Monday, June 8, 2015

Your Kundi: Mera Number Kab Aayega [Your Ass: When's my Turn?]? Featuring Srikanth Reddy

The other day I was telling you about a Highly Accelerated Stress Test I use for choosing my mentors. One evening, in late 2004, I met Vivek Narayanan in Bangalore at Rawar’s Inn. We went for dinner at Brindavan Hotel on MG Road - I mentioned Brindavan Hotel to Siddhartha Deb when he asked me where I liked to have coffee if not at Café Coffee Day or Barrista on Brigade Road; I told him Brindavan Hotel was for my types- he didn’t mention it in the interview – to discuss poetry and poetics. In the course of our conversation, I confided in him the jealousy I felt for a young poet who was then 21, who was receiving great attention in Chandrabhaga run by Jayanta Mahapatra, and asked him for a suggestion to overcome it. Vivek reassured me, it was not uncommon to feel that way; the difference would feel large at 24, but eventually become insignificant at 60. I felt that was a wonderful philosophy.

To check how he dealt with peer pressure, I casually mentioned the name Srikanth Reddy to him. Those were the days when internet was just booming, and poets started having access to others’ works easily unlike the Treta Yuga of Indian poetry in which wicket keepers Daruwallas chose to decide for others who was in and who was out of Indian poetry. Those like me, without any initiation into poetry, had the chance to have a broad look at what was happening around. The name threw him off his chair. He asked me how I got to know Srikanth Reddy’s works as if Srikanth Reddy was an Indian-American secret. I mentioned the name of an online magazine and showed him a copy of an Indian magazine, The Journal of Literature and Aesthetics. He recognized some of the guys from it as his colleagues from abroad. He then declared with a terrific self-esteem, he knew he was somewhere among Indian poets, but on the world map, he would like to get somewhere. I found a remarkable courage and a great competitive spirit in Vivek. Vivek went back and wrote to me that Srikanth Reddy, he found out, was one year younger than him.

I wanted to cross-check how Anjum Hasan handled peer pressure. I put together a set of poems by Srikanth Reddy and sent them to her to read. Her response was one of awe and full of respect for this writer. She wrote back, “Where on earth is he?”

The two poets complemented each other in their character.  Vivek Narayanan knew who his competition was in his writing and knew well to be on par with or outdo them.  Anjum Hasan had the spirit to respond with great admiration for a fellow-poet and his poems in particular without even having the necessity to know who he was. Both these poets didn’t have the necessity to try hard to be on par with their competition; on the contrary, they were the benchmark for their generation. I let myself completely in their hands, and knew I would benefit by being their apprentice.
When I prepared the ‘Acknowledgements’ section for my book, I sent out a draft to Sampurna Chattarji (among many others) and asked her to advise on it. She wrote back:

“Glad to know about this, as I am glad to help, though I would have imagined you could have equally asked Anjum or Vivek to help you with this! Anyway here goes:”

There are many uses of the ‘Acknowledgements’ section in one’s bio-data. In my interview with Siddhartha Deb, he spent a considerable amount of time on the ‘Acknowledgements’ section to understand whom I knew in the literary world. Beta, my ‘Acknowledgements’ section is the tip of an iceberg.

That I give a reading with Sampurna Chattarji, and Chattarji gives a bit of advice on my poetry now and then are not reasons enough to place her on par with those who I think mould/moulded me. The chances that Sampurna Chattarjee expected her name to be a part of my Acknowledgements section and felt disappointed, and annoyed to see the names of those whom she thought of as her peers are Eileen Tabiosian. Leave out a Highly Accelerated Stress Test, poets like Chattarji don’t pass the basic Power On Self Test. Mention the name of Vivek and Anjum in the Acknowledgements section, and her face glows red like a bright LED.

Sampurna Chattarji momentarily deleted her blog, ‘A Hundred and One Days’ immediately after my posting notes on her ‘Land of the Well’. This is an act of cowardice. The evidence is not in her blog, ‘A Hundred and One Days’ but outside it in her act of jittering.

Anindita Sengupta deleted her reference to the Nobel laureate Satchidanandan on her website after my post regarding the same.

Perumal Murugan’s novels were burnt recently in India by the Hindutva group. Sampurna Chattarji and Anindita Sengupta, by deleting their own words, are actually burning their own books out of fear of what they said. They can’t stand by what they write and blame it on the process of ‘growth’ in creative writing.

Animal Sounds

Dogs               mew
Cats                bark
Cows              bray
Donkeys         moo
Sampurna      chatters

Poets like Chatterjee should learn to pair up with Sengupta and feel at home. They should never dare to belong to a peer group as that of Subramaniams.

As for Srikanth Reddy, I never read him. But I read him whenever I brush my teeth using Vicco tooth powder: I put my fingers in a socket in my mouth so I gain direct access to a secret chamber in his brain! After all, am I not a chickupoet like him? What an asshole I should be to think that way!

But I have developed a habit to simply flash his name like a dagger amidst his peers and see their reaction. Haven’t you read Srikanth Reddy yet?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Your Kundi: Mera Number Kab Aayega [Your Ass: When's my Turn?]? Featuring Robin Ngangoms

Featuring Robin Ngangoms

The chances that Eileen Tabios reviewed my book on Galatea Resurrects and later regretted the act are:

p = 1/203.

Scaling this probability by a benefit of doubt factor, 10-9 and defining the variable, Eileen Tabiosan as

E = (1/203) * 10-9,

the chances that Eileen Tabios may offer advice to others in general but me in particular on what to remember and what to forget, and the others she invites for a special feature on Otoliths also offer similar advice and criticism to me are Eileen Tabiosan. The chances that the local Bangalore organization, Toto Funds the Arts followed up my post on Mani Rao with an immediate reading and media publicity for her in an attempt to enhance her, and in turn their credibility are Eileen Tabiosan. The chances that Arundhathi Subramaniam featured Anand Thakore on Poetry International Website in a subsequent issue and gave him coverage speaking only about his ‘commitment’ to his art practices and covered up his malpractices at Harbor Line are Eileen Tabiosan.

I remember what I want to, and I forget what I feel like. And if there exists an IEEE or a JEDEC standard for ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting’, then everybody should fit into it. Such a manual for remembering and forgetting should include ALL critical and creative non-events. I think the purpose of creating organizations, journals and forums for writing is not an act of bringing up another essential ‘nucleus’ for writers and writing. Thus I don’t write for the Eileen Tabios Government, but I write for the forum for writers, by writers and of writers hosted by Eileen Tabios.

Robin Ngangom in his editorial in Muse India’s 32nd issue writes:

“Could there be regional varieties within English language poetry in India? Regionalism as a literary phenomenon seems to have arrived, the ‘regional’ often perceived in creative friction with the centre. If Mumbai and Delhi constitute the centre of English language poetry in India, Northeast poetry in English makes up the ‘regional’.”

Is Eunice de Souza’s poetry not ‘regional’? Is it too Goan to be regional? And if regional, should it identify itself to the proposed power-center of the regional in the northeast? By that token, if Smita Agarwal’s poetry is regional, should she sing the praise of Ngangoms for helping her with a ‘regional’ identity? Is Anjum Hasan’s writing no more ‘northeastern’ enough if not regional?

