In the September 2007 edition of Poetry, R. Parthasarathy edited an “Indian Poetry Portfolio” accompanied by his essay titled “Indian Poetry Today.” I note salient points from that essay here.
India’s National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi) recognizes twenty-four languages, including English. The poems showcased by Parthasarathy represent thirteen of them.
After Ghalib (1797 – 1869), there has not been an Indian poet comparable to the great European Moderns — Yeats, Mandelstam, Cavafy, and Pessoa.
The Partition of India in 1947 was a traumatic event for the nation. Conflict between Hindus and Muslims has persisted, including outbreaks of violence.
Poetry addresses these concerns; its healing power tends to the wounds festering in the national psyche and offers insights.
Dalit poetry is one of two significant recent developments. “Dalit is the name preferred by the former Untouchable caste.” The second significant development is that of feminist poetry.
Parthasarathy writes that contemporary Indian poetry awaits good translation. Available translations, he says, tend to be “in an English that is awkward.” (I’m reminded here of the tenet that the prerequisite for performing good translation is to write well in one’s own language.)
The first Indian poet published in Poetry was Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941). Tagore himself translated his six poems, and Ezra Pound introduced them.
In 1959, the magazine published a special Indian number featuring thirty-seven poets in twelve languages, including English. Tambimuttu, “the legendary editor of Poetry London – New York,” was guest editor. With the exception of Tagore and Iqbal (1877 – 1938), those poets are unknown today.
Parthasarathy ends part one of his essay encouraging American poets to work with Bengali or Urdu scholars to produce poetry translations that are “a pleasure to read.” Until then, he writes, contemporary Indian poetry will remain a closed book.
(c) 2020 JMN