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Contemporary Indian English Poetry
by Indian Women
by Mamta Pathak Bookmark and Share

Indian English Poetry is one of the most popular genres in Indo-Anglian literature. With the advent of the British, we came under the influence of their cultures and religions, which, as combined forces, shaped up our mentality and sensibility. Subsequently, most of our earlier writers adopted English as a medium of expressions. However, Pre-Independence writings were very limited in production and publication. They wanted to be English poets rather than Indian poets writing in English. After the Independence, the poets freed themselves from the clutches of Englishness and started writing in a very Indian manner, thus showcasing their originality instead of imitation. It is only after the freedom of the country that Indian English poetry marked a very promising bright future in the field of literature. There has been a massive flourishing of Indian English writing in the form of poetry and prose. As a matter of fact, Indian English Poetry has come of age in terms of global recognition, quality, variety and quantity

Post Independence Indian English Poetry has witnessed several tremendous developments. The rise of female poetic voices is the most crucial among them. Several new voices emerged on the poetic horizon with their sensibilities, arresting the attention of the world. Now, women poets boldly share their vision and their mission, their emotions and their aspirations through their writings. They have succeeded in establishing their identity in society and are firm to retain their individuality at home.

It is better to highlight women poets and their poetic writings with an exploration of the culture construct and identity issues in their poetry. The purpose of this paper is to study their mind, realize their sensibility and analyse their poetic efforts made at part with their male counterparts.

Key-words: Women Poets, Feminism, Post Independence, Gender Issues, Cultural Constructs.


Indian English Poetry is one of the most popular genres in Indo-Anglian literature. With the advent of the British, we came under the influence of their cultures and religions, which, as combined forces, shaped up our mentality and sensibility. After the Independence, the poets freed themselves from the clutches of Englishness and started writing in a very Indian manner, thus showcasing their originality instead of imitation. In due course of time,, Indian English Poetry has come of age in terms of global recognition, quality, variety and quantity. In sustained growth of Indian English poetry both male and female writers have equally contributed. Like male poets, women poets also explored various aspects: subject matter, language used, and craftsmanship. Since independence of India, women has broken all the shackles and come out of the closet of male-patriarchal society in each and every field of life.A. N. Dwiwedi writes:

‘In the fast-changing socio-cultural environment in our country, women are becoming much and more self-conscious, self-expressive, and self-assertive. They are competing today with men not only in political, financial, administrative, and religious matters, but also in literary and cultural activities.’ (A.N.Dwivedi, pg 240).

Post Independence Indian English Poetry has witnessed several tremendous developments. The rise of female poetic voices is the most crucial among them .Women poetry, indeed, is a rebellion against the conventional role of woman as a wife and mother. The women poets began to articulate both resistance and self-confidence. Indian English women poets embrace feminist ideas and theories from west into Indian poetry in English. These women poets testified post modernism in literary articulation.Especially, in the realm of poetry, Post-Independence India has witnessed full-flowering and maturity of a large number of Indo-Anglian Woman Poets whose poetic talents and creativity deserve our attention for their proper evaluation. Women writings are fresh and inventive. They are not lagging behind their male counterparts in the field of creativity. Iyengar remarks:

“Certainly, the women poets of today have dared all that men had dared, and they have few inhibitions. Freedom and energy often team together, but there is need also to go beyond the recurrent sense of hurtand appetite for strife, and reach at the beauty, harmony, peace, fulfilment. And this is on the women poets’ agenda too.”(Iyengar, 1985)

It has always been interesting to explore the virgin area of literature and for this purpose many efforts have been made to hear forceful voices of woman world. It goes without saying that woman forms half of the human race. She is a part and partial of our national social and cultural awakening. In some way or the other, Indian women poets writing in English have substantially contributed to the growth of English poetry in India. In her writings; they share their experience of struggle, suffering and success. For expressing themselves they have employed various themes and styles and they deserve to be taken into account to understand the consciousness in totality.

Toru Dutt was the first Indian woman poet to write in English. She is known for vivid depiction of archetypes of Indian womanhood, such as Sita and Savitri, showing woman in distress, suffering, and self-sacrificing roles. Toru Datta and Sarojini Naidu, were the poets of sweet songs, contributing substantially to enrichment and diversification of Indian English before Independence.

Post-Independence Indian English Poetry By Women Poets

Post Independence Indian Woman Poets, in larger number, have emerged on the scene and continue to write even today. They are more intense, authentic, and urgent than men in conveying the sense of frustration, disappointment and loneliness in love.There is a long list of women poets writing in English. Among such woman poets Kamala Das, Lila Ray, Monika Varma, Gouri Deshpande, Eunice de Souza, Mamata Kalia, Suniti Namjoshi, Meena Alexander, Roshen Alkazi deserve our attention.

Of all the Indian Women Poets writing in English, Kamala Das (1934-2009) occupies the foremost position. She is known for a vigorous and poignant feminine confessional poetry, dealing with the theme of man-woman relationship. In terms of articulation of the most intimate experiences, she is like D.H. Lawrence. Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1967) and The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973), The Anamalai Poems (1985), Only the Soul Knows How to Sing (1996) and Yaa Allah (2001) are her remarkable collections. Her celebrated poem ‘An Introduction’ is known for its simplicity and its sincerity. Emotional intensity, mastery of phrase, control over rhythm in her language etc characterise her poetry. Her poetry is “a gimmick in sex or striptease in words, an over-exposer of body or ‘snippets of trivia’ but also ‘an autobiography, an articulate voice of her ethnic identity.(Prasad & Singh,1985). She has rightly been bracketed with Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Judith Wright. In true sense, she is ‘ a fiercely feminine sensibility that dares without inhibitions to articulate the hurts, it has received in an insensitive largely man-made world.” (Iyengar, 1985)