I placed order for 2 sets of books from Writers Workshop. The first one was for:

1.      The Road Not Taken by K. Raghavendra Rao
2.      Collected Poems by Pradip Sen
3.      Occam’s Razor by Srinjay Chakravarti
4.      Appolo’s Breath by Srinjay Chakravarti

The second one was after six months, for:

1.      Words and Silences by Robin Ngangom
2.      Songs that Try to Say by T.Ao
3.      Songs that Tell by T.Ao

For placing the 2nd order, I got a special note of thanks from the publishers for ordering books by writers from the North East:

That the Northeastern writers form a special wing of the Indian poetry movement is now a given for the reader to start his reading with. While all others including the poets whose books I placed an order for in the first installment may belong to an Open Category, the Northeastern writers insist they are the most backward and they should be given their long overdue! Such an Indianness that wants it to be ‘remembered’ is hoax. Such an Asianness that wants it to be ‘remembered’ is hoax. Not only Kundiman, but any fellowship holder who is paid to ‘remember’ such an Indianness in particular and Asianness at large is a kundi.

Keki Daruwalla writes in his obituary for Nissim Ezekiel in The Hindu:

Imagine what would have happened to Indian poetry in English if poets had followed in the footsteps of Sri Aurobindo, that great savant and revolutionary, but a terminal poetic disaster?”

It was Nissim Ezekiel and not me, as Sampurna Chattarjee refers to lesser than Eileen Tabiosly in her novel, ‘Land of the Well’, who developed a mental illness.

Gieve Patel remembers Nissim Ezekiel and quotes him in his essay, ‘A Recollection’:

“I keep thinking that the world is controlled by the devil. I must not let this thought go on. Because…. If it is like that, one can only kill oneself.”

Nissim Ezekiel ended up as a terminally ill poet who precisely failed as a poet at the starting point of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. Sri Aurobindo saw Krishna in the jail everywhere, and developed that spiritual experience into yoga and gave identity to Consciousness. The Mother was an individual who relinquished the arts to carry out a different spiritual mission. Leave out the inability to give Aurobindo’s Savitri an A+ as a modern poem so far – R K Singh and a few other poets have devoted a significant part of their creative and critical career to the study of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, even though Keki Daruwalla would look down upon anyone taking after Sri Aurobindo’s poetry – but the practice of yoga by the Mother and her ability to be one with her surroundings is not something dissimilar to what Robert Desnos attempted to do with surrealism in his poetry. These are unexplored terrains in literature that poets of the generation of Nissim Ezekiel didn’t want to look into.

Nissim Ezekiel failed to develop his ‘Satan’ experiences into poetry even as Sri Aurobindo succeeded as a great thinker following his ‘Krishna’ experience in the jail.

“Dadaism and surrealism have not been taken seriously by more than a few Indo-English poets, certainly not by me” – Nissim Ezekiel

Had only the writers of the generation of Keki Daruwalla known how to take after Sri Aurobindo and employ that Consicousness into poetry, imagine what would have happened to Indian poetry in English? We would not have terminated with Nissim Ezekiel and ‘Daruwallas and de Souzas’.

In the anthology, ‘Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets’, R.Parthasarathy refers to Sri Aurobindo by his second name, Ghose. Sri Aurobindo is Sri Aurobindo. Was this not considered an insult for Aurobindo wrapped in the guise of western formality to refer to a person by his second name, when the book was published in 1976?

Sumana Roy writes about her experiences with Keki Daruwalla in her essay in 2014, how he advised her not to use the word ‘shit’ in a poem. Sumana Roy is a good woman, she won’t use the word ‘shit’ in her poem after receiving an advice to that effect from Keki Daruwalla, but what about the many Arundhathi Subramaniams of the ‘Daruwallas and de Souzas’ community with whom Daruwallas of the ‘Daruwallas and de Souzas’ community would like to just hockey with after a reading in Bangalore at a match in Conteerava Stadium?

The rhyme ‘shitty/shetty’ by Vivek Narayanan was pitched in a scenario where poets not only made self-reference (‘Daruwallas and de Souzas’) but also chose to insult their immediate forebears in the name of reference by the surname. Unlike Anand Thakore’s reference to Vivek Narayanan’s statement in his ‘Lament of an Onanist Bemused by the void’, where by osmosis, the insult ‘onanist’ is aimed at Vivek Narayanan Eileen Tabiosly, the rhyme shitty/shetty was directly critical of Vivek’s forebears. 

Manohar Shetty in Tehelka directly attacked Vivek Narayanan’s rhyme, there was a response from Vivek Narayanan in ‘Letter to the Editor’ column. On the contrary, it seems none of the five blurb-writers of Anand Thakore’s book ‘Elephant Bathing’ took the statement seriously and advised him like they advised Sumana Roy not to use the word ‘shit’, to remove it. It seems no critic like Manohar Shetty has taken note of it!

The Shit Sermon
(for the poet Manohar Shetty)

shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty
shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty
shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty
shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty
shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty
shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty
shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty
shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty shitty Shetty

I remember. Manohar Shetty won’t forget.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Your Kundi: Mera Number Kab Aayega [Your Ass: When's my Turn?]? Featuring Philip Nikolayev

The scene was stiff with its various layers of bureaucracy, and poets nursed their wounds over exclusions from anthologies like Reasons For Belonging, and took it out on each other in the name of reviews in journals like The Poetry Chain and essays by those as Manohar Shetty’s in newspapers. Poets of the yesteryear like Manohar Shetty, who were well positioned as journalists in popular newspapers used their editorial power to decide who was supposed to be in and who out, and defined ‘ambitions’ for poets and anthologists [Manohar Shetty, in his review of ‘Universal Beach’ by Vivek Narayanan denied he sent any personal letter to Narayanan, and called the anthology in which Vivek Narayanan was published, ‘over-ambitious’.]. Poets like Manohar Shetty, by their sheer existence assumed a pickling of their poetry and that those to follow ought to respect them and their work. In reality, Daruwallas and de Souzas were supposed to do at least as much as they did for Indian poetry in English for they were born in times when Indian poetry in English was BOOMING; if they did not, they simply took advantage of their age for their names to become synonymous with Indian poetry in English. A poet born in the ‘70s or ‘80s is thus unlucky compared to them, for given the same chance, he would have fared at least as well or better. The small press culture didn’t actively exist and poets were keen to make it big through big publishers, and, greedily sought currency conversion.

$10= Rs.100=$1000=Rs.10000=$100000=

Regional language writers were upset, Indian writers in English got paid in dollars for their works while they never made as much money for equal or better works, prose or poetry. A normalization mechanism didn’t exist by which writers were paid according to their ranks in writing and not necessarily because they wrote in English. (See P.Lal’s essay in ‘The Best of Quest’). So while Indian poets writing in English faced centrifugal oppositions from those writing in regional languages – the old hat, “why do you write in English?” that itself nurtured secret desires to get translated into English, thereby maintaining ‘authentic’ ‘indian’ ‘feel’ –they themselves were at war with their self-created parties (like Robin Ngangom claims North-eastern poetry in English is the center for India’s regional flavor in English; Jayanta Mahapatra regrets his poetry was neglected by the Bombay poets, Adil Jussawala and Nissim Ezekiel; Rabindra Swain grills, “Speak Up Ranith!” protesting for space to be included in anthologies without having attempted to continue and sustain the small press tradition of the ‘70s but taking refuge in the glory of an old establishment, “Chandrabhaga”; poets like Anju Makhija maintain racist discriminations- certain poems were too South Indian for her taste to be included in anthologies), and could only pretend to be united when  centripetal forces attempted to gauge and define them from outside.

