All 85 contemporary poets selected by the editor, Sudeep Sen, are Indians who write in English. They live in India and across the world, and write about everything under the sun in a variety of traditional forms and free verse.
Sen, a poet with serious anthology credentials, took the bold step of selecting mostly new work; more than 90 percent of the poems are unpublished. So it’s a terrific snapshot of the vibrancy of English poets in India and the diaspora.
Other features also break the expected in refreshing ways. The poets are listed alphabetically by first name “so that there is a further sense of intimacy and a community-feel among fellow poets,” Sen states in the well-written, six-page introduction.
Many of the poets are new to me, so I can’t lament greatest hits that might be missing. However, readers can get a good feel for each poet because generally there are at least four pages of poems and a few considerably more. (I can’t argue that Sen should include himself; however, 15 pages seems excessive.)
Many of the poets have had long careers: Amit Chaudhuri, Arundhathi Subramaniam, David Dabydeen, Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Vijay Seshadri, Vikram Seth. Some only have one book or chapbook, such as Sridala Swami and Siddhartha Bose, whose playwright and performer credentials are far longer.
What all the poets share is a confidence with English as one of India's 26 official languages. All included are born after 1950 when India became a republic and the world’s largest democracy.
At 541 pages, the anthology has heft and heart and lots of experimentation with formal forms as well as free verse. “You’re likely to encounter a pantoum next to an acrostic poem, a triolet juxtaposed against a ghazal, lyric narratives, Sapphic fragments, Bhartrhari-style shataka, sonnet, rubai, prayer chants, rap, reggae, creole, haiku, tanka,” the introduction promises and delivers.
Sen also backs up his observation that “The subject matter is staggeringly large. There is introspection and gregariousness, politics and pedagogy, history, science, illness, fantasy, love, erotica, sex and death.”
He isn’t shy about promoting Indian English poetry, that’s for sure. “I would provocatively assert that the best English poetry written by Indians in the contemporary national and international literary arena is perhaps as good — or superior — to Indian fiction in English as a whole.”
A pointless, if provocative claim, I would argue. But I would second Sen’s conclusion that “Indian poets are in full flight” and thank him for making it so easy to read so many.
Tomorrow: a Q&A with Sudeep Sen.
I couldn’t find an online source to purchase the anthology with shipping outside of India, including www.harpercollins.co.in. (Readers, please comment below if you know a source.)
I also recommend Sen's selections at Prairie Schooner Feast Anthology of Poetry by Indian Women, available online.
And a call for submissions. Editors Charles Fishman and Smita Sahay are seeking published and unpublished poems or translations in English on rape and other forms of violence and oppression directed at women in our time for Veils, Halos and Shackles, an anthology of Indo-American poetry. Learn more here.