Indian poetry in English is flat. There is no depth. This was my impression when I read some anthologies edited by Pritish Nandy few decades ago. This remains my impression after reviewing an anthology of more modern poets that I chanced upon recently. I came out with the feeling that I had read a newspaper. To be fair to Indian poets, much modern poetry is similar. Mental. Superficial. Sensational.
DH Lawrence had said that the best literature transforms your blood. My blood remains the same. The skin sags a bit more.
Save a few poems. A few poets.
Ezra Pound described poetry as comprised of three components: logopoeia, melopoiea and phanopoeia. Meaning, music and image. A very anatomic dissection reveals this as the sinews and muscle of poetry. But the best poetry accomplishes something else that is significant. It brings together an intense fusion of thought and feeling, of sensation and gut, intensity and subtlety, wideness and height and depth.
In the Indian context, the term ‘bhaava’ has been used, which implies a profounder feeling and thinking and sensing. TS Eliot while discussing metaphysical poets talks about a poetry where thoughts are felt. Bhaava implies such a fusion but it is yet more than a coming together of mind and heart. It means ‘to be’.
Great art absorbs one, drowns the reader or beholder. Technical perfection is one requirement, perhaps a basic one. But the identification of consciousness with the art opens it to new perspectives, insights, visions. Such new vistas in modern poetry are missing. As Steve Jobs complained, while discussing the products with his developers at Apple, ‘There is no sex in them.”
I am afraid that we have become TS Eliot in pyjamas if not ‘Mathew Arnold in a sari’. To turn this around, we will need to be bold and uncompromising.
A high fusion of content and craft, theme and style is what will distinguish excellence from mediocrity. Indian-English poetry does not seem to dare greatness. That might happen when Indian literature re-discovers or explores its own roots. As Tagore did.
What are these roots or myths? What are the conditions or the darshan? Or perhaps an even deeper question. Who are we? What is unique about us? This is journey we must make, no matter how excruciating or unfulfilling. To boldly sing in our own voice, steep ourselves in our svadharma, to draw in our own blood. To carry it as a woman carries her child in the womb. That is the only way we can deliver a new being, art with its own individuality.
To paraphrase McLeish, I would say, ‘Great poetry must not mean, but be.” In bhaava, in the dare, in the sva-darshana or self-seeing. Such is the future of our poetry if we may dare to hear and trace the notes of our own heart-beat. Shall we follow?