After their graduations abroad, our boys were back on the scene in India, like Schwarzeneggers to train others, and to declare something was happening here. Sampurna Chattarji wrote, I befriended Vivek Narayanan and Anjum Hasan on a beach in Goa, found a talent in me to write prose, and all the writers in the gang opened up to me with details of their failures. In this post I will cover how Vivek Narayanan opened up to me about Fulcrum Annual’s Indian poetry project.

Philip Nikolayev originally asked Vivek Narayanan to edit an anthology of Indian poetry in English for Fulcrum Annual, which he refused because he did not want to burn his fingers. The project went to Jeet Thayil, and Jeet used that as an opportunity to promote himself. I felt it was highly likely because even poets of very limited talent like LR could use international reputation as springboard to launch themselves as poets on the scene and attract other senior poets for interviews, and thereby make a ‘career’.

One of the poets rejected for the anthology was Priya Sarukkai Chabria. One can notice that the poet was not the first choice in the 60 Indian Poets anthology by Penguin India, but she could manage to push herself into the Bloodaxe anthology. Such poets in the middle stage of their careers saw these anthologies as their last bus.

GJV Prasad in his editorial remark in Muse India wrote Priya Sarukkai Chabria was a ‘new voice’ on the Indian poetry scene; some conference members in the Hyderabad conference didn’t know who she was. When Priya Sarukkai Chabria was invited for the Prakriti Foundation’s poetry festival, they asked her to send sample poems. Priya was livid, she retorted she was already a well-established poet, and she shouldn’t be asked for sample poems. Poets should remain content, they are not asked for DNA sample by organizations to prove their worth as poets.

Where a literary climate of conversations between poets didn’t exist for decades after the ‘70s, and poets writing in English were busy fighting each other, faking resistance from the regional language writers, a force such as the Fulcrum anthology could only naturally daunt them. Thus, Robin Ngangom and others were wounded further by exclusion from this anthology. Even though such an anthology was late by at least a decade, the local poets didn’t work their asses out to archive their work through collectives any time earlier so they wouldn’t get hurt by individual personal biases, whims and fancies.

When a poet like Sudeep Sen, who was not included in the anthologies like ‘Reasons for Belonging’ or Jeet Thayil’s Fulcrum anthology, Sixty Indian Poets or The Bloodaxe anthology donned the role of editor for yet another large scale Indian anthology for a literary magazine with the view of making it into a ‘big’ publication, no doubt the goats were more than pleased. Not just the goats, but even the tigers and cheetahs wanted their share:

When Vivek Narayanan became the editor of India’s only magazine for experimental works, Almost Island, he saw Sudeep Sen getting in touch with Sharmistha Mohanty, the editor, asking if she’d like to include his works; she’d not. He’d then push himself with requests to include translations he had done from Bengali to English. Vivek Narayanan himself regretted he was not so far included in any publications made by this Sudeep Sen, then. [The Literary Review edition by Sudeep Sen didn’t carry Vivek Narayanan’s works; eventually Sudeep placed him in The Harper Collins anthology].

Last year, Vivek Narayanan created a hungama on Facebook opting to be OUT of Prakriti Foundation’s anthology because they chose to publish Narendra Modi. The Facebook activism elicited tweeting by other poets and Kazim Ali sent his signature to keep him out as well. Cases like Vivek Narayanan, if they dare to, should opt out of anthologies by Sudeep Sen rather than see those as opportunities for further promotions of themselves. The German poet Durs Grunbein opts out of more sensible anthologies than Vivek Narayanan does.

Vivek Narayanan told me, the poet Jeet Thayil would like to take lessons from me on how to do networking. I replied, if Jeet wanted to take lessons from me on how to do networking, I’d send him a packet of my shit, he’d know how to, once he ate it. Vivek then denied the same; it was Reetika Vazirani from whom Jeet Thayil would like to take lessons on networking, not me. Reetika Vazirani is long dead, so you can safely involve her in a fancy with Jeet!

The following words of praise are found on the blurb of Arjun Rajendran, The Four Quarters Magazine: 

“Arjun Rajendran’s poems are vivid and sensuous. Driven by daring leaps of vision and metaphor, they often start with fairly ordinary things but quickly escalate into the most lyric states of the soul. Whatever these poems happen to be about, they are above all about love, and they stir the heart.” -Philip Nikolayev, FULCRUM: an annual of poetry and aesthetics

It is not clear from this blurb whether Philip Nikolayev praised Arjun Rajendran’s poems in Fulcrum Annual or this is a paragraph not to be found anywhere else, but meant as blurb. Should I interpret it as ‘Philip Nikolayev of Fulcrum Annual fame’ or ‘Philip Nikolayev, Editor, Fulcrum Annual’ or ‘Philip Nikolayev, the poet who edits Fulcrum Annual’.

In contrast, on Fulcrum’s website, you find this entry in its ‘Reviews’ section:

Fulcrum is probably the best poetry magazine currently available in the US.
-Mumbai Mirror

What kind of probability? Who said so in Mumbai Mirror? Indian poets like Eunice de Souza and Priya Sarukkai Chabria so much thirst for opportunities and readership, any packet of food dropped into the refugee camp is gobbled up immediately with songs of praise to the pilot. Undoubtedly, according to many Indians, Fulcrum is probably the best poetry magazine currently available in the US.

Any magazine/collective that sets out with a motive to be distinct either from the mainstream or from the prevailing power centers or establishments will itself become the nucleus for another establishment if self-interest/bias exist even to an eileen tabiosan extent. Attempts by poets to set right a poetry scene by creating publication hubs or as how Indian poets famously claim, they fill the gap of criticism which academicians were supposed to do in India by writing criticism themselves, are self-promotion facades and ones by those who make up for the lost time in their career by defining everybody under a single umbrella faking leadership of a collective and pacifying the ego of the practitioners of the form- both veterans and novices. 

In the poetry office, I prefer to be an individual contributor. So though I present Poetry Problems of India in particular and the world at large, I don’t intend to start Poetry Solutions (India) Pvt. Ltd. with offices in America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere even as I send out my work to journals in America, Europe, Australia and elsewhere. To me, these are fabulous ‘fabless’ set ups with unsaid ‘No Encumbrance’ certificates issued by the respective editors in spirit. Where poets like Gopi Krishnan Kottoor Nair, Robin Ngangom, Rabindra Swain and Jerry Pinto failed, Philip Nikolayev, with the help of Jeet Thayil brought Indian poetry in English under one banner just as how Major J. M. Partridge first settled in Kodaikanal so others could follow. I owe my holiday to the imperialist.

Your Kundi: Mera Number Kab Aayega [Your Ass: When's my Turn?]? Featuring Rabindra Swains

“Dadaism and surrealism have not been taken seriously by more than a few Indo-English poets, certainly not by me” – Nissim Ezekiel

Nissim Ezekiel remarks in his interview with a self-reference as if the onus on this ‘father figure’ was to give shade to everybody, but couldn’t.
Adil Jussawalla writes in ‘Watch your steps, old man’ in self-reference-
Standing on one leg
Ever since we learned to walk-
Not strutting our stuff-
You can’t on one leg-
But saying it
Saying it
Was our way of keeping balance.
- while Dilip Chitre and Adil Jussawalla responded to each other with anxiety on who was going to read their poetry, in poetry.

