(Revised Edition of Voices on the Wing Telugu Free Verse 1985-95)
Plus Very Recent Telugu Free Verse
I. A Welcome Venture by Sitakant Mahapatra
The poetry-lover in India is disadvantaged by the absence of access to poetry being written in the major Indian languages. This is because of the language barrier. He can read a Paz or a Seferis, a Yehuda Amiuchi or a Pavese for they are available in reasonably good translation in English. This is a pity. Modern Indian poets and their works remain confined to their language area until they are translated to the other languages, primarily Hindi and English. In fact, for quite some time, the latter two languages are operating as filter languages for translation to other Indian languages. Ideally poetry in translation to be somewhat effective and meaningful has to be directly transferred from the original language to the other language into which it is being translated. If it is at two removes from the original it is most certainly to lose most of the charm of the original. In fact, there are people who believe that poetry is what is lost in translation. There is some truth in this. For it is well high impossible to carry the music, the flavour of the language into which a poem is being translated. You ask any Russian and they would assert that Pushkin is their greatest poet. All the English translations of Pushkin that I have read, however, leave me untouched and cold. Surely quite a bit must have been lost in translation.
This, however, is no argument against translation of poetry. After all there have also been what is regarded as successful translations. It is true, though, that not all poets are equally translatable not even all the poems of a great poet are equally well suited for the job of translation. Translation is thus an extremely difficult, complex and sensitive task and it requires a large measure of patience, linguistic capacity and preferably consultation with the poet concerned in order that a translator manages to retain the flavour of the original even while not outlandish or banal in the language translated into.
Dr. Rao, the presenter of this volume of Modern Telugu Poetry, I am sure, is aware of these limitations and has tried to overcome them to the maximum extent possible. He seems to have consulted the concerned poets with drafts requesting suggestions and revisions. He has done great service to the cause of Modern Telugu Poetry in his difficult task, which he has handled admirably.
One is not sure of the validity of the dates chosen to confine the translations. All dates in literary history are somewhat arbitrary unless some very special new beginning, the emergence of a new style, or school, marks them. Besides that a poet being represented by a single poem is hardly justice to poetry or the individual poet.
Notwithstanding these it is an admirable venture of Dr. Rao for which he has put all poetry lovers to a debt. Not knowing the originals, it would not be possible to say anything about the success in in taking the original poems into the English language. As we all know translation from one Indian language to another is often an easier task because somewhere the languages have a common root and ancestry. This cannot, however, be said for the English translations.
II. Poetry has Many Addresses by Ashok Vajpayee
In India, perhaps the most multilingual nation in the world today, poetry has many addresses. It speaks in many tongues and emerges, sometimes unexpectedly, at many places. It is a repository, ceaseless and inexhaustible, of memories of our civilisational enterprise. At any given time, it manifests many different, even contradictory and adversial trends of thought and emotions, values and ideas. Essentially it celebrates the simply stated but the enormously complex idea ; we are one because we are so many. The proverbial, and, many a time mind boggling, Indian plurality resides deep-rooted and with ease and comfort in its poetry written in many languages, uttered in many dialects.
Telugu as language has had a rich past. It has participated in confirmed and aqsserted the Indian continuum of poetic expression and exploration. Even now its poetry covers a wiede range : from the classical austerity to the earth of exuberance, from deep reflection and meditation to radical activist mode ; from the sophisticated and refined to the utterly raw and exuberant. It sings, it celebrates, it enacts and it questions and reflects. In this, it resembles the poetic scenario in other Indian languages, which share many concerns, view-points and visions as well. This anthology provides an occasion both to feel the unique impulses of the Telugu poetry and to locate it in the geography of Indian poetry as such.
Translating poetry is always tricky. Although it has been said memorably that poetry is that which is lost in translation, it has also been equally validly asserted that poetry survives translation. In this perhaps the most translated century known in Indian history, it is good and timely to attempt to render Telugu poetry into English. Translation from one Indian language into another Indian language has been a good deal less troublesome than into English, which of late has famously emerged as an Indian language in its own right. The transference could sometimes be awkward and the transcreation sometimes unexpected.
If the anthology succeeds in evoking the poetic ethos of Telugu in English to a certain extent provoking further interest in Telugu poetry, it would have more than served its purpose. In these troubled times poetry can offer a place from which to look and wonder at life, to rejoice in the words and to participate in the world. We need it because we need to be alive and human.