Monika Varma (1916- ) a well-known poet, critic and translator, is another female –voice who deserves to be mentioned as a major woman poet. Her poetry shows a fine balance between quality and quantity. Direct impact of Wordsworth is palpable in her poetry. Her collections include Dragonflies Draw Flame (1962), Post Imperative (1972), and Alakananda (1976). As a worshipper of nature, she is brilliant in her poetry. Unlike Kamala Das or Gauri Deshpande noted for being a revolutionary, with a volcanic zest of outspoken sensuality and an uninhibited expression of adolescent love and sex, she is a different poetic personality. Her poetry is stamped with grace, balance, melody, aesthetic satisfaction and artistic beauty. There is a harmonious blending of subjectivity and objectivity in her poetry.

Eunice de Souza (1940- ) is one of the most convincing of women poets. She has been linked with Sylvia Plath and the other ‘confessional’ women poets. Her poetry is ‘an honest search for identity as a unique autonomous Person’.( (Iyengar, 1985). She is like Emily Dickinson in her poetry, ‘especially in the minimum use of the most appropriate words, combined with bitter irony’. Her themes range from poets to students, from women to marriage and religion. Fix (1979), Women in Dutch Painting (1988), Ways of Belonging (1990), etc. are her significant contributions.

Suniti Namjoshi (1941- ) is another talented poet and a feminist known for raising controversial and burning issues relating to culture, sex, gender, identity. Considerable influence of Sarojini Naidu is evident in her poetry, particularly in the poem ‘Benefits”. Poems (1967), Cyclone in Pakistan (1971), The Jackass and the Lady (1980) and The Authentic Lie (1982) are her important collections. She is more inclined to write smaller poems impregnated with witty statements. She maintains complete restraint in the matter of expression

Gauri Deshpande (1942- ), yet another renowned poet, deals with the theme of love, death and human relationships. Like Kamala Das, she also explores man – woman relationship. She is best known for three poetic volumes: Between Births (1968), Lost Love (1970) and Beyond the Slaughter House (1972). Her romance with the past is well articulated in her poetry. Her poetry also mirrors changing moods of nature. She has considerably ‘displayed a rare emotional maturity, combining tenderness and passion, ....with a touch of humanism.’

Mamta Kalia (1942- ) a bilingual poet, talks about love, marriage, family and society. As a subject matter, her personal experiences are adroitly used for moulding her outlook about social and domestic life. Her poetry is ironic and witty. Her verse collections include Tribute to Papa (1970) and Poems (1978). Her poetry is suffused with warmth, gaiety, irony and witticism, and above all feminine sensibility. She is a poet of feminine desires, hopes, fears and loneliness. With realistic approach to life, she, in her poetry, prefers the elemental to the abstract.

Meena Alexander (1951 - ), an Indian poet of the international repute, writes verses in experimental vein and style. Her expressionist experiment is quite remarkable in her poetry. Her poetry is dominated by a sad, melancholy strain and also by the warmth of feeling and the intensity of passion. She is among Indian diasporic luminaries. Stone Roots (1980), House of a Thousand Doors (1988), River and Bridge(1995),Illiterate Heart (2002) and Raw Silk (2004) are her poetry collections.

Roshen Alkazi (Died 2007) is another name to be taken into account. Her poems are an attempt at meditative analysis rather than passionate outbursts. She is different from other poets by being gifted with an unusual capacity for intellectual detachment.Her range is limited and her diction is simple and lucid. Seventeen Poems (1965) and Seventeen More Poems (1970) are her remarkable collections.

Apart from the abovementioned women poets, there are also numerous women poets who have made a dent in the art of versification.


Thus, in the light of foregoing discussion over the poetic creativity of women poets we find that like male poets, women poets have also contributed a lot for the recognition and growth of Indian English poetry. There is a long aesthetic and experiential journey of feminine sensibility in poetic expression from Toru Dutt to the Present. Verses by women poets are equally worth reading, full of energy and enthusiasm. It is rightly felt that ‘poetry in English by Indian women oscillates between writing as a social manifestation or assertiveness and the desire to accomplish a literary competence.’ Iyengar rightly writes that women ‘are poets first, and only genetically- and some, perhaps, defiantly- women.’ Like their male counterparts, they have also explored the possibilities of feeling, form and expression and have got considerable success in the poetic endeavours. They have well contributed to the expansion of collective consciousness of India, caught in the malestorm of historical conflicts and turmoil and change. They have raised the problems of cultural identity and also written at length about of traditional values in relation to changing realities, both in our society and in our collective personality. In short, the contribution of Women Poets to Indian English Poetry is equally immense in terms of expression , in their poetry, of cultural and identity, unique themes and arresting techniques, reflection of socio-political concerns, and contemplation over moral, spiritual and mystical aspects of life.


  • Iyengar, R K S (1985).:Indian Writing in English, Sterling Publishing pvt. Ltd., New Delhi
  • Naik, M .K.(1982): A History of Indian English Literature. New Delhi :Sahitya Academi
  • Prasad, H.M. & Singh C.P. (Ed.).(1985): Indian Poetry in English, Sterling Publishing pvt. Ltd., New Delhi
  • Dwivedi, A. N.(1984, reprint 2008): Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse, Vol.1. Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly
  • Tilak, Raghukul (2011): New Indian English Poets and Poetry, Rama Brothers India Ltd., New Delhi

(Paper read out in UGC Sponsored National Seminar on Contemporary Indian English Poetry: Culture and Idenity, organised in TMBU, University, Bhagalpur)

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