As late as 2004, Jayanta Mahapatra wrote in the JLA in ‘My Poetry, a Small Late Wish’:

 “I remember the title of review of my first book of poems where the reviewer said I was just ‘a poem maker’ ”

There was a rumor on Sita and Ram in the Ramayana, which was overheard from the washer-man in Ayodhya on which basis Ram sent Sita to the forest. Even as poets write new Ramayanas and re-write the old ones, there are rumors about the veteran poets of the ‘70s, the new Valmikis:

1.      Adil Jussawalla’s Collected Poems was rejected by Penguin
2.   K.Ayyappa Panicker needed a bank loan. He approached the then young banker-poet who promised to sanction him the loan provided he promoted him in turn as a poet.

So what is the ‘hullabaloo’ of poets and poetry of the ‘70s about? They never compromised? They pretend they are the Govardhangiridharis of Indian poetry in English balancing it on their little fingers, standing on one leg; if someone tickles them, it will fall on everybody’s head.

Jayanta Mahaptra goes on in the said personal essay to distinguish between the ‘how’ and ‘what’ in art and blames editors of anthologies of Indian poetry starting from 1972 to 2004 (R.Parthasarathy’s Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets to Ranjit Hoskote’s Reasons for Belonging) for adhering to ‘Eliotic logic that meaning is an element of form’. “Editors appear to respond to ‘artistic’ qualities, and not content - thus affirming officially an unreasonable cultural position.”

Thus Jayanta Mahapatra cleverly returns the insult heaped on him as a ‘poet-maker’ perhaps on to the very same poets who rejected him, who according to his aesthetics are implied as the ‘poem-makers’. He projects an understanding of crafts and craftsmanship as artificial and proposes a school of writing from the heart, which may boast of its ignorance of craftsmanship like Robin Ngangom does.

Together, we know these poets today as ‘The Makers of Indian Poetry’ (in English, of course) some of who made poems and some others like Jayanta Mahapatra, out of whom poetry chose to make poets.

‘D’ for Donkeys. Indian poets of the ‘70s came to modernism as pattikataan muttai kadaya partha madhiri: Nissim Ezekiel had practiced the gymnastics of ascending and descending the escalator in a mall without fear which he could demonstrate on demand, but he admits, he never attempted to try out the other escalator. The more rustics among Indian poets like Jayanta Mahapatra were the real villagers in front of sweetmeat stall whom Adil Jussawalla and Nissim Ezekiel shooed away. Jayanta still regrets that.

A new installment of this shit is seen at work in the introduction to the anthology, ‘Wings over the Mahanadi: Eight Odia-English Poets” (Poetrywala, 2014). Himansu Mahapatra writes, Ranith Hoskote’s ‘Reasons for Belonging’ mined the literarily rich regions like Mumbai and Delhi, but sidelined the literary hinterland.

Poetry is perceived as an act of capitalization of one’s situations to gain a status in the literary arena by the many representative Odia poets with Jayanta Mahapatra as their group leader.
Thus Mira Nair, the world renowned film maker who spent her formative girlhood years in Bhubaneshwar said in the New Yorker essay after the phenomenal success of Monsoon Wedding (2002) that she spent her childhood and adolescence in a place which was ‘250 kilometers south of Calcutta’ thus avoiding direct mention of the place . . . Recently of course she is said to have made amends by speaking well of Odisha in an interview on the BBC
(from Himansu Mohapatra’s introduction)

Raju ban gaya gentleman. Our Odisha poets are keen to celebrate their becoming BIG in the world stadium, and want to bring fame to the home state, which was apparently hindered by Ranith Hoskote’s anthology ‘Reasons for Belonging’ and the rejection of Jayanta Mahapatra by the Illustrated Weekly of India and Bombay poets.

“Speak Up Ranjith!”, grills Rabindra Swain in his criticism of Reasons for Belonging in Contemporary Poetry Review. Why the hell couldn’t Rabindra and other Swains ‘speak up’ before Ranith Hoskote spoke in Reasons for Belonging? Odisha poets didn’t stop writing poetry after Jayanta Mahapatra, and we know of and are shown examples of successors in Bibhu Padhi, Prabhanjan Mishra, Niranjan Mohanty and others. These poets wanted a prompt to get together; they didn’t have it in them to continue the tradition of little magazines on their own and create many other Chandrabhagas.

Consider the conditions under which this anthology (Wings over the Mahanadi) is born. Manu Dash met Bombay poet Gulzar at a literary festival. Gulzar was not familiar with Jayanta Mahapatra’s poetry, and the litfest was the place where he first encountered them. Manu Dash was taken aback. Gulzar resided in Mumbai, a “metropolis and a toast of the media”; Jayanta Mahapatra hailed from a place that was “relatively obscure in India and practically non-existent for westerners”. The anthology was made to absorb the shock after Gulzar’s revelation and to throw light on a neglected space.

Himansu Mohapatra outlines Jayanta Mahapatra’s writing career from which we are given to understand Jayanta’s travails:

Jayanta Mahapatra began writing poetry in English in his forties, defying all odds stacked up against him, his profession as lecturer in Physics in the uninspiring environment of Odisha’s government colleges included. It is not just that he has been prolific as a poet with seventeen volumes to his name and publications in all the leading international fora; he has also won a significant proportion of the top prizes awarded in the field of literature in India and abroad. . . Mahapatra won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award in 1981, becoming the first Indian English poet to do so, which is phenomenal achievement on the part of Odia…. He has acquitted himself no less spectacularly abroad, winning a string of coveted awards …..Odisha is admittedly disadvantaged in not having a vibrant city like the big ones located in the four regional centers of the country….

Odisha was thus successful in generating a Mr.Poetry with many other Master Poets and Miss Poets who followed in his footsteps, of which Himansu and other Mohapatras feel proud of and ask their readers to feel proud of even as the futuristic Miss.Universes and Miss.Worlds from this neglected state will bring glitter to it and place it better on the world map. But for now, the credit goes to Jayanta Mahapatra for making a neglected state world famous.

Consider this praise offered by Mahapatra on Menka Shivdasni’s first book:
‘This book would have made its mark had it appeared anywhere in the world’.

‘Making it big in the world’ has remained the sub-conscious motto of these Odisha poets writing in English. Which poet hasn’t had ‘odds stacked up against’ him? The Odisha poets writing in English who subscribe to the reservations outlined by Himansu Mohapatra are a bunch of whiners. And anything that has made itself BIG (i.e., BIGGER than Odisha poets writing in English) like the anthology from a BIG publishing house, Reasons for Belonging or Vikram Seth’s ‘Golden Gate’ is ‘distant and fetishized art object and its hyperreal city.’ Thus Bibhu Padhi’s poem in response to Vikram Seth’s ‘Golden Gate’ is not a call to speak through the heart as it proposes, but a whining through Padhi’s anus.

Eunice de Souza, in her book of interviews with poets, ‘Talking Poetry’ regrets Dom was not around to give her an interview, and she makes up for the absence of A.K.Ramanujam by interspersing the interviews with memoirs. Jayanta Mahapatra is not even considered. Could this be a critical omission or was it an omission as another ‘odd stacked up’ against Mahapatra’s literary career? Eunice de Souza speaks fondly to her student Melanie Silgardo; she asks her in the same manner the boy hero of the famous short story ‘The Fool’s Paradise’ asks his girl do you really love me, “Was I the first person to whom you showed your poems?” Melanie replied like the girl, “Yes”. Rabindra Swain didn’t merit even a consideration. Eunice de Souza played the fond mother for Silgardos and the cruel mother-in-law for Swains even as Swains never married Silgardos in Indian poetry. The Swains take it out on Pintos and Hoskotes by grilling them to ‘speak up’ under a psychological impact similar to ‘Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi’ (the mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law). Swains did not become the damaats of Indian poetry in English; this should have served as the trigger in the late nineties to produce an anthology of Odisha poets writing in English, not a prompt from Gulzar for Manu Dash to do it for the sons of the soil in 2014.

