“I reach deep inside myself to touch the pain and bring it out in words,” says Dr Neal Hall, and ophthalmologist-turned poet, explaining why he writes and what inspires his poetry. Dr Hall was at the Department of Communication on 15 July to read from his work and interact with students and faculty.
Much of Dr Hall’s poetry comes from the deeply felt pain of oppression, the collective suffering of America’s black population over the past several centuries. He writes to express the anger and frustration of an entire race that has experienced–and continues to experience–discrimination, marginalisation, and systemic cruelty in countless ways, despite the provisions of the American constitution. “We have to beware of the symbols of freedom, lest they replace the real thing.” he says, and in his poetry, he repeatedly brings up, in an ironic manner, the various symbols that stand for American democracy–the stars and stripes, baseball, the constitution–and shows how they remain empty symbols, with no hope of transforming into the real thing.
Drawing parallels between the oppression of African Americans in the US and that of lower castes in India, and noting that the basis of inequality was differential distribution of resources, Dr Hall’s suggested that oppressed people should fight the system with its own basic weapon–economics. He concluded his reading with three poems written in Hyderabad–one a whimsical ode to our very own Masala Chai and the other a comment on the caste system.
Dr Neal Hall has spent the last five weeks as a poet-in-residence at the Council for Social Development in Hyderabad, working with local poets Jamila Nishat and Volga, who translated his work into Urdu and Telugu respectively, for a tri-lingual anthology titled “Appalling Silence”. “More harm is done by the majority who remain silent in the face of oppression by a minority,” he said. He has published two other critically acclaimed volumes of poetry, “Nigger for Life” and “Winter’s A-Coming Still”.
-Dr Usha Raman