter hipster ego. He instantly started getting thousands of likes and followers even for writing lines such as ‘love made her wild’.
So for the advancement of any art, we need deeper and relentless probing of human soul. Technological advancement can only help us to a certain degree.
Any tips for budding poets?
Experience life in its ugliness and beauty. Both are glorious. Never fall for easy routes. Be relentless, restless, peaceful and sometimes be nothing at all. All art derives from particular state of mind state. Prepare that mind state and let the words destroy you beautifully. As Bukowski said “For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.”
About the author: Anurag is a filmmaker and Video Editor, besides being a poet and a failed computer engineer. After completion of his Masters in Arts and Aesthetics from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU, Delhi), he went to pursue a course in filmmaking from FTII, Pune. Some of his films have been shown at various film festivals across the world.
Picture Credits: Anurag Verma