Indian Poetry: traditions, memories and ruptures


“By Indian (English) Poetry, I mean the kind that has severed links with the collective traditions and the present angst of a people who belong to an abstract category called
India… The poetry of this kind is rife both in English and in other languages. Then there is the other type – I call it Indian poetry – which is part of region-specific hopes and anxieties. Even this type of poetry is written both in English and other Indian languages.

Indian (English) poets’ concept of India, whether they glorify
India or reject it, is reductionist and selective. Indian poets are merely aware and open about the flux of living in

H.S. Shivaprakash, “A footnote to Indian (English) poetry”, in C.D. Narasimhaiah (ed): Makers of Indian English Literature, Pencraft International, Delhi

To his credit Shivprakash here is at least acknowledging that the division between modern Indian language poetry and Indian poetry in English is not tenable. The problem with that division was that whatever it says about the latter, even what it said about the former was always in a spirit of naïve patriotism. It unwisely employed the insider and outsider divide as if ones identity is completely discrete by the fact of which language s/he uses.   

Now, even Shivprakash is not entirely free of such a discrete notion. In his article he seems to suggest that belonging to collective traditions is a point of nationality. He distinguishes between two modes of writing, one that seeks to find some sort of relation with the past practices of poetry and the other which has severed any living relation with the memories of the collective culture. I find two difficulties here: 1. the relation between the present and the past tradition are seen here as constituting something akin to an identity which ignores the very process of constitution of that past as well as the politics memory. 2. even as he invokes the region specific ‘hopes and anxieties’ he still operates within the meta narrative of
India. In talking of constituting a category called Indian Poetry, Shivprakash is unable to avoid the trap of constituting
India as a continuous field.

The suggestion that Indian (English) poetry is in some sense exclusive is to say that it is elitist and is not rooted (this list for him would perhaps include such poets as Adiga, Mardhekar, Ezekiel, and such other modernists). The trope of rootedness is I think a particularly problematic manner of talking about poetry in our cultures. For example I can say that the poetry that has “severed links with the collective traditions” also hints at the kind of ruptures that our society is constituted with.

My specific point here (guess I might so far be sounding vague) is that the organic metaphors are of little critical use in criticism of poetry.

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