I K Sharma in his introduction to his ‘Collected Poems’ recollects his meeting with    A K Ramanujam, and having discussed with him the ‘problems of Indian poetry in English’. R K Singhs and I K Sharmas didn’t muster courage to challenge the Daruwallas and de Souzas of Indian poetry in English; they wrote without balls. Jayanta Mahapatra had the guts to whine in the media, Adil Jussawalla and Nissim Ezekiel didn’t receive his poetry well. Mahapatras wrote with balls, but just the size of karaboondi so only Daruwallas were deemed fit for tugjobs with de Souzas.

It is Indian poetry itself that grew into a ‘split personality’ with de Souzas on one side and Mahapatras on the other, that has a psychological disease, not me as proposed and commented upon by Sampurna Chattarjee in her ‘Land of the Well’.

Your Kundi: Mera Number Kab Aayega [Your Ass: When's my Turn?]? Featuring Marton Koppany

When the magazine, Almost Island was started, and I showed my works to Vivek Narayanan, he asked me to save a few poems for the journal. After I brought out my book, and I asked him for a review as discussed in this post, he offered to publish an excerpt from my book in Almost Island if I wanted; I didn’t respond to him. I stopped sending him my work for years, and I got a mail from him in late 2010, sniffing. He wore the Almost Island hat, and said he wanted to see more poems with the view of publishing some of them in Sharmishta’s journal. I sent a bunch to him, and he said he’d like to publish some from each of the sets I sent him, after discussing with Sharmishta; she had the veto power. He mentioned the time-line of publication as April 2011, and gave me homework to think and work through ‘0 Poems’ for a presentation online.

In the meantime, I saw an inside-out negative review of Sampurna Chattarjee’s book of poems, ‘Absent Muses’ in BIBLIO by Vivek Narayanan. I knew there was something fishy with the negativity of the review as Vivek rejected reviewing my book for the same reason: he wouldn’t be able to speak his mind if he reviewed friends. There was something abnormally wrong, not in the points set forth in the review, but from whom these words came: Vivek Narayanan had gone to attend the release of Sampurna Chattarji’s previous book, ‘Sight May Strike You Blind’ in Delhi, even though he had just recovered from jaundice.

Sampurna Chattarjee’s Absent Muses received strong negative comments in Flipkart; the commentator also compared Ranjith Hoskote with Vivek Naryanan in his review of the latter’s Universal Beach and termed Hoskote ‘a Thesaurus acrobat’.

Meanwhile, Sharmishta Mohanty made a fine comment on a short story (Wild Things) published by Anjum Hasan in Pratilipi magazine on the sensitivity of her portrait. Strangely, the protagonist had my name. 

News had spread through the poetry office grapevine to a select set of individuals including Sharmishta Mohanty, Anjum Hasan, Vivek Narayanan, Jane Bhandari, Mani Rao and others, about Sampurna Chattarji’s ‘Land of the Well’ and about the impending use of media power to boo down a chosen set of writers. The poetry scene was replete with young poets in their late 20s and early 30s who were not equal in their caliber, but were pushing themselves for recognition as equal to or better than each other. There were also patrons among the early generations of poets like Keki Daruwalla, who were ruling the roost, and promoted poets of their choice. Thus, if Sampurna Chattarji is a poet trying hard to make up for the time she wasted in coming to poetry late (contrast her with Jane Bhandari who started in her 50s and doesn’t care any shit for a literary ‘career’), Ranjith Hoskote is a poet who started out too early as a precocious poet, but is unable to withstand competition from those like Vivek Narayanan who started out later than him but currently outdo him in his practice. Anand Thakore, a ‘skilled and committed practitioner of two professions’ as PIW puts it, who started out along with Vivek Narayanan, suffers from inferiority complex. Thus there was a regrouping of political parties.

I realized much later- I didn’t bother to check with Almost Island on what they did or planned to do with my poems- the offer from Vivek Narayanan made through Almost Island was a feeler to check my status w.r.t the grapevine, and one out of sympathy.

On the one hand, Vivek Narayanan had to face the jealousy of his peers and seniors for the distinction of his work; on the other, he had to confront my status quo of thanklessness. Vivek adopted the popular method to challenge me - Divide and Rule, and many poets benefitted from it.

Dr.Nikhil Govind of Manipal University she-shied in his review of a book of poems from Pratilipi, in Biblio. Just as kids tutoient their parents in France and in some other parts of the world, the reviewer used the feminine gender to address the translator after Vivek Narayanan. Are all translators ‘she’s? Is there any specific self-developed theory by which Dr.Govind addressed the translator as a ‘she’? Or was he just carried away by the assigned gender by Vivek Narayanan for translators? In my first appearance in Otoliths, I put forth a list of publications in my bio-note (which I changed before final publication in the magazine to check the reaction of the monkeys) and noticed, it had an Eileen Tabiosan impact on Dr.Govind; he followed up with a blogpost on his latest set of publications and became quiet on his blog afterwards. Dr.Govind should set aside some personal time and start thinking within before asking the world where the thinkers are? It is critical for him and the entire world because he holds the position of a professor in a university, and has the responsibility of training new generations of thinkers, writers and academicians. His own personal interests shouldn’t show through in his day-to-day activities. This is obviously a trait seen in young Paranjapes, but Dr.Govind should learn to grow out of it soon.

He who couldn’t pay Rs.30,000/- to publish his book wanted ‘ego credit’ for training me. I keep wondering who the mentor was and who the mentee. If so keen, Vivek Narayanan should take up professorship in a university and train 20 year olds and 30 year olds or learn from Sudeep Sen how to promote youngsters rather than expect returns on capital investment in kind from me.


Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?
Indha credit podhuma, innum konjam venuma?

When Sampurna Chattarji’s novel, ‘Land of the Well’ was published in 2012, the Eileen Tabios episode unfurled on the Indian poetry scene, under these circumstances. The recently released Indian magazine for fine poetry, undergroundfollowers patronized by senior Indian poets, Gopi Krishnan Kottoor Nair, Bibhu Padhi and Prabhanjan Misra does a recap in a nutshell, Eileen Tabiosly, of the Eileen Tabios episode. If ‘Poetry Chair’ may make Eileen Tabiosan reference to Eileen Tabios’ ‘Sit With Moi’ project in which I participated, the presentation of poetry as ‘tables’ in the drop down menu of Poetry Home is an extended mockery of the project. The typos of numbers in the poem by G K Chettur are Eileen Tabiosan typos. I wonder why Gopi didn’t include a section ‘Stools’, though.

To give another example of the Eileen Tabiosian episode and its impact, here’s Vivek Narayanan in hiding (the handwriting is Vivek Narayanan’s): Mr.Prasad’s poetry class,
here, and a consequent mockery of ‘the experimental’ and ‘the visual’ by practitioners of poetry, both naïve and experienced. The mockery of the Library of Invisible by the writers from IOWA workshop is thus only an Eileen Tabiosan reference.

