From writing love letters to slogans to long format poems, Prathap Suthan has always had a way with words. He speaks to Best Media Info about his ‘not-so-boring’ poetry and why sometimes going beyond the layout is necessary
Roshni Nair | Mumbai | February 9, 2017
(This is a weekly series on advertising professionals who have enriched their own lives and their audiences as performing musicians, artists, painters, actors, singers, mime artists. We will bring a new adman-performer every Thursday.)
the thing about poetry
is that there are no rules.
there ought to be none.
Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Bang in the Middle, started writing poems when he was in the eighth standard. Although he believes he was a little clumsy with his writing then, he knew that writing was what he loved. But a writer does not really become a writer until someone has lost themselves in his/her words, until someone has cried, laughed or pondered deeply over the words and their hidden, intimate meanings. A writer, essentially, doesn’t become a writer until he/she has a reader. Suthan found his readers when he entered college.
“I used to write a lot of love letters for my friends. It was interesting because I had to study the person who I was writing for. I would have to write things that were within his world. If I am to write like someone else then there is a lot of difference between me and what and who that other person is, what that person has experienced in life and how they speak. So I had to observe all the people I wrote for closely. It was successful, a lot of people fell in love and a lot fell out love and I did it all at the cost of a mutton biryani.”
poetry is free. like the air.
it swirls. it gushes. it soothes.
it typhoons. but air it is.
invisible and potent.
Suthan also was a regular contributor to his college magazine for many years. But he also wrote a lot for his friends, under their name, with the sole purpose of getting a lot of his writing ‘out there’. His friends were happy that they were getting famous and he was happy that a lot of his writings were getting published. Then came his sojourn to the United States.
“After college I went to the US, and I continued to write. I used to hang around at this store - a 7-Eleven convenience store, and I ended up writing store promo material that a lot of people used to love. The most busy and interesting part of the store the ‘Slurpee’ vending machine and it attracted hordes of people. One hot day, in the middle of summer, that machine broke down. As did the faces of many customers. I wrote a long apology and stuck it on the machine. Like an ode to parched throats and thrist. I had the entire lot laughing about it and they kept coming back to see what I would write next. So, I knew that my writing got attention even back then.”
poetry structures thoughts.
it takes us to the tips of cliffs
and to the depths of caves.
After he came back to India, he joined Mudra. He used to write poetry there as well, and poetry became a part of his daily dialogue with the one lady who would later become his wife.
“If I had to take her out for dinner or something, I would write it in the form of a poem and stick it on her door and if she wanted to come out with me she would write a reply and stick it on my door. So poetry was always a part of my life. At home, we both have poems on the walls, and some combined work as well.”
on the feathered backs
of our verses.
we fly everywhere.
hop, skip, and jump
over every dimension.
we soar and orbit.
before we realize it's fluid.
taking the shape
of all that we allow it.
Although he hasn’t published a book of his poems, he has published his long format poems online on a couple of sites – Poemhunter.com and Poetfreak.com (the latter has now vanished most magically). He has also used his poems as part of his campaigns.
“There was a Vimal Suiting campaign where I had actually used poetry and there was a full page advertising critique that I had done for Brand Equity that was entirely in the form of a poem. I remember the title of the review was - For better or verse.”
it could be love,
spite, hate, wisdom,
boredom, avarice, anything.
including the monsters
we breed and the angels
Four years ago, Suthan started by posting a clever couple of lines every Friday. The posts were much loved and got a lot of appreciation. This is when Suthan realised that he should write daily and should make writing into a habit and that was how ‘Bored poetry’ started.
“There is a reason I call it ‘Bored poetry’. It is not because I am bored, or my writing is boring. On the contrary, I believe that there is nothing that’s boring in the world. Boredom is essentially your problem. And your problem to see something interesting. A dull stone is plain boring, till you imagine a couple of earthworms getting into an arm wrestling contest under it.”
“More importantly the world is full of cynics, and the internet is full of writers, and there are very few secure and open people out there who would want to openly appreciate and applaud. But since I myself call it ‘Bored Poetry’ it sorts of disarms them from actively finding sharper and injurious words,” laughs Suthan.
The Facebook page where Suthan’s ‘Bored Poetry’ appears is called ‘Beyond Layouts’ and as with everything, there is an angle to that name too.
