Continued from Previous Page
Half worm, half little bird
Delving the earth
And blossoming in paradise
Bears flowers, the tree. (Ismail)
Let me go
Into the recesses of mind
To get some serpentine sleep (Srikanta Sarma)
...why ritual, sacrilege, poles north and south
Tossing to the left and the right, whichever side you lie on
At the juncture of all moves, absolution and refuge
Hemangi you are and Dhanurdas are you
Sriranganatha is your bondsman even! (Vegunta Mohan Prasad)
Time and again the beaks of dreams suck me
As though I have become a river
As though on banks of deserts
I have thrown heads of green crops to dry
(Sunkireddy Narayana Reddy)
One you, another you, and yet another you seem alone
I too would be proud dear Tsuenko, for being a poet. (H R K )
I am on the earth: earth-grief does not allow me to sleep
Grieving earth is not alone: I too grieve along with her (Kandalai
Realism and comment on society have found expression as effectively as ever but how with a more extended reach. For example the description of the horror of the reality that the earth came to be :
On a swing the sky fell
Planets flew as balls to spread above (C.V.Krishna Rao )
The front page is a monumental illustration
We are being taken for a ride
And in Daily flames of deceit are we tossed every day (Obbini)
Cry you for crackers to light to-day
Aren't our stomachs already burning? (Teledevara Bhanumurty)
On springs of poetry that surge without effort
And dear as our life, hangs the police baton. (Siddhareddy)
I’m the bloodstain of the injured dove,
I’m the leap of the Seven Stallions hunting darkness (Raju)
Some curse-stricken song on the star fringes
Cuts down organ after organ
Blood drops dripping burn
Becoming lamps wondrous
Till everyone is happy and comfy
Continues this turbulence. (Gopi)
Not many adults realise the need of the condition of childhood even for their own children with the result that when the children become adults, they bemoan their lost childhood. We have a poet's concern here:
Keep out of their way
Let them as themselves grow (Nagabhairava Koteswara Rao)
Here are other instances of expressions of sensitivity:
Decking Tirupati laddu with cherry
Don't parade it as world laddu (Ramanarayan)
Then those unthinking five minutes
Now poison in the womb crucifying Jesus (Smile)
You...you...you can pluck away flowers in plunder
All right !...you...you...how can you steal all fragrance
Many poets have come under the overt influence of the western poetic achievement both by theories like Post Modernism and ways of thinking and expression like Rationalism, Formalism, Existentialism etcetera. Trends, whcih were more popular in the past, are still in vogue though in a considerably low key. A rich combination of the far from the left progressivism and humanism was honoured with the highest distinction. C.,Narayana Reddy's Viswambhara (1981) was adjudged the most deserving for the highest national literary honour, Jananpith Award in 1991, during the period under study. Psychological realism and humanism are as pupular as ever with poets like Gopi, Sikhamani, China Virabhadrudu, Mukunda Rama Rao, and a new kind of lyricism reflecting time-old values as in the poems of Ramanarayan, Aduri Satyavati Devi et al clothed in novel expressive devices. Though nor ornate and embellished, poetry in the hands of Naleswaram, Jookanti, Bhagawan et al appeals straight to the heart through its candour and sincerity. Stark and heart-squeezing reality is the distinctive quality of many poets in the mainstream. Scientific and technological advancement too ignited and inspired men like Kottapalli Satya Srimannarayana. In the hands of some distinguishedpractitioners Telugu free verse has gained in complexity, thanks to the scholarship, exposure and training in Western poetic trends, movements and practices. Ajanta, Vegunta, Sumana Sri, Penna Sivaramakrishna and Naresh Nunna are among the exemplarrs of the new complexity. Patanjali Sastry, Darbhasayanam, Potlapalli, Kanchanapally have come into the fore with their recent publications. There is an exponent of sweschachakavita, a genre exclusive to sing the praise of humanism and freedom at the hands of a poet like Madiraju Ranga Rao. Elegiac poetry in the diary mode has come to claim wide attention, thanks to the elegiac pentad of Ravuri Bharadwaja. Awareness relating to the preservation of ecology and environment, a very thoughtful societal concern for the preservation of our own values threatened by the invasion of foreign television channels has found a voice to portest against thoughtlessness. Contemporary catastrophes like the earthquake in Latur, Mahastra, and the carnage as at Tiananman Square shooting that shook the entire world inspired poets who generally wrote to produce powerful pieces like Killari, a long poem by Nelenelavenneal Krishna Rao and Sivasagar respectively. Recent Telugu poetry empathised with happenings in distant lands like South Africa, Philippines and China, Damu, Manepalli and S.V. Satyanarayana came out successful as poets winning the admiration of readers with their powerful voices. Here is a sampler of revolutionary ardour voiced forth sonorously:
Waiths mother earth morality and goodness to sprout
This is the bustle of activity for what very beginning (Arudra)
Life is one jail: jails are many
Jails are many, life just one jail (Sivasagar)
Frozen Yangtze! Sing not a dirge !
