A chat with Indian poet Jeet Thayil in The Hindu: Literary Review:
THE house in which we’re meeting is bare, the boxes of books still unpacked, two lonely chairs anchoring the emptiness of the room. Jeet Thayil and his wife will settle in soon, but this empty space is the perfect place to have a conversation about Indian poetry.
Fulcrum is an elegant little poetry magazine published from “a room in Boston”, already seen as one of the most significant of its kind. Jeet Thayil edited Fulcrum Number Four, which contains two sections — Poetry and Truth, and Indian Poetry in English. It’s an astounding collection — 56 poets, from places as far apart as Fiji, New York, Mumbai, Sheffield, Coorg, Berkeley, Bangalore, all, as Thayil says, connected only by language, English.
The usual suspects are here, from Nissim Ezekiel, Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, Eunice de Souza, Dom Moraes to Kamala Das, Ranjit Hoskoté and Dilip Chitre. There are poets who aren’t as well known in India as they should be, from Aimee Nezhukumatathil to Mukta Sambrani and R. Parthasarathy. And there are a handful of “lost poets, the ones we forgot about”: Gopal Honnalgere, Srinivas Rayaprol, Lawrence Bantelman.
“I think one very fine way to tell the development of a society is how it treats its poets, its gay people, and its women,” says Jeet. “And in those three areas, we really are backward. I believe that two generations from today, there may be value placed on all of this. Young people today read poetry, they buy books, they read poetry on the Internet. The Internet has taken poetry out of that academic conversation, which has to happen if poetry’s going to live. Say `poetry’ and there were a lot of people who were turned off already, who had forgotten that a poetry reading is just a man or a woman speaking to you. Poetry needs to resonate with you if it’s going to live. It’s human speech, and it’s the most beautiful speech, it’s elevated in a way we can’t have in our normal lives; it contains the best of us.”
What Jeet is trying to do with Indian poetry in English is an archaeologist’s job: to recover what was lost, to take scattered shards and isolated schools of poets and fit them together in a pattern. It was Fulcrum’s editor, Philip Nikolayev, who first broached the idea of a special issue of Indian poetry. It took Jeet nine months of concentrated work to put it together, and a revised version of this anthology, with sensitive portraits of several poets by photographer Madhu Kapparath, will be published by Penguin India later this year in 60 Indian Poets: 1952-2007. It’s one of the most ambitious, and most significant, anthologies of Indian poetry to emerge in recent times.