III. A Few Words by K. Sachidanandan
Telugu poetry has had a continuous and unbroken tradition right from the days of Nannaya, Tikkana, Vemana, Pothana and Srinatha to the modern days of Sri Sri, Ajanta and the radical poets of various hues. Telugu poetry may be said to have entered the path of innovation with Veeresalingam, Gurajada Apparao and Rayaprolu Subba Rao who simplified and modernised the idiom of Telugu poetry. The navyakavita which also came to be known as bhavakavita because of its emphasis on bhava over rasa opened a new chapter in the history of Telugu poetry by introducing contemporary themes and moods inventing a suggestive lyrical idiom to express them. The use of the dialect as in the poems of Appa Rao and the spirit of revolt as in the poems of Devulapalli Krishna Sastry and Sri Sri gave new stylistic and social dimensions to Telugu poetry. The progressive poets added a new ideological dimension to it by bringing to it the anguish of the workers and peasants, the pangs of caste oppression and the popular aspirations for a truer freedom. The Movement produced several talented writers including Poet Arudra. The new movements like the Digambarakavita, the Chetanavartanakavita, Adhikshepakavita, Viplavakavita, Anubhutikavita and Narivadakavita brought in new forms, tones, attitude, and structures of Telugu poetry. Some of these trends like Dalit and Feminist are shared by many other Indian languages while some have been specific to Telugu.
Movement poetry has its strengths and limitations: the strength is that it brings to focus a social issue with a sense of urgency and creates an immediate, if temporary, impact on the literary scene ; the limitations are that it produces a lot of bad poetry along with some good poetry and that it gets exhausted as soon as the social issue that gave it its initial impetus is relegated to the background, solved, forgotten or overtaken by a more urgent issue. Movements produce fresh poetry to begin with; but soon its freshness fades away and what was new becomes a cliché. Again, there is the danger of such poetry being too loud. Poetry, even political poetry, becomes effective only when it works well as poetry, is subtle like a subterranean stream, goes beyond the obvious and the visible, expresses what has so remained unexpressed and refuses to repeat worn-out slogans and common-sense clichés and jargons. This anthology proves that Telugu poets are at last beginning to realise this.
The poets are slowly coming out of the tradition of loud, rhetorical poetry and trying to speak a plainer language closer to day-to-day life. This is part of a general process of the democratisation poetry that has been taking place in almost all the Indian languages in the recent years. Democratisation ultimately means a balance between individuation and concern for collective destinies.
“Let grief, grow, joy shall flower ever afterward': this belief of Adigopula Venkata Ratnam, similar to Shelley's faith 'if winter comes can spring be far behind' seems to be shared by many of the poets. There is a subdued grief in many of these poems as when commenting on the fate of fallen womanhood Jookanti Jagannatham says, “don't ask me anything further or when Vajjhala Siva- kumar says: “Mouths that crush the word in the throat itself, aren’t they telling you anything?” At times it becomes remorse as when Savitri confesses: “Instead of rousing the growing generation to urge them to rectify their lapses, I lulled them to sleep”. There are also brief moments of joy that come from nature when then poet discovers that 'the tree is an ecstasy of transparency' and when the whole sky is sold to greenness, 'all words are parrots and all thoughts are tender leaves'. (Soubhagya). This joy is immediately offset by nostalgic grief: 'Gone is yesterday's season of rains and gone too the spring of the day before.' (Adoori Satyavati Devi).
There is also a strong vein of irony natural to our times when we raise gods of salt made of our bitter tears-in many of these poems as when 'the squalid sparrow speaks metaphysics' (Lingamapally Ramachandra) “I was given a ticket after the curtain was down', says Bulusu G Prakash. Sikhamani sees Atma hung to some clothes peg while Nandini Sidda Reddy sees a police baton hanging on the springs of poetry. Kandalai Raghavacharya wonders whether the cuckoo's cage could ever be the open sky and its bars boughs. T. Jitender Rao remarks: Since I began speaking before the mike / I stopped speaking to my conscience / since I began waving my hands on the dais / I stopped extending the hand of friendship Since I began trusting bullets, I developed fear for fellowmen'. A Surya Prakash writes: 'Enough it is if your raise your hand at my behest / crowns on your head would always be secure'.
It is heartening to note that at a time of total unconcern, selfishness and careerism, the poets in Telugu continue to have deep concern for the destiny of their fellow beings. Most of these poems interrogate injustice and oppression, be it based on gender, caste or class. Political nepotism, corruption of leadership and general moral degradation come under fire.
At times the poets speak directly, like Manepalli Satanaryana speaking on behalf of the entire coloured and 'untouchable' people, Patibandla Rajani, Volga, Mandarapu Hymavati, Vimala and Kondepudi Nirmala taking up the cuase of the child and the woman or Sikhmani turning his words into dynamite to express the explosive dreams of the toilers; at times the tone is quieter and more indirect as in the poems of D.M. Raviprasad, Boya Jangayya or Afsar. There is great sophistication in some poets like Ajanta and Ismail who are less loud, more contemplative and concerned more with the sprit than the surface of things and states. C. Narayana Reddy also writes poetry of wise generalisations. Telugu poetry, I am sure, will gather further subtlety in the years to come.