How did Anjum Hasan react? Anjum Hasan asked me to give an interview to Siddhartha Deb, and when the interview was out, she didn’t even bother to speak.  She behaved as if nothing happened. But Anjum reacted to public disdain only when her ass was on fire. She reacted to ‘Land of the Well’ as if she was given an enema.

Anjum Hasan’s book, Difficult Pleasures was released around the same time. Normally, when Anjum comes out for public readings, she comes well dressed, but that time, she ‘exposed’ herself Eileen Tabiosly in protest. The Hindu Metro Plus showed her dressed minimally. She started off writing reviews Eileen Tabiosly, beginning with a review of Dom Moraes’ Selected Poems that was released along with ‘Land of the Well’, and then backed the TFA with the launch of a ‘series’ of lectures from senior practitioners of arts with the intent of educating youngsters and teaching them what they should learn from elders. The TFA became the night school of Fine Arts in Bangalore; it appeared as if you were assured of a job at IFA or you could choose to pursue an MFA after TFA.

In her review of Dom Moraes’ ‘Selected Poems’, Anjum Hasan wrote advising maverick number poets on what they should target to achieve in their literary careers, citing Dom Moraes’ achievements.  I tried to understand who the maverick number poets were, given that there are only 3 practitioners of the form in the entire world. I was familiar with the adjective ‘maverick’ from the IC making industry. The ‘maverick die’ referred to the one that was far away from the mean of the distribution, more than 3σ. I considered myself the ‘mean’ of number poets as outlined in my first post, ‘Mykundi’. The other two number poets on Earth are Marton Koppany and Pi O. With three poets, it is impossible to define a Gaussian distribution in the first place, then where is the possibility of defining the mavericks among number poets? [Or, did she mean all number poets were mavericks?] For argument’s sake, let’s say we define the distribution with me at the center, then Anjum Hasan refers to Marton Koppany in her essay on Dom Moraes Eileen Tabiosly and advices him to do as much or better. Marton Koppany should identify himself with Dom Moraes as suggested by Anjum Hasan and try to do as much as Dom did in his literary career to satisfy Anjum Hasan.

But I have a word of advice for Anjum Hasan. Indian poetry in English has built itself by pulling out a Hanuman’s tail of Nissim Ezekiel’s. Anjum’s poetry may not have lost its sheen, but many other younger poets outdo her in contests like Srinivasa Rayaprol’s. She should take some lessons on Andal’s ‘naanedhan naiduga’ bhavam and continue her good work in poetry and prose. The Jhansi Rani that she is among Indian critics, Anjum Hasan should learn to write like Anjaadha Hasan, a Hasan who fears not. Then she will gain a respectable image in the eyes of Marton Koppany who will take her advice to write as well as Dom Moraes.

Your Kundi: Mera Number Kab Aayega [Your Ass: When's my Turn?]? Featuring Gopi Krishnan Kottoor Nair

Recently Gopi Krishnan Kottoor announced the launch of a new journal for poetry, that doesn’t specify its editors, but lists out a set of patrons. Gopi Krishnan Kottoor ran the poetry magazine, The Poetry Chain regularly for 10 years from 1997-2007. Some of the plus points of the magazine, which are also seen in his underground magazine were it paid attention to voices that were not so loud on the poetry scene, and it always attempted to show the other cannon of Indian poetry in English, away from Daruwallas and de Souzas. So it was the first time I read the poetry of GK Chettur (though it existed for ages, and it was in circulation through Writers Workshop and the like), and purchased Ranjani Neriya’s “Promise ..’ through, thanks to the new mag.

A few years ago, Gopi Krishnan Kottoor sent out a call to all poets seeking support and submissions for the re-launch of The Poetry Chain. He also opened a website for it, and maintained it lackadaisically. There was yet another announcement for preparation of a directory of poets and nobody knows the outcome/progress of the effort. Under such circumstances, I doubt the motives behind the creation of a new magazine like Underground Followers, and the success he claims, of having run “The Poetry Chain uninterruptedly for ten years”.

Gopi Krishnan Kottoor’s The Poetry Chain started out as a noble venture. Even though Underground Followers states somewhat unprofessionally, it doesn’t respond to submissions that are rejected, I benefitted a lot from Gopi Krishnan Kottoor’s rejections and personal letters to me from the magazine. He also gifted me with a copy of an issue of the magazine in the year 2000 to peruse. I wanted very much to be a part of the magazine, sent him my poems many times for consideration, and couldn’t actually succeed. I felt elated when he first published my poem in it, and carried some more in the subsequent issues. Gopi Krishnan Kottoor responded to someone whom he didn’t know at all, and took care to show some directions.

And yet, when Gopi Krishnan Kottoor asks me to send in poems for consideration for The Poetry Chain, I don’t; I won’t. The magazine lacks/ed consistency in its production, selection and edition qualities, and had its idiosyncrasies. The one who wears the shoe knows where it pinches; yes, if I run a journal, it will have its nanoism as prevalent on this blog but the goal of such journals as The Poetry Chain should be to project the signal over noise. The Poetry Chain, though it started out with the intent of promoting poetry and establishing a meeting place for poets ended up as the melting pot for Kottoor’s whims and fancies: The publication of his own book, “Father: Wake Us in the Passing” through the Poetry Chain imprint was mistaken by fellow poets as using a public forum and funds to promote one’s own works. No attention was paid to the presentation of poems in the magazine, and his special issue on Chennai poets was disliked by many of its contributors for messing up with lines in their poems. The magazine existed in a time when quarrels were prevalent among poets: We had Adil Jussawalla, Nissim Ezekiel and Eunice de Souza on one side and Jayanta Mahapatra and party on the other. Poets from elsewhere took sides with the existing parties, even as they accused regional language writers for censoring Indian writing in English. The Poetry Chain was a small enterprise, which lacked peer support and killed itself with its total lack of professionalism. While Anjum Hasan pays tribute to ‘The Clearing House’ model of the ‘70s and credits Anand Thakore’s Harbor Line as an equivalent model for the 21st century, she carefully omits The Poetry Chain.  Thus if Anand Thakore’s Harbor Line is Indian poetry’s pet Labrador, Gopi Krishnan Kottoor’s Poetry Chain is its unfed street dog.

However, in the absence of other initiatives, an initiative such as The Poetry Chain becomes the only available best initiative in the country. Apart from Gopi Kottoor’s self-proclamation, Rukmini Bhaya Nair acknowledged the journal in an early 2000’s newspaper interview on the ‘poetry scene’ in which Adil Jussawalla, Menka Shivdasani, Gopi Kottoor and others participated. Menka Shivdasani spoke nostalgically and proudly about her contributions to the Bombay Poetry society and also gave tips for the society that young poets should take up such responsibilities as poets moved up in their personal and professional ladders and had other commitments. Menka Shivdasani may have played a key role in creating the poetry society of Bombay, she may be a housewife and a poet with other personal commitments, her first book may have received praise from both Adil Jussawalla (Key Bombay Figure) and Jayanta Mahapatra (The Orissa Personality), and she may have met the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee jee in person, but it is not yet time to auntie herself, take VRS and advise youngsters on what they should do for poetry since they were not as busy as poets who moved up to different roles in their careers were.

