The last twelve months saw the release of fantastic books of poems by several contemporary Indian poets in many languages. We discuss four such poets writing in English, and other small poetry projects that will help you discover the wonders of poetry.
A poem is hope. It rises and falls, and tumbles into your palms so you could feel it. You may or may not; it tries nevertheless. A poem may not necessarily be read in a book of poems for it to touch you. Sometimes a single poem found in the middle of a book or on a poster, or heard over a radio or a podcast or a poetry slam can be enough, to make you think about it for days, to give you goosebumps, or to make you smile.
Over the last few years, I’ve found myself stumbling upon new poets like this, through their social media channels, or through beautiful book reviews that have led me to pick up some books and dive into them immediately. To celebrate the possibilities that poetry has opened up today, and how lucky it is to be alive in this age, I want to share a list of some of the contemporary Indian poets whose firsts have been published/showcased in the last twelve months, creating ripples, big or small, in their own ways.
Sumana Roy is a poet from Siliguri, who blurs the difference between poetry and prose. Her novels could read like poems and her poems could be part of her novel. They’re fluid, they’re beautiful. I’ve enjoyed reading everything Sumana writes, so when the publishers, Speaking Tiger Books, released a post about her first book of poems Out of Syllabus, I immediately pre-ordered a copy and excitedly opened the box that had been delivered, as soon as it arrived. Out of Syllabus is a wonderful collection of poems where each title of a section is named after a subject—History, Geography, Physics and so on—but they each deal with things beyond the scope of teaching, things that we learn through our experiences. We study distance only in units but do we really understand them when they begin to grow between us? ‘Every relationship is a long distance relationship,’ writes Sumana in her beautiful poem called ‘Long Distance Relationship.’ Here’s sharing another poem, from the collection, called ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’:
“The door opens itself
into a cave: it holds
A lover’s night.
A caged monsoon.
The room is its own
prisoner. It handcuffs
a silence to the bed.
The day waits
to grow complete.
How can it,
You are its pillow
at the end of a bed,
the day’s backrest.
Socks become balls
in shoes, the shirt
droops for attention
on the old chair’s
The hankie grows old
in my pocket. It misses
your stabs at its stains.
Every hotel room night,
I want to escape with you
to a life without nights,
where days end,
not into darkness
of electric switches,
but into you,
where I’m stitched
as holy books to ears,
into the leather
of your dreams.”
Huzaifa Pandit is my next recommendation and another poet I read intensely in these last few months, a poet I keep returning to very often. He was born in Kashmir and writes about occupation, what it is to live under it and carry that identity into spaces outside of it. Huzaifa writes regularly, often engaging in the art of translation along with his original pieces. His first book of poems called Green is the Colour of Memory was published with Hawakal Publishers in 2018, as a result of a chapbook contest winning entry and it is one of the most powerful books that I’ve read. It deals with grief, anger, hope, and many moments spent in painful remembrances. Here’s sharing ‘Evenings of Despair’ from the collection:
“What does one do when the howling sky
mocks the brackish evening?
What does one do when the roof of a stale hospital
stares from my immodest window?
What does one do when dead flowers sprinkle
expired adhesives over faded dreams?
What does one do when portraits of ancestors
spew expired invectives at you?
What does one do when plastic rainbows
pellet your lamenting lungs?
What does one do when amputated houses
grate against wilted coffins?”
Urvashi Bahuguna was awarded the 2017 Emerging Poets’ Prize by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective and her first book of poems Terrarium was launched this year. I ordered a copy recently, so I’m yet to begin reading the book. However, I’ve read Urvashi’s works online whenever they’re published in a journal and they always take me to a place beyond language, where all poetry must. They’re the kind of poems that I find always easy to trust, yet always so full of surprises. I want to share her poem ‘Involuntary’ with you, from Terrarium, republished in Scroll with four other poems of hers that you must check out:
“When I reach to console her on a New Year’s Eve,
(the first time in her brief life she has been alone) I am taken
aback by my own direction – kneeling to a love that falls from me,
whether I want it to or not, that grows inside me the same as sweat
or snot or pus. Forgive the lack of diplomacy. This is sometimes what
love comes to, searching for a person who doesn’t want to be found,
who needs her own kindness and when she fails to give it to herself, it pours
out from me. It feels natural, even God-given for a minute, before she gives
it back. And really, who would want this kind of weak love anyway.”
Aparna Sanyal is a poet based in Pune, who launched her first book of poems Circus Folk and Village Freaks in the form of a one-hour dramatic poetry reading at G5A Foundation in Bombay, where skilled theatre actors took on the persona of the characters from her poems and became those characters in that moment. This book, written in rhyming couplets, gives us a glimpse into the lives of those who are unique in their own ways, often outcasts in the society, like ‘Jeeva, the Elephant Man’ and ‘Pablo, the Clown’, and the effect that this has on them. Aparna’s poems have been published in various journals, and here’s sharing an excerpt from her poem, ‘The Back Room’ originally published in Vayavya:
“It was easy to send you away,
we can’t have sickness in the big house,
there is a child here.
The skin between your brows was constant rubble,
you were sculpted from sunlight slivers and tiger stripes.
And everything that showed black from white,
healthy from sick.
What will you do at home, you asked.
It is the parentheses to your life in the back room,
your wife, the afterthought.
Your son tokes, turks, runs, repeats,
he does not want you.
But I’m convinced they can love more than
rodents and gods.”
I want to close by mentioning my favourite three poets who created small ripples over the last twelve months. Shantanu Anand published his first digital chapbook, My Home is Burning and I Can Only Sit and Watch, in 2018 with a beautiful cover design by artist Priyanka Paul. The book is a brave exploration into ‘strength and weakness, fear and courage, masculinity and violence’ but, most of all, into ‘the language of violence in which we all, to a greater or lesser extent, speak.’Swastika Jajoo did a small tour with a set of poems in Ahmedabad, Goa, and Mumbai where her poems dealt with issues of gender, mental health, and her interactions with her grandfather, of which you may find a video here, from her poem ‘A Flower Behind My Grandfather’s Ear’. Bharath Divakar did a small tour as well, performing a set of poems in places like Pune and Bangalore, carrying their poetry show FLUID. Their poetry deals with celebrating the fluidity of identity and condemning the rigidity which we place it within.
That poetry must reach us in ways that we don’t think possible is proof that poetry never dies, it only blooms as though every season belongs to spring, and even on days when the weather is stormy outside for some, there are others who are writing, who are pushing the storm away.
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