“Layout is essentially an advertising jargon. It comes from the process of print advertising, and the stage before the artwork is done, is called a layout. I named the page ‘Beyond Layouts’ because my little space is beyond the advertising layout. The name also means that it explores beyond the dimensions of a layout. The other thing is that, advertising is limiting. Each brand has its own language and world, and you have to work and play within that. But poetry allows me to break free of those parameters and go beyond all those limitations. It doesn’t hold me back or pin me down to any brand tone, world, character etc. The only limits that I have are my own limits.”
it's an elastic clay.
a rubber band that fits,
and snaps together
every length and breadth
of our thoughts.
universal bubble wrap.
no thorn can pierce it.
no heat can melt it.
Today, writing ‘Bored Poetry’ has become a discipline for Suthan, who hasn’t missed a day since he started writing. The posts go out at 6:15 am every day, and Suthan usually gets up at 5:45 in the morning to write. But where does his inspiration come from?
“There is a philosophy that I have - ‘Nothing is boring, everything is interesting’. Even boring is not boring and even mediocre things can be interestingly put. Most people won’t see a story in a blank wall, or see a story in a flower, or why leaves are green and the sky is blue etc. I see stories and angles in all of these. While I write about bigger things like life, religion, etc., I also write about animals, birds, grass, kisses, and about emotions like love, fear, heartbreak. But my words are largely visual and metaphorical. I believe that people would like to actually read things more visually these days.”
poetry is everywhere,
and in everything.
in death and in life.
in pretty and in ugly.
in the past and in the future.
in good and in evil.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth are some of his favourite poets and although he has grown up devouring their writings, Suthan admits that today he is a writer but not a reader.
“I don’t follow any writers or poets today. There was a time when I used to read a book a day but that has stopped. This doesn’t mean that I have stopped reading completely. But all the reading I do today is shallow reading and not much of deep reading. Also, I don’t read much today because I have developed a style of my own and I want to keep that style intact. I don’t want to be too influenced by other people.”
there's no vacuum inside us.
we just have to dip
into the river inside our heads,
and we'd find images
packaged as words.
we fish them out
and lay them along lines
on the shores of white paper.
But Suthan accepts that a book from his childhood called ‘Jungle Picture’ by Norah Burke might have had an impact on his writing.
“The book is a collection of short stories based on the foothills of the Indian mountains. So there were stories about tigers, bears, crocodiles in the book. It is a wonderful book and I still have it. Norah Burke has a very beautiful, visual language. She makes you see all kinds of beautiful things, including young ants peeping at the world from dew laden grass blades. I think I was influenced by that book then, and maybe it changed the way I approached paper with a pencil.”
poetry is our blood,
our thump, our lungs.
we don't write to please anyone.
at best ourselves.
we are our own critics.
we are our own audience.
we are okay with our babies.
we couldn't give a damn
if we are grammatically
wrong or irreverently incorrect.
everything goes. everything is fine.
So how has the poet in him helped the advertiser in him and vice versa?
“Because I keep writing my poetry, it makes me think of new things every time. It is like a constant practice that keeps happening in the mind. Much like advertising where you have to have an idea, writing poetry too needs you to spin it around a concept or a thought. In advertising, I don’t know where the idea is going come from, when it’s going come, or how quickly it will come. Because eventually it has to come. I know I have to post a poem at 6:15 am and I need to have something new to talk about, otherwise it will be boring. To write something every day and to consistently keep people happy is not easy. I could write this once a week or once in two weeks but when you do it daily, it is a different challenge. The more you write the sharper you get. It is easy in the beginning because you are almost like a virgin in your head but once you start depleting what you have in your head you start looking for newer things and you need to keep yourself fresh every time and that is exactly what you need in advertising as well.”
we have no masters.
we have no slaves.
we take no prisoners.
except those who trip
and fall into our quagmires.
That one moment that truly stands out in this poetic of his?
“Recently, one of the best writers in the world wrote a message to me appreciating me for what I do. That is definitely the biggest high that I got after I started writing. It is a like a certificate of merit from one of the guys who I really admire.”
He obviously left me wondering who this author was in a fashion typical to any great storyteller.
poetry is our release.
to all of us who live it.
it’s true freedom.
It’s pure liberty.
there's nothing in this world
that comes close to perfection
than seeing black printed on white.
for the lovers of words,
and for the men and women
of my ilk and ink,
there cannot be a redder rose.
or a sweeter heart.
this is our valentine.
(The words used to tie this piece together are from a poem called ‘if you love poetry.’ written by Prathap Suthan. Read the poem here https://www.facebook.com/notes/357198497638702/