Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry II


Snapshots with words

Menka Shivdasani

In a newly urbanizing and shiny India, an extraordinary transformation is taking place across the literary landscape. Over the din of coffee and conversations; at art galleries that are springing up in various cities; across scenic destinations where writers congregate for festivals, poets are making themselves heard. They are still told - as they have been for decades now - that nobody is interested in poetry, but the poets themselves clearly have other ideas.

Somehow, poetry - that tenacious genre - always finds ways to survive. New spaces are opening up in a growing cafe culture in the metros. Anjali Purohit's 'Cappuccino Readings' at the Starbucks in South Mumbai celebrated its first year of existence in April 2015 and is still going strong; The Hive in a suburban Mumbai location hosts regular Open Mic poetry sessions. In Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) and in the United States, where one of the co-founders now lives, The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a not-for-profit, shared work literary press, has launched an Emerging Poets Prize where three manuscripts from nearly 100 entries were chosen for publication. Jennifer Robertson, who is represented here, is among the winners.

In Hyderabad, Linda Ashok, a young writer, has instituted the RædLeaf Poetry Awards. In Chennai, the Poetry with Prakriti festival has poets sharing their work in academic and in unconventional spaces such as textile showrooms. In Ghaziabad, Sarabjeet Garcha, who writes poetry in English and Hindi, has started a publishing house called Copper Coin Publishing Pvt Ltd. In Mumbai, Hemant Divate, a Marathi poet and publisher of poetry books in English, and Smruti Divate, have brought out 62 books of poetry in 12 years through their publishing house Poetrywala; two decades ago this would have been unimaginable. Writers who are passionate about poetry are juggling day jobs with the arduous task of keeping the genre alive and finding new audiences across diverse platforms.

This anthology is a follow-up to the one I had compiled for in 2013. In the previous collection, with the intention of providing some sense of perspective and continuity, I had interpreted the word 'contemporary' in the title loosely to include poems I had been familiar with for decades, by poets who had forged a completely new idiom in post-independence India. The poets in this second edition, many of whom represent a new generation, have built upon this sense of confidence. For them, the debate about whether they should be writing in their mother tongues and not in English is a complete non-issue, even if it is still flogged in academic circles.

In selecting these poems, I made no attempt to narrow it down to any particular theme. From deceptively simple snapshots to edgy interior landscapes, the canvas of Indian writing in English today is varied and wide. The poets represented here may have English in common, but they draw upon a multiplicity of Indian languages and influences. I have also included a few poets who live elsewhere but who have deep-rooted connections back home.

The sheer number of Indian poets -- and I speak only of those writing in English -- has meant that I have inevitably left out many I would have liked to include. The silver lining to this is with so many people writing poetry, there is reason to believe it will continue to survive and make its presence felt.

As Shikha Saklani Malaviya, co-founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, points out in a recent essay, poetry is more relevant than ever today: "because of its ability to pack experience and emotion within the confines of a stanza - to take snapshots with words, if you will - poetry deserves to be utilized in the same way that we text, tweet or post pictures. It is a perfect mode of communication for the digital age".