Indian poets failed to function in the ‘start up’ mode as the poets of the ‘70s attempted to do. Just as Gopi Kottoor proclaims the success of The Poetry Chain, which he could run successfully for 10 years, The Clearing House was a venture by the poets of the ‘70s, which any damn poet serious about his work and that of his peers should have started and maintained; it was a decent enough if not a marvelous job. And, contrary to sustaining a literary ‘gharana’, Adil Jussawalla, Saleem Peeradina and others promoted dummy horses to carry poetry to the market (with perhaps stealthy wishes to get promoted):

1.      Yeti Publishing House, which was started in the early 2000s by T P Rajeevan, was floated as an effort to promote poetry and started off by publishing titles by Dom Moraes, C P Surendran and others. In contrast to the poets of the ‘70s, such ventures as these kick-started by the mediocre poets of the 2000s didn’t work at poetry and the business of poetry at the grassroots level. These ventures didn’t start off by publishing new, bold and sustainable voices at the first instance, but floated Dom Moraes, C P Surendran and the glamorous poetry of Anita Nair as baits. [When Saleem Peeradina visited Bangalore to give a reading of his ‘Meditations on Desire’ at Alliance Francaise, Anita Nair attended the function. A member in the audience asked her for a comment on poetry, and Anita Nair admitted, she had not read much of modern Indian poetry in English].

Saleem Peeradina patronized Yeti Publications and passed a comment of appreciation in The Hindu. Publication bubbles – not start ups – were quick to attract Venture Capitalists like Saleem Peeradina, and the world got to know a new publisher rocked the Indian poetry scene with a promise to do ‘something’ to the forever ‘sad state of poetry’.

2.      A woman poet, then in her late 20s got in touch with certain British poets in 2002-2003 time-frame, and one of the poets placed her on par with William Shakespeare, Lord Byron and others on a website. She became the only living poet to have earned this credit, and a local newspaper congratulated her on the achievement and announced she’d do a monthly column on poets whose works were not so well known. As she progressed, it was implanted in her head she’d gain nothing in her career if she interviewed unknown names, and she should hobnob with bigwigs. Thus, though her column was supposed to present ‘the little precious stones’ of poetry, she ended up presenting boulders, and our senior poets were very quick to lap up any opportunity for publicity. I had the chance of learning about a1-line email conversations between this woman poet and a boulder.

LR: Tell me about yourself.

JT: What do you want to know?

LR: I too am a malayali!

The woman poet was out of her mind. She was chosen as poetry reviewer for newspapers, and she was helped by other senior poets to word the reviews. In a short time, she gained so much popularity, a publisher offered to publish her book of poems.

I knew this woman poet personally. A friend of mine from Chennai introduced her by email, and she wrote expressing her desire to be friends with me. I had just moved to Bangalore and I was publishing my poems in the local newspaper. I introduced the editor to her and other friends in Chennai, and they started publishing their poetry in the newspaper. Thus this woman poet started off writing poetry to this newspaper and eventually managed to bag the column mentioned.

I spoke to her over the phone on one of my regular visits to Chennai, and she   told me she needed 40 good poems for publication of her book. She could manage 10 from her own, and she’d like to get 10 from me and she’d manage the rest from others. I almost dismissed it as a joke, but later crosschecked with my friend on what the matter was. She was both shocked and amused. She confessed, the lady had asked her and also another young man who received a prize in the All India Poetry contest (of the Poetry Society fame) for poems for publication as an anthology of her own. 

The woman-poet had undergone a depression in an earlier stage in her life, as she didn’t have a child. She had attempted suicide. She was helped out of it and pampered by other poets so she could live on.

This woman moved on to other stages in her life, and now has a book of poems published by a topmost government organization.

I brought up this matter with Vivek Narayanan who reconciled it was nothing new on the poetry scene because Sudeep Sen had done similar kind of thing before by faking illness. When Sudeep Sen joined ZESTPoet, the poetry e-group started in 2004, Vivek wrote a personal email asking me to ferret out material to expose him. I was not born in 1960, so was not familiar with Sudeep Sen’s malpractices; I couldn’t help him. The following conversations ensued on ZESTPoet:


Message: 5
   Date: Mon, 26 Sep 2005 15:25:24 +0100
Subject: Re: [Fwd: Re: Robinsonade by Joseph Brodsky (1994)]

Dear Vivek,

Thank you for your letter, a very thought-provoking and erudite
piece. I agree with absolutely everything you say and really wish
that some of my writer-friends with whom I have shared my work for
so many years for their comments/feedback raised the issue you did
before I went to print. I myself was divided about the
whole ‘private-public’ nature of comments from other writers and
could not decide on which way to go – maybe I fell for the
seductive nature of praise from writers one admires, and now I feel
I should not have – clearly my human folly. But your letter
convinces me that one should absolutely stay clear of using private
comments shared among writers for public spaces, and in the future
this is the dictum I shall follow. Thanks for being utterly honest
Vivek – a very rare quality in an Indian writer. I do not want to
enter into a public discussion on this further for the very same
reasons you have pointed out, but privately I am happy to talk and
discuss. I hope you respect that.

As for the poem ‘Kiss’, the version posted had a misspelling, a
mistake made by the webmaster/data entry person. The site has not
been updated for years, but the word will be changed
to “languorous” at the first opportunity. The other thing I want to
do is to drop the phrase “an haiku” altogether and just have the
title as a single word.

Vivek – thank you again for your comments and your sense of grace.
I very much appreciate it, I really do.

Do write back.

best wishes,



Quoting Vivek Narayanan <>:

