Some people talk and talk
and never say a thing.
Some people look at you
and birds begin to sing.
Some people laugh and laugh
and yet you want to cry.
Some people touch your hand
and music fills the sky.
People by Charlotte Zolotow, All That Sunlight
I stumbled upon this poem by Charlotte Zolotow on a cold winter afternoon in Tokyo. I was taking an idle stroll through Ueno Park on a weekend and had wandered into the International Library of Children’s Literature, where I found this in a book of assorted poems for young readers. I immediately copied these lines into my notebook. I needn’t have done it though, for this poem has stayed with me ever since. I haven’t read any of Zolotow’s other work, but to me, these eight lines contain more insights than a library on the nature of relationships. Only a real poet can gift these rare moments of awakening to the reader in this simple and lucid manner.
I have sometimes wondered what some avant-garde poets try to say in their work. During one of the poetry workshops in my master’s course in creative writing, I requested the tutor to explain what a classmate’s poem meant – the piece in question was a solid block of words decorated with equations, diagrams and a large footnote of dense prose. The tutor, a poet himself, looked helplessly around for a few moments and with characteristic English politeness said a few generic words about the nature and concept of experimental poetry before hastily moving on to critique the next piece of work. It was only much later that it dawned upon me that the tutor himself had perhaps not been sure about the meaning of the piece.
Now I am fairly well-read in experimental literature and tend towards the postmodern in my own work, and find much pleasure in the exploration of literary form and structure. Nabokov who was a master at shaping his style to match the theme and substance of the narrative is one of my heroes and greatest influences. But as a reader and as a writer, I find that experimentation loses its purpose if it obscures the meaning. The greatness of a work of art lies in how it relates to the reader. The timeless and universal appeal of writers like Shakespeare and Subramaniya Bharati lies in the way their works are perennially celebrated by both classical scholars and semi-literate peasants. Zolotow’s poem is one such gem that rises above its stark simplicity as timeless, profound, and accessible.
I can’t believe it has been four years since I started this AtoZChallenge on favourite authors. It has been enjoyable to re-read and reflect on why I love these specific writers, and an immense pleasure to write about each of them.