Every poet’s worst fear is obscurity, not for themselves, but for their poems. While some gain the recognition they deserve, there are many who are left unknown. Then, there is a third kind, those who have gained massive recognition in other fields, but not for their poetry. Here are 9 such famous personalities who are also great poets even though that is not what they are known are for.
Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
Possibly, the most loved, admired and respected president of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was not just an exceptional scientist but also a brilliant poet. The Bharat Ratna awardee and ‘People’s President’ has penned several moving poems which have been collected in The Life Tree. Through this collection of 26 poems, we get a look at his life and his thoughts. Kalam’s love for the nation is evident in his poems as he inspires and urges us to break the barriers of language, religion, and caste through his poems. You can also read some of his poems on the website dedicated to him and hosted by the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
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Irom Chanu Sharmila
Irom Sharmila, also known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, is a civil rights and political activist. She was on a hunger strike for 16 years, from 2000 to 2016, to protest against the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Power Act) in Manipur. In her book of poems, Fragrance Of Peace, she writes about her desire for love and freedom, and about the sheer joy of being able to do simple things like drinking water or brushing teeth. Fragrance Of Peace provides a poetic account of a woman’s lone struggle for peace. Her biography, Iron Irom: Two Journeys, concludes with Birth- a 1,000-word poem written by her, which gives us a glimpse into her life since childhood.
Ruskin Bond is one of India’s most beloved writers and a Sahitya Akademi Award recipient. In 2014, he was also awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in India. He has written over 500 short stories and more than 25 novels. Apart from a brilliant author, he is also a poet and in his delightful poetry collection, Ruskin Bond’s Book Of Verse, he writes about love, nature, travel, humour, and childhood. A Lone Fox Dancing, It Isn’t Time That’s Passing, Lovers Observed, Raindrops, and Do Not Be Afraid Of The Dark are some of his most loved poems.
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Vishal Bhardwaj is one of the most prominent film directors in India. While he has won seven National Awards in four categories for his work in Indian cinema, it is a lesser known fact that he also writes poetry. Bhardwaj was exposed to poetry at an early age as his father was also a poet. The influence of Dr. Bashir Badr, Mirza Ghalib, and Gulzar on him and his poems is clearly evident in his collection of poetry, Nude. The book consists of 25 ghazals and 25 nazms that talk about love, loss, grief, death, and joy. Although English translations are included in the book, the poems are best enjoyed in the language they are written in.
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Known for the unconventional and bold characters she plays in Indian films, Kalki Koechlin is not only a talented actress and performer but also an amazing spoken word poet. Her first spoken word video, The Printing Machine, came out on YouTube in 2016 and went viral instantly. The poem talks about how news is being produced and consumed today. In 2017, she released her spoken word poetry, Noise, which talked about the various noises we hear every day and how they affect us. Koechlin also gives live performances at various spoken word poetry events.
Michael Ondaatje is mostly known for his Golden Man Booker-winning novel The English Patient. Despite the fact that he has published more poetry collections than novels, his fiction is far more popular than his poems. The poems collected in Handwriting are based on the history and mythology of India, China, and Sri Lanka. He has also written an entire novel in the form of verse- The Collected Works Of Billy The Kid, which recounts important events in the life of Billy The Kid, the American outlaw. In addition to these, he has published over ten poetry books.
The 2000 Man Booker Prize winner for The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood is primarily known for her dystopian feminist novel The Handmaid’s Tale. However, it might be surprising to many that she has written as many poetry books as novels. In her poetry collections, Double Persephone, The Circle Game, and The Animals In That Country, she highlights the conflict between humanity and nature. Her poems in Two-Headed Poems explore the duality which exists in all of us in different forms. Her poems also talk about the treatment of women in a patriarchal society.
Vladimir Nabokov, the writer of the acclaimed and controversial novel, Lolita, started out as a poet. He began writing poems when he was 12 and had privately published two poetry books before he turned 18. His collection of poems, Vladimir Nabokov: Selected Poems, consists of 23 poems that are representative of Nabokov’s entire career. The poems in this collection are on subjects ranging from the Russian Revolution to the American refrigerator, love and loneliness, and even topics like butterflies and ice-skating. In fact, his poem Lilith is considered a precursor to Lolita.
During his lifetime, Herman Melville remained not only an obscure writer but also unrecognised as a poet. While Moby Dick gained attention 30 years after his death and is now considered a classic, his poems never got the public appreciation they deserved. Battle-Pieces And Aspects Of The War, his collection of over 70 poems based on the American Civil War was ignored by both critics and the public. However, today, some critics even rank him as amongst the greatest 19th century American poets, just below Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. His poem, Clarel: A Poem And Pilgrimage In The Holy Land, was inspired by his trip to The Holy Land and is one of the longest poems in American literature.
Did you know that these eminent personalities were also poets? Do you know of any other such poets that we missed? Share with us in the comments.
Ankit loves stories, be it in any form- print, media or theatre. After reading Angels and Demons, he fell in love with books, especially suspense, thriller, and fantasy. He is a big fan of Harry Potter series. He quit his engineering career to become a writer and currently works with The Curious Reader. Apart from writing he also loves filmmaking, photography, traveling and cooking. You can reach him on Instagram.