Some weeks ago my friend Ananya Vajpeyi began posting verses of Tibetan poetry on her Facebook Wall. That is where I first read them, and that is how I first became aware of the existence of a large number of young Tibetan poets living in small, cramped hostel rooms and apartments in Dharamshala and etching the confines and struggles of their existence into poems. I remember talking to Ananya about how moved I was by some of the words, and how evocative they were. It was in one of our conversations about this poetry that the idea of producing a short piece about these young voices, and their determination to have their works published, and heard came about.
Reading the works in the comfort of my room in Delhi was a strong experience. But it was only after I had spent some time in Dharamshala that I really began to understand the meaning and complexity of these works. It is only by coming here to Dharamsahala that I finally realized that the world within the poems are written in resistance to the world that the Tibetan’s see around them. And to a future they fear is promised to them. The poems are a tapestry of hopes in opposition to the squalor and uncertainty, if not outright (seeming) impossibility, of the fulfillment of those hopes.
Their poems which are filled with a sorrow, longing and a sort of inner frenzy to escape, a near maddening sense of loss. When you meet the poets, however, as you sit with them, whether in a local cafe or in the suffocating confines of their tiny refugee hostels and apartments, they come across as brave, polite, gentle, funny and determined. But the poems reveal the inner reality – another reality. As you sit with them, having read their works, you see not just the person in front of you, but the demons that reside within.
The poems are near screams, a form of release and contain the frantic gestures of a prisoner pulling at bars. Some have the desperation of a man pulling his hair to feel a pain greater than the one in his heart. I see their faces – those laughs, that smile, those strong and determined eyes, I respect their words – that rhetoric of resistance, that language of confrontation, that mission of struggle, but then I think of the poems that reveal the fragility of their souls, the darkness of their inner world, the real hopelessness that fuels the public strength and courage.
Over the course of the next few days I will be posting recordings of the poets reading their works. Bhuchung D. Sonam and Casey Kemp, a Buddhist researcher and scholar, have generously offered to translate works from the original Tibetan. This may take some time, but many younger Tibetan poets are writing in English, and those I will share here shortly.
This is an amazingly talented, very passionate group of young poets. Their works are largely unpublished, but the people at outfits like TibetWrites – small, locally funded publishing effort, are trying to get more of this work out to the world.
As I said, I will be posting various poems, photo essays, poet profiles, translated poems, and a flip book over the course of the coming weeks. I am also putting together a small, soft cover, book of images from my time in Dharamshala that I hope people will be willing to purchase. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to TibetWrites to support the further translation and publishing of the works of these young poets.
It is impossible however, to end a discussion about Tibetan poets without mentioning Tenzin Tsundue. I will not say much here about this remarkable man, because so much has already been said. Though of course I feel that it is still not enough. Tsundue is an inspiration to anyone who meets him and a source of endless energy,belief and hope. Here in Dharamshala he can be taken for a one man crusade for the struggle for Tibetan rights and independence. Of course there are thousands involved in this seemingly Sisyphean effort, but Tsundue remains a spark to it all. But not only that, he is also a poet, a writer and a lovely and generous man.
I end this post with him because I can’t help but feel that somehow so much of what is going on in the Tibetan community in exile begins with him. The writer Pankaj Mishra called him one of The Restless Children of The Dalai Lama. I will write more about Tsundue and his poetry, as I will about other poets that I met, in the next few days.