These new young poetry stars of the digital age capitalise on people’s love for sharing quotes on Facebook.
The shorter and catchier the post, the more likes, shares and comments it generates.
These are excerpts from a ghazal by Imran Aami, a moustachioed, dark-haired poet from Rawalpindi, which delighted the crowd at a mushaira in the Islamabad Literature Festival earlier this year.
As he left the stage with a big smile on his face, several young audience members came up to him saying that they had first discovered his posts on Facebook and had become his followers ever since.
Similar was the experience of Islamabad-based poet Saeed Shariq who had female fans meeting him after a recent mushaira saying they followed his Facebook posts. “Are you really Saeed Shariq?” they gushed.
Their posts are shared by hundreds, followed by thousands and commented on by numerous; Facebook has given rise to a new generation of poets.
“It is a nice feeling when you finally meet your Facebook fans. They are no longer unfamiliar,” says Tehzeeb Haafi, a poet based in Taunsa Sharif, Dera Ghazi Khan District.
These verses, composed mostly in Urdu, are ideal for Facebook, because so much can be articulated in just a few lines.
No longer dependent on the whims of picky editors of literary magazines, these young versifiers have bypassed them and post their verses on the timeline of their Facebook accounts engaging with their readers in just a few seconds.
The readers instantly click their likes and post comments indicating to the Facebook poets what it is that resonates with them. In other words, the digital equivalent of wah-wah.
Whatever one may think about the quality of their poetry, the discernment is left to the follower; the fact of the matter is that they are popular, and that too in an age when the knell has been sounding for Urdu and Urdu poetry.
Tehzeeb Haafi, aged 26, started writing poetry seriously about 11 years ago. Initially he explored the genre of nazm but then soon started to express himself in ghazals and has remained faithful to that genre. He has 4,409 friends on his Facebook account at the last count.
Haafi, whose real name is Tehzeeb-ul-Hasan, writes mainly romantic verses replete with imageries of darya, parinday, bagh and samandar. Currently pursuing his MPhil degree in Urdu from Oriental College in Lahore, his poetry voices the torment of a spurned lover using everyday language:
“I don’t like to philosophise in my poetry,” says Haafi, who also writes in Saraiki. When Haafi started writing poetry, he took the traditional route.
He sent his poems to Urdu digests and prestigious literary magazines, which, if he was lucky, would sometimes publish them. “But the general public’s accessibility is limited to literary magazines,” he points out.
And he felt frustrated in not reaching out to more people. The advent of Facebook became a game-changer for him. He started to post poetry about four years ago and reached out to large number of readers.
His devoted fans started to compile some of his best verses and shared them. Some designed his couplets in artful typography eliciting several hundred likes.
For 23-year-old Ajmal Saeed, writing ghazals was solely a personal pursuit. Facebook allowed him to put up his unpolished verses and gauge the response from his Facebook friends.
Established poets and friends began to comment on his poetic posts giving this young poet, who writes under the pen-name of Saeed Shariq, the impetus to write seriously.
A physics graduate and working as a scientific assistant in a government organisation, Shariq’s verses have a metaphysical quality replete with innovative metaphors.
It is 36-year-old Imran Aami, real name Syed Imran Akhtar, who is arguably the brightest star among the Facebook poets. An established poet whose works have been featured in several literary journals and anthologies, he has a fanatical online readership.
While perusing his posts it is not unusual to see hundreds of likes. Ruminating on social injustices and hypocrisies, his style of versifying is cynical and sarcastic. This reverberates deeply with his followers; “bahut aala”, “kya kehnay”, “dhairoun daad” are the frequent comments that he receives.
“We are no longer dependent on literary establishments. Literary journals tend to be exclusive domains. But with Facebook we now have a direct relationship with our followers. They are not interested in the technicalities of poetry,” he says.
Aami, who also writes poetry in Potohari, is grateful to this form of social media: “Facebook ne bahut nawaza hai.” “Facebook has opened up avenues for new poets, particularly those living in towns and villages. It has brought so many poets to the fore.
One no longer needs a sifarish,” says Aami, who works as sports in-charge with the Punjab Police. It has been heartening for him to learn through Facebook that readership is not on the decline. “Urdu poetry is still quite popular, and not just classical but also original poetry.”
All this shows their readers have a voracious appetite for poetry, but will they buy their collections should they ever be published? Haafi seems to have no such plans, pointing out the lack of commercial viability.
“Sadly, publishers are not interested. Hence, most poets self-publish and distribute their books to friends and family members.” Shariq and Aami are certain that their Facebook followers will buy their collections, which are planned for next year, even if they self-publish them.
Aami says that it is crucial for literary organisations such as the Halqa-i-Arbab-i-Zauq, the Pakistan Academy of Letters, the National Book Foundation and Anjuman-i-Taraqqi-i-Urdu to print their works and advertise them.
And one couldn’t agree more as these organisations receive government funding and also make substantial profit annually through book sales.
Part of that funding and profit could certainly be used to publish original individual poetry collections. And with a network in the entire country, literary organisations need to encourage Facebook poets or they will fade into oblivion and we will perhaps be worse off without them.
Originally published in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 14th, 2016