Thursday, September 20, 2012

The best English poetry by Indians is as good as Indian fiction

Sudeep Sen
Sudeep Sen, poet and editor of the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry by Indians, feels strongly about verse in India. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das, Sen discussed why poetry is vital, contemporary concerns Indian poets are dealing with — and why Indian prose writers make more news than their poetic peers :
What is the point of poetry — beyond putting things prettily?
The point and power of poetry is absolute. It is urgent, inescapable and transcendental. Beautiful writing through pretty phraseology is only a very small fraction of the entire art form. There is much more beyond this narrow notion of aesthetics. Unlike prose, which tends largely to be prosaic, poetry is something we humans resort to in our most intimate and precious moments — birth, death, love, rejection, grief, happiness, prayer and so on.
Ironically, poetry is all around us in spite of not announcing that it is so. Often, the book on our bedside table is poetry that we dip in and out of in moments of quietude and reflection. That is why poetry is commonly considered the highest art form.
What are some of the predominant themes or concerns in the Indian verse you've edited?
The subject matter is staggeringly large. There is introspection and gregariousness, politics and pedagogy, history, science, illness, fantasy, love, erotica, sex and death. There is free verse and an astonishing penchant for formal verse. You`re likely to encounter a pantoum next to an acrostic poem, a triolet juxtaposed against a ghazal, lyric narratives, Sapphic fragments, Bhartrhari-style shataka, sonnet, rubai, prayer chants, rap, reggae, creole, haiku, tanka — just to mention a few! Indian poets are in full flight.
Taking into consideration the quality of our poetry, i would provocatively assert that the best English poetry written by Indians in the contemporary national and international literary arena is perhaps as good — or superior — to Indian fiction in English as a whole. There is bravura, experimentation, erudition and a delightfully uninhibited use of language by poets.
Indian poets were once known for their fiery political verse and now?
Well, some are still known to be fiery but fortunately, the range of contemporary poets and their palette is much larger, wider and open-minded. The contemporary generation is freer of colonial or servile hang-ups, both in their use of English and their approach to other Indian tongues they speak and write in.
You mentioned Indian fiction in English. Debates on quality aside, there are many internationally known Indian fiction writers but few poets. Why is this?
There are actually more Indian poets known internationally than what might appear. Many have done well professionally on the global circuit. But yes, in terms of sheer numbers compared to fiction writers, this is a lower figure.
I`m afraid Indian poets are largely themselves to be blamed for this as they do not put on a concerted front. There are too many mutually exclusive groups who just pat each other`s backs. There is petty politics by wannabe mediocre poets, most interested in only promoting their own work. Also, there is little or no high-calibre criticism when it comes to Indian poetry and for the most part, it is taught poorly or barely at all.
Indian fiction flourishes more as it has more takers. Publishers are willing to publish novelists and not risk poets. Fiction tends to be more accessible too, it is more reader- and media-friendly by its inherent nature. However, there are plenty of fine poets around — and they will eventually get read and known.
(source : The Times of India)

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