I am confident that his anthology will help non-Telugu readers assess the present state of Telugu poetry and encourage comparative studies.
Vivid and Vibrant: Those Years in Retrospect
The course of literary history is directed importantly by societal forces working on it. Literary genres are not fortuitous growths or historical accidents for they have an underlying linguistic dialectic. Poetry, especially in Telugu, ceased to be the exclusive domain of the privileged elitist classes with the enthroning of democracy. After the aspiration of democratic form of government was accomplished and democracy as a system of governance became a working reality, poetry is seen as a force that can have the focal point of societal progress and economic and social equlaity. It is realised that equality the product of the inner urge of society itself must come to be established. In an awakened nation, poetry too had to necessarily undergo the process of democratisation as it successfully did in the area of politics. Impassioned voices began to compel the attention of not merely the government but the entire literate society. Poetry in the hands of emerging peoples irrespective of their academic or social status has come to be a tool to whip up courage, enthusiasm and strength to press forward and forge ahead with gusto and aplomb. Poetry is an agent and an instrument for aspiring towards an integration of social cultural levels widening the horizons of independence. A never-failing source of energy and inspiration, Telugu poetry has sustained people for ages. We have a renowned bhavuka going to the raison d'etre, the reason for the perennial verdure of this hoary tree:
Lifting up waters of wisdom from the sources of the soul
Confronting the course of monsoons
Turning its own form, spreading greenness like its breath
The tree stood stable and unperturbed (Narayana Reddy)
The eleven years from 1985 to 1995 are crucial in the history of Telugu poetry. The period deserves special study since never before in the entire range of this millennium has there been such effulgence and flowering of poetic expression. Hundreds of poets came out with their own understanding, imagination and expression to convey their feeling. Events and the experience of peoples both in our country and abroad began to attract the attention of imaginative minds. Free Verse came to settle as the order of the day. Old trends, which could not stay alive for long slowly faded giving way to the new. Poetry of deep feeling, imaginative subtlety and intellectual sublimity showing compassion and understanding, a national and universal outlook for social reconstruction and all round development of Man and the widening of horizons, individual as well as collective, Feminist poetry with a basic thrust on women's sensibility expressing concern, anguish or revolt; Dalit poetry, a vehement declaration of the downtrodden to assert and demand immediate establishment of social equality and Minority poetry demanding fair play for the marginalised peoples and minorities like the Muslims, came to draw the attention both of the thinking public and the government. New experiments in the choice of subjects, in strategies of presentation and the use of novel expressive devices with a lot of freedom as in the poetry of the West found a wide measure of acceptance by readers. More and more people, especially women, took to writing poetry. Literature has achieved democratisation as it never did earlier after Independence. Changes in society, the lapses and shortcomings in the working of democracy against the backdrop its promise and performance, the immediacy of social aspirations gave rise to crystallisation of fresh expressive devices. Poetry did undergo a transformation with the very lay out of the lines getting a change. The external structure, the appearance and the contents and the manner in which the message is put across underwent a change.
Against the background of the accent and thrust on social purpose and the emerging values of equality in democracy, in creative expression too, the period showed a significant polarisation to the mores of free verse. With political independence becoming a reality, people’s aspirations began to be voiced forth powerfully by the poets and practitioners of other genres of writing underling the importance of feeling and imagination. What is more, several poets pressed forward designing and fashioning individual poetic faith enunciating what could be the beginning for a whole dialectic. Social awareness came to be the focal point contexts of issues, events and conditions generating impassioned expression. Poets, of the younger generation particularly, distinguished themselves by asserting the sovereignty of the individual and the primacy of social transformation by amelioration, reconstruction and integration.
The moments you write poetry in
They alone are yours (Addepalli Rama Mohana Rao)
The poetry in classics is an actress
A truth that's like a beautiful lie (Godavari Sarma)
Poetry is not chattering in sleep
Poetry is litling full-throated in awareness (Acharya Bhavana)
Except by burning ourselves, burning, becoming red-hot iron
Poems wouldn't acquire the shape and the soul we intend (Siva Reddy)
Words hidden in mother's lullabies yesterday
Become sticks of dynamite to-day (Sikhamani)
Now a quick review of the poetry before the period of this study. Disgusted with the mainly romanticised, erotic and generally high-flown diction, cliched word-clusters and inane tropes of Prabhanda poets of the traditional poets and versifiers, in the early “20s and '30s Bhava Kavita came to hold sway. When this began to show signs of surfeit, Free Verse came to the forefront. Progressive poets like Sri Sri, Arudra, Pathabhi Kundurti, etc., al ushered in the age of Abhyudaya (Progressive) poetry with the establishment of Abhyudaya Rachayitala Sangham, (arasam) for short, in 1943. When the nationalist, revolutionary ardour had its heyday, for a brief period Digambara poets like Nagnamuni began to describe their poems as diks., (dikkulu directions). Their essential 'nakedness' of expression soon lost its hold with some of those few turning 'revolutionaries'. Still the movement had its success to the extent of making poets take a fresh look at what happened by and large to their own creative powers. With the avowed objective of underscoring human welfare in the frame work of aestheticism and return to old values (eliminating unhealthy and undesirable trends surfacing in poetry) Chetanavarta poets Pervaram, the Kovelas et all wrote poetry with conviction using symbols and strategies around mid '60s. Revolutionary poetry was in the fore during the '70s with distinguished protagonists like Varavara Rao. It was felt that arasam lacked an ideology and a strong mystique and politique, for the uplift of the oppressed and the downtrodden and that only an armed uprising would bring in a new social order. Sri Sri took up the leadership for Viplava Rachayitala Sangham, (virasam) for short, on July 4, 1970 breaking away from arasam. Alongside this, slowly but steadily, some poets began asserting the need to restore the glory of feeling and imagination. The outcome was the emergence of anubhuti (experiential) poetry. There was a brief spell of Adikshepa (mockery) poetry but that did not last long as a trend, possibly owing to the prevalent mood of the general readers.
A measure of each of these trends is evident in the Free Verse of the period 1985-95. Literary critics like K.V. Ramana Reddy saw 1985 as a kind of a mountain-landmark (konda gurtu) in the history of the growth of Free Verse in Telugu. Free Verse as mentioned earlier is an offshoot of rebellion against Bhavakavitwam. The first voice of this literary revolt was that of Sishtla Visnudhanuvu and Navami Chiluka (1938). Pathabhi Fidelu Raagala Dozen (1939) demolished the faith adhered to by old poets, specially the exponents of Bhavakavitwam. Poets like Sri Sri and Arudra gave fresh impetus to pathfinders to come out of the peculiar smugness and complacency of Bhavakavulu. Tilak and Kundurti emerged. Tilak died young. Kundurti in 1966 started the Free Verse Front and published a volume of free verse in 1967. Progressivism brought free verse into great popularity over the years, thanks to the Mahaprasthanam. The phrase free verse was a topic for discussion in literary circles Sri Sri calling it 'prose lyric' and 'prose poem' So.Su (Somasunder of Vajrayudham (1949) fame calling it 'free metre', Pathabhi calling it 'prose poem', and Varavara Rao calling it 'voluntary poetry'. Kundurti and Suprasannacharya called it 'vachana kavita' and Free Verse came to stay.
Kundurti, not a rich man, strained hard to keep the Free Verse Front he founded going and began honouring a highflier with the Free Verse Front Award each year for the best work in free verse. Till 1995 barring 1971, 1972 and 1978, every year the award was announced and presented. The poets who made it to the award for the years between 1985 and 1995 are: Papineni Sivasankar (1985), Nandini Siddha Reddy (1986), Sikhamani (1987), Kondepudi Nirmala (1988), Vaseera (1989), Asa Raju (1990), Afsar (1991), Vajjhala Siva Kumar (1993), Narayana Swamy (1994) and Jayaprabha (1995). To poetry with a sociological thrust Addepalli, Sivareddy, Darbhashayanam and others contributed a lot to free verse. Against the backdrop of emphatic societal yearnings rising, along with anubhuti poetry new trends began to appear with the advent of Feminist and Dalit voices. In mid '80s these came to be aggregating into powerful movements gaining ground by attracting popular attention. The narrow, hegemonic, drawing room view of poetry is ignored with a new vigour giving supremacy and primacy to the right of expression to the way one thought saw and felt, experienced and foretold. It is extremely significant that most of the poets published their own works, sometimes with partial financial aid from Telugu University and sometimes securing finances wholly through their own efforts, even though it is widely realised that poetry does not sell well. Besides movement-centred poetry gaining spectacular prominence, other stable streams like anubhuti poetry have also undergone modifications in their progress ahead. Established poets like Narayana Reddy, Arudra, Somasundar, Seshendra Sarma and others of eminence apart, younger people too began to draw more and more serious attention. Siddhartha, Srikanthasharma at all have been cases in point. Many of these have been getting subtle and subtler, and increasingly refined, and more and more complex. It is difficult to cover them all in a single category, however broad; Vegunta, for example is a class by himself and so was Ajanta. There are others very significant too.
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