Welcome to Indian Poetry - November 2008



There is a belief that editors are essentially empire-builders (and not necessarily in mufti); that their function is about lordly appointment and exclusion, about building canons and plotting coups.  

Far too often what’s overlooked is the sweaty, non-glamourous stuff – the strenuous business of trying to be inclusive but not indiscriminate; to fuel an enterprise with passion rather than with an agenda, with direction rather than with dogma; to critically examine personal preference and not allow it to harden into prejudice; to feature poetic styles and approaches that challenge and extend one’s own ideas of poetry.

The eighteenth edition of the India domain distributes the editorial function – and burden. Four guest editors – all of them poets featured previously on the domain – step in to recommend the work of other poets whose work has enriched and nourished their own poetic practice in some way.

And that brings us to this special new edition: Poets on Poets.

Interestingly, all the guest editors have opted to present the work of poets of their own generation (in terms of publishing history, if not chronology). Senior poet Mangalesh Dabral brings in the voices of two contemporaries, both stalwart poets in Hindi literature: Vinod Kumar Shukla and Rituraj. Two young(er) generation poets, Hemant Divate (Marathi) and Kutti Revathi (Tamil), also introduce the work of their peers: Sachin Ketkar and Malathi Maithri. In the case of English, it seemed like an interesting idea to unsettle hierarchies and invite the youngest poet on the domain to recommend the poet of her choice. And so 24-year-old Meena Kandasamy (whose début poetry collection was published in 2006) decided to present the work of Nitoo Das, whose first book is out this year.

There are, as always, unexpected congruences. Both Rituraj and Vinod Kumar Shukla are poets who started writing in the mid seventies and whose work is infused by a philosophical temper. Both live in small-town India and their work is clearly informed by their respective geographies. Additionally, as Dabral points out, “They belong to the generation of intellectuals whose disillusionment with sthe Nehruvian dream created a whole new ethos in contemporary Hindi poetry.”

While poet and translator Sachin Ketkar’s poetry adopts a tone of deliberate parody as he explores the contradictions of a postcolonial globalised India, Nitoo Das’s love poem brings its own share of verbal playfulness into this edition. And while blogs and photocopies take on their own vibrant life in Ketkar’s work, Das’ “cold and cranky” Godrej cupboard is imbued with a cantankerous and patrician presence all its own. Both politics and playfulness are to be found in Tamil poet Malathi Maithri’s poetry of darkly radiant metaphor. Teeming with predatory animals – from serpents to panthers – this is work that combines a fierce feminist sensibility with quirky image-play.

Welcome to a delicious potage of poems – replete with rivers and butterflies, crickets and mutinous goddesses. Tuck in.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam  
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