> Hi Sudeep,
> I have a question about this below-- did you get permission from
> Brodsky
> to use , as part of publicity material, his line that he had
> written on
> your ms of early poems?  I ask this question to the list because
> I know
> that these are very complex issues without very clear lines of
> right and
> wrong, and because it raises questions of literary etiquette that
> we
> should think about and discuss as a group.   It would certainly
> affect
> the comments that I would write on other people's poems.
> I ask also because at the moment I'm going through a great deal
> of worry
> wondering if I should ask people who have written nice things
> about my
> work privately to me if I could excerpt the more precise and
> pertinent
> of those things for book-jacket blurbs or if, instead, they would
> at
> least be willing to write some more restrained and objective
> blurbs for
> public circulation.  Perhaps I may not even ask.  Certainly I
> would not
> use their words without asking: this is publicity, very different
> from
> including a borrowed line into a poem.  I don't doubt that they
> meant
> what they wrote; but in personal communication those comments
> were also
> no doubt expressions of love and tenderness, intended especially
> to
> encourage me on my way and not to tout me to the world.  I don't
> want to
> misuse that tenderness.  I think, and I would understand if this
> was the
> case, that they might be embarassed to see those private comments
> widely
> available as product endorsements, or worse, as brand
> endorsements.  I
> also think that the reason why so many major poets -- including
> major
> Indian poets -- are so reticent (see Brian's article) is
> precisely
> because of the fear that something they might say or write in a
> very
> particular context might be turned by people that they don't know
> well
> into endorsements, trading by association on their name and
> reputation.
> It is frightening to lose control over what one has said.
> It is my humble opinion that, if you had not gotten permission to
> use
> that line of his for that purpose --under the heading, "Praise
> for
> Sudeep Sen"-- you should seriously consider removing the Brodsky
> quote
> from your publicity material.  It might mean a loss of cachet,
> but
> eventually the poems have to be relied on to tell their own story
> and
> defend themselves.  From listening to your story, it seems to me
> that
> Brodsky (a notoriously generous man) had made a wonderful,
> intimate,
> encouraging gesture to a young poet by writing that line on the
> ms.  I
> can't shake the feeling, excuse me for saying this, that  you
> have
> turned his gesture and generosity into a commodity.
> Similarly, the line from Derek Walcott that you had used in your
> invitation card to the book launch, which upset me, I'm sorry.
> (Incidentally, I think you have quoted that line from memory and
> made a
> mistake, or altered the original line-- do check on this.)  Of
> course it
> was very different, even murkier thing, because you had not
> stated it as
> an endorsement.  Nevertheless, even if you hadn't intended this
> at all,
> the positioning of the line on the invitation card, without
> stating the
> name of the poem it was quoted from, made some people think that
> it was
> written as an endorsement of your book.  Do you know Derek, had
> you
> spoken to him about this?  I ask because one of the many things I
> really
> respect about Derek is that he makes a point of very rarely
> giving
> endorsements in print to any poet, young or old, even if he might
> really
> like their work [unless they are one of the dead masters he so
> worships].   I have a feeling it's something he's very serious
> about.
> The only exceptions I can think of are his review essays on Les
> Murray,
> etc, in What the Twilight Says and a blurb for Glyn Maxwell, his
> former
> student at BU, and even that was not for Maxwell's first book but
> (I
> think) for his second or third book, long after Maxwell was
> already well
> established and celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic.  And
> long long
> after Derek had, so I hear, praised and directed Maxwell as a
> bright
> young student.
> So I think if in future you are going to use that Walcott line,
> you
> should be sure at least to mention the poem that it is quoted
> from, and
> make sure the quote is correct.  Same, at the very least, for the
> Brodsky.  And same for the other endorsements in the bio-- if you
> have
> permission, to state the source of the quote.  This is my
> feeling, let
> me know what you think.
> The point is, and I well understand this, is that self-promotion
> is an
> unavoidable need for poets, not least as a way of standing one's
> ground,
> showing one's conviction and faith, standing behind one's own
> process,
> work and poetic choices-- and those of the other poets one
> respects and
> is close to, as well.  But what are the boundaries, how should
> this be
> done?  I would like to conceive what needs to be done (naively,
> perhaps)
> not as self-promotion, but as self-representation.  And then to
> think
> about what that means and what its limits should be.  Walt
> Whitman was
> apparently happy to ghost-write a  glowing review of his own book
> under
> a pseudonym, but I don't think I would go that far.
> An unrelated issue-- in your poem, "Kiss: An Haiku" [I think the
> title
> might sound less awkward if it was just "Kiss: Haiku"], is the
> spelling
> of languorous as langurous intentional?  Or perhaps a mistake of
> the
> web-master / data entry person?
> Yours,
> Vivek
> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject:      [ZESTPoets] Re: Robinsonade by Joseph Brodsky (1994)
> Date:         Fri, 23 Sep 2005 21:23:50 +0100
> From:
> Reply-To:
> To:
> References:   <>
> Brodsky was one of my early mentors during my many years in New
> York City in late 80s/early 90s ... he inscribed the first line
> of
> this poem as a response to my modest writings (at the time, a
> draft
> version on a one of my manuscripts that I shared with him) ...
> thanks for bringing back memories ...


The poets of the ‘70s, like Adil Jussawalla are no doubt the true tapasvis on the Indian poetry scene along with K.Ayyappa Panicker from Kerala, but they remained blind to and promoted weeds such as Sudeep Sen. And, in the prevalent divide between Bombay Poets and Orissa Poets, cases like Sudeep Sen played the monkey between two cats.

While foundations for the arts like the TFA or Prakriti Foundation may offer baits of publication, publicity and public readings to satisfy the ego of a poet today, Sudeep Sen is an equivalent model of yesteryears. When poets like Sudeep Sen double as publishers, one-legged horses like Adil Jussawala are happy to tag along with them for extra-mileage. Thus “Urgent: Need Your Poems” emails from Sudeep and other Sens are carrots left to dangle before the ever hungry donkeys.

----- Original Message -----
From: Sudeep Sen
Sent: Monday, January 05, 2009 5:24 PM
Subject: URGENT: The Literary Review special on Modern Indian Poetry

Dear Poets,

I have been commissioned to edit an anthology of Modern English Poetry from India [and the Indian diaspora] for a leading US literary magazine, The Literary Review.

I would be delighted to feature you, and your new and unpublished work for this special number that appears as the TLR Summer 2009 issue. There is also a possibility that this special number may turn into a free-standing anthology later. Some of the poems may also be used in Atlas and Aark Arts publications.

Please send me 8-10 unpublished poems to look at, a short bio and photo for both the print and online editions by the end of the third week of January.

Also, if you have any recommendations of other possible poets who might warrant consideration for TLR -- please let me know and their contact details. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2009.


Sudeep Sen


I sent my poems in 2001 to The Journal of Indian Writing in English. The editor, G S Balarama Gupta took interest in my works though he didn’t find them suitable for publication in the journal yet. He wished me well, called me to meet him on his visit to Bangalore, and paid close attention to my poems, nit-picked and dismissed them. He said he wanted to see me grow as a solid poet.

Prof.Balarama Gupta, when he left, also passed on the message through his contributor in Bangalore along with whom I met him, if he wanted to consider my work for publication in the journal, I should send him 500 rupees worth postcards. I wrote back to Prof.Gupta, I wouldn’t do such a thing. The best I could do for the magazine financially was send him my subscription.

Eventually, he chose to publish one of my poems, “Writing a Poem” in the January 2006 issue of JIWE. I continued to subscribe to his journal simply because I thought I could give a small support from my end. The subscription rate for two issues per year was Rs.200/- in the year 2001, it became Rs.400/- and then Rs.600/-.

I would not have brought up this issue here, but recently (in 2013) I sent him some of my poems for consideration in the JIWE. Prof.Gupta had forgotten completely that he was in touch with me. He called me up one afternoon, and told me he received my letter with the poems for JIWE. Personally, he liked the poems a lot and he’d like to publish one or two of them after I showed them to his editor in Bangalore. Two poems were finally chosen for publication. I sent Prof.Gupta, a DD for Rs.600/- , renewing my subscription to coincide with the year my poems would be published in the journal.

JIWE was converted into an annual journal, and my poems were published in the 2014 issue. I didn’t receive either my subscriber’s copy or my contributor’s copy. I sent Prof.Gupta a postcard, and later called him up. He told me he didn’t receive my card, he was leaving to Mysore, and asked me to get back to him through a letter after 3 weeks. I sent him a letter after 3 weeks; I didn’t receive any response. I then checked with his Bangalore editor who told me, Prof.Gupta didn’t receive my DD to him, and I was not on his subscriber’s list, which was why he didn’t send me a copy. He asked me to send Prof.Gupta a letter again with details of the DD, and immediately he’d send me a copy; I did. Eventually I received my copy in March 2015

The JIWE was the journal started in the early ‘70s and promoted many of the forefathers of Indian poetry in English including Jayanta Mahapatra and Agha Shahid Ali.

So even as Mani Rao emphasized she was a poet who was not well known or anthologized in India even though she left the country when she was 28 and not as soon as she was born, local poets who wanted to be published had to choose from the thieves:

Gopi Krishnan Kottoor Nair, Dilip Chitre, GS Balarama Gupta, Sudeep Sen and Vivek Narayanan.

Then came the hairpin bend
-S K Chettur

Fulcrum Annual came to India and changed the poetry scene.