Frozen yangtze! Sing a song of liberation!
Frozen Yangtze! Sing a song of revolution ! (Sivasagar)
Loneliness, my friend, loneliness
Loneliness of the torso-lost head
Hanging from the castle's rampart (Damu)
Warrior, let me embrace you, I’d give you life new
Warrior, I'd give away my life to you (Manepalli)
To set earthquakes under your feet
To entomb the glories of your birth and past
our glances are taking a deep breath already (Avanigadda Surya
When up to the neck in the battlefield
Except weariness-there'd be no exhaustion (P.C. Ramulu)
While these belonged to the wide mainstream, poetry centred on popular movements like Feminism and Dalit and Minority movements had a great filip during the period 1985-95 with the adherents to these writing with telling effect.
Feminist poetry in Telugu is not the offshoot of the Women's Lib in the west though both fought against gender discrimination and led a movement to usher in and ensure gender equality. In the west it all started much earlier with a fight for franchise. Advocates of the women's cause, now women themselves we term Feminists have become aware of the need to identify and voice their grievances and tribulations in a an emerging new idiom, attitude and expression. In the new realisation, by no means very general, in the continuing fight, though less spectacular hither to, they find it that it is not merely the masculine sympathy they wanted ; a male-dominated society has to yield to their pressure for rightful and urgency. New and forceful exegetes of feminist thinking have emerged like the academic Katyayani Vidmahe and the social enthusiast Volga et al. They found committed supporters like Chekuri Rama Rao with pens that create and mould public opinion. In the 70s novel was the most popular genre and very successful novelists have been popular. To begin with these created an atmosphere for the take-off of the feminist movement. Poets like Savitri, Jayaprabha, Kondepudi Nirmala et al ound the right atmosphere and the opposite moment to come into the fore with force giving a specific direction to the gathering currents of ideas of women's emancipation. It was their idiom and the forthrightness of the nuances they put across that electrified the readers. Their imagery, tone and attitude revealed a resolve never before evidenced in women's writing. In the period under study Jayaprabha's Yuddhonmukham (1986) (after the initial success of Sooryudukoodaudayisthadu published in 1980), Kondepudi Nirmala's Sandighdha Sandhya (1986) and Nadichegaayaalu (1990), Jayaprabha's Ikkada kurisina megham ekkadid ? (1991), Savitri’s poems and works published by her friends after her death (1992) and yet again Jayaprabha’s Yasodhra ee vagapenduke ? (1993) and Volga’s collection Neelimeghalu (1993) were published. Volga’s collection where she included the main trends of feminist preoccupations with a variety of stances and expressive devices in a brave new idiom has come to be widely discussed and critically examined. The work made a sincere attempt at objectivity by including various reactions to the cause and its manner of advocacy. Some of the exponents and their work came under severe criticism for the pungency in the diction considered puerile and varyingly scabrous. But it must be said that women among the feminist poets have displayed amazing skills for dealing with the scabrous creating a unique mystique totally their own. Works of Patibandla Rajani, Mandarapu Hymavati, Jaya and Mahajabeen have come to gather large readership though there has been considerable divergence in their individual stances. Women began asserting their right to free, frank and fearless expression. Gone are the days of demureness, delicacy and modesty verging on prudery. Innuendoes and euphemisms are given the go by. Conveying the anguish, the poignancy of the passion and the immediacy of the problem are the things. Irony is a weapon too:
Wouldn’t there be oppression
When there is a woman? (Savitri)
Here is the distressed and disgusted woman’s yearning:
As there are pills to drive milk dry
If there were to be potions the soft sensibility to parch
How nice it’d have been! (Patibandla Rajani)
Instinct of self-preservation needs to be preserved in the modern woman:
Life should be securely held and saved
Even from the one to whom the heart is given (Jaya)
The shared plight of womenfolk in our land is just the same:
None come this way, except to eat
My mother is empress of the kitchen
But the name (etched) on pots and pans is my father’s (Vimala)
Women’s position is an enigma and a paradox too:
Cage I’m and bird too...
I devise an idiom for the recognition of my existence (Silalolita)
The abhorrence for being a female is voiced here:
Enough if only this organ could be flung away
Enough if another creation would stop here (Geeta)
And then the here is an invective of a doubly oppressed, a woman who is Dalit:
Instead of giving his floor a dung wash, we piss on it
Rip open his entrails with the sickle we have tucked in the waist
We’d skin him and with that on the drum play around (Karri Vijaya Lakshmi)
Decorum did not seem to be any longer a virtue when it came to dealing with hard and harsh realities. But some critics (sometimes even unfairly) read prurience into the Feminist texts seeing an indecorous preoccupation with women’s physical bodies. Some read into the texts unnatural revulsion for the male and intolerability of the process of procreation itself, which, according to them, would eventually be a threat to humanity. But, for the movement itself, this reaction was some kind of a propeller. The means adopted by the feminist poets to give expression to various points of view and the validity of their stances have surely led to some kind of crystallisation and, for some, the hard fact is that Feminist poetry has come to stay. Now it is all bang with no trace of any whimper.
