From Classics To Contemporary: Books Poets Read
From celebrating love during war to reliving stories of death in a Nazi camp. From capturing what meant to be poor and black at a certain time to understanding the art and science of translation. These books are among the favourite reads of four poets BloombergQuint spoke to.
An Indian poet and short story writer. He is the recipient of the Sahitya Academy Award (1984 ) for his poetry collection, The Keeper of the Dead, and the Padma Shri in 2014.
Doctor Zhivago, By Boris Pasternak
“I would consider among novels Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Yes it may be slow but it gives the spotlight to love during the violence and chaos of the revolution. And it has the greatest scene in literature—the wolves baying, and Yuri writing his poetry in that house, where he is living in love with Lara,” Daruwalla said.
Poems Of Paul Celan
“I would select Paul Celan for the wonderful way he transposed the terrible death of his family in Auschwitz,” Daruwalla said. “He himself was also in the camp as a child.”
The Plays of Shakespeare
All plays by Shakespeare. “That needs no elaboration.”
A novelist, poet, editor and journalist. He is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in the non-fiction category for his book ‘Em and the Big Hoom’.
These My words, Edited By Eunice De Souza And Melanie Silgado
This is a magnificent and panoramic sweep of Indian poetry in many languages and across many ages, according to Pinto.
The Collected Poems, By Nissim Ezekiel
“I refer to this for clarity, philosophy and precision,” Pinto said.
A poet, novelist and feminist. She holds a PhD in sociolinguistics. Her work has appeared in 18 languages.
Summer In Calcutta, By Kamala Das
“Kamala Das was like someone opening a new, secret world for me. I grew up in a religious (read: patriarchal) set up, and just to find words to talk about love, about the body, about the failings, about the strength and the fragility of womanhood—her poetry just gave me oxygen,” Kandasamy said. “Suddenly, for the first time in my life I felt that the life I was living and the life I was denied could be described in words—with honesty, with shame, with anger, with sensuality. Also, because I was in love with her work and talked about her, I would be inevitably recommended the works of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and other confessional poets—and it opened so many universes of feminist expression for me.”
Poems Of Love And War, Translated By AK Ramanujan
“I recommend the AK Ramanujan book of translation of Tamil Sangam poetry because it showed me how rich, how brilliant and intricate the Tamil poetic tradition was,” Kandasamy said. “Growing up in the 1990s, it was easy to become self-loathing, and or become part of the larger culture that valued English over Tamil. Reading him also allowed me to understand the importance of translation, the art and science of it, the pure poetry and passion of it. One of the reasons why I first started my foray into books as a translator was because I was so heavily influenced by him.”
Selected Poems, By Gwendolyn Brooks
“I choose Gwendolyn Brooks because she has been a steady presence—I read her work just to find sufficient rage against the world, just to reaffirm my belief that anything can be written about,” Kandasamy said. “She captures the natural cadences of speech, she works within form, and she captures the particular experience of what it meant to be poor and black in a certain time and place. I recently read somewhere online her own words, that she wrote ‘while scrubbing, washing, ironing, cooking: dropping the mop, broom, soap, iron or carrot grater to write down a line, or word’ and as someone who struggles to find time to write, I find her absolutely inspiring.”
A poet, artist, and performer. Her second book, The Sun and Her Flowers, was one of America’s bestselling books of 2017.
The Prophet, By Kahlil Gibran
The poems in this collection are ‘universal and relatable’, according to Kaur. “It’s the book I go to when times are good, and it’s the book I refer to when life isn’t going so well and I need a little push.”
Big Magic, By Elizabeth Gilbert
A great read anytime you’re struggling with your creativity, according to Kaur. “For me, Elizabeth is one of the foremost teachers on how to ‘navigate one’s creativity.’ Whenever I have self doubt or am going through writer’s block, I reread this book to pull me out of it,” she said. “It will give any artist the confidence to keep pursuing their dreams.”
Arabian Love Poems, By Nizar Qabbani
Qabbani writes about love and life beautifully. His writing is absolutely magical and romantic, Kaur said. ‘It’s full of eastern folklore imagery and feeds the soul that’s in love.”