Notes on Poetry from India (2)

In part two of his 2007 essay about Indian poetry*, R. Parasarathy narrows his focus to contemporary poetry written in Tamil. He credits C. Subramania Bharati (1882-1921) with breaking free of received forms, notably in his Prose Poems, and inventing “the idiom and metric of twentieth-century Tamil poetry.”

He defamiliarized the current language of poetry, which was elitist and static, by exploiting the spoken language for lyric expression… For the first time, poetry was no longer the exclusive preserve of the elite. It flourished on the tongues of the illiterate and uneducated.

“Movie lyric” is a popular genre. Kannadasan (1927 – 1981) and R. Vairamuthu (b. 1953) are exemplars. Poets who compose lyrics for movies achieve elevated status, whereas those who don’t languish in obscurity.

In the case of the latter, their universe of discourse has come to be centered in the complexities of their own sexual, emotional, and psychological experiences.

Ka. Naa. Subramanyam (1912 – 1988) called for a new poetry in Tamil. It should have intellectual content “apart from the emotional”; use “recognizable conversational phrases” and hard images shorn of adjectives; and avoid “mysticism.”

N. Pichamurti (1900 – 1977) drew inspiration from the free verse of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as well as Bharati’s Prose Poems.

The poetics of new poetry in Tamil has been shaped by three different traditions: classical Tamil, Sanskrit, and English.

Nakulan (b. 1922) represents the new Tamil poetry. He is said to “walk a tightrope between verse and prose,” and to deploy an unusual edginess of tone in spoken language that’s “uninflated by metaphor.”

Tamil Dalit poetry emerged only in the early nineteen-nineties. It calls attention “to both the plight of Dalits in a society riven by caste and the task of integrating them into the national mainstream.” N.T. Rajkumar (b. 1968) represents the genre.

One of the women poets “redrawing the map of sexual politics in Tamil Nadu,” Kutty Revathi (b. 1974), published a poem called Breasts in 2002 which “explores the ‘politics of breasts’ and dismisses their representation as ‘objects.’” Some men demanded that women writing explicit poems “be burned alive.”

Salma (b. 1968) is outspoken about the lives of Muslim women in purdah.

* “Indian Poetry Today,” Poetry (September 2007)

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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