A recent study identified the main tendencies in the dialectic of Feminism. The first is ‘liberal feminism’ demanding equal rights with men the ideal being meaningful and the harmonious co-existence, the second, radical feminism which believe women as a separate class suppressed under patriarchal mores. The extremist posture in this is that physical functions assigned to the women are detrimental to their getting the status of equality and real intellectual growth. The third is the socialist feminism which believes in the emergence of women as an equal work force. The fourth wishes that women’s rights be enforced within the framework of tradition. Some detractors of the feminist movement go to the extent of seeing it as the consciousness of women’s physiological uniqueness. Some, more understanding critics, see in it a quest for new thinking leading to new understanding that patriarchal ways must change for the good of all.
A new way of thinking along the desirable direction has surely emerged in that it gave a strong impetus to the marginalised voices too to burst forth into plangent paeans and plaints and sonorous outpourings. Not that movements for the uplift of the downtrodden and the suppressed are new. But largely a bye-product of the revolutionary, anguished and painful, progressive and large-hearted thinking, Dalit movement came into being in a big way. Dalit poetry as a special genre by itself is a part of a larger movement for the elevation of the downtrodden. It found exponents first in Marathi language as early as in the ‘50s mixing in a fruitful way Ambedkar’s ideology of eradication of untouchability by taking education and jobs the marginalised with Marx’s faith in the destruction of class barriers. In the ‘50s mixing in a fruitful way Ambedkar’s ideology of eradication of untouchability by taking education and jobs the marginalised with Marx’s faith in the destruction of class barriers. In the ‘50s Buddha Sahitya Parishad started to function thanks to the stupendous and forward-looking efforts of the Phules. American Black Movement too came to show its influence though in a distant way. In late ‘60s, Dalit literature emerged as a distinctive force first in Marathi language and slowly it found its way into Andhra. Dalits began to construct and develop a mystique of their own for a political objective that had already been there for quite some decades at least. Now they aim at demolishing the untenable superiority of some over others, pull down the distinctions of high and low stemming from the accident of birth in thinking and expression. It is an expression of community conscience. Upper caste culture, for them, is not automatically or actually synonymous with intellectual excellence. In 1984 Delhi Dalit Sahitya Akademi came into being and in 1987, in Hyderabad, All India Dalit Writers’ Meet was held its main thrust area being classless society with human values. With human values, liberty, equality and brotherhood as watchwords they held that only such literature is worthy of production. Literature produced by Dalits must ensure them their rightful place of dignity and pride. Dalit poetry in Telugu came out successfully giving expression to the feelings in forthright terms. Their aspiration, anguish and even vituperation showed the urgency for amelioration. By ‘90s Dalit ideology found expression in almost all genres. In 1993 at Hyderabad A.P. Dalit Writers’, Artists’, Intellectuals’ Joint Forum was formed. Based on an ideology came into existence political parties like Bahujan Samaj Party and Republican Party for social justice to be ensured to the Dalits. Political power appeared to be a basic requirement for the realisation of their goals. It came to be believed that Dalit poetry should be the exclusive domain of Dalit practitioners themselves for poets of higher castes cannot really put across a personal vision poignantly ‘imagining’ a condition to which the downtrodden have been subjected to. These poets do not favour languidly imaginative and luxurious poetic fancies. They are down to earth painting pictures of the squalid and sordid reality around. The mystique is unmistakable. The social and socio-economic milieu and the historical facts incontestable as they actually are beginning to demand attention. Dalit poets drew public attention with their strongly worded vivid pictures of heinous discrimination writing gutsy poems with gusto. Whatever the tone, likeable or seemingly abusive, it is poetry written with a definite purpose. That is either to achieve meaningful social equality by focussing attention to the dreadful actuality around by stinging people into thought, provoking them to intense soul-searching, or, even shocking readers by seething paroxysms of fury and wiry virulence. The various stances of the protagonists of Dalit poetry can be sampled thus:
The five elements are taking baths
Transcending the lines on the forehead
Feet are now sprouting from Brahma’s face (M. Venkat)
While these wounds throb through generations
Walking erect on roads with heads held high
Don’t differentiate tears: don’t divide wounds (Pagadala Nagender)
The angered die-hard caste people’s wrathful response is envisioned here :
Earthen kadhai and grease-clung cooking pots
Pig huts and penal pounds, what a conspiracy have you hatched!
It is difficult to classify poets according to their avowed stance, their mystique or the dialectic for they are all as varied as the hues in the rainbow. The concentration of the various elements varies in alchemy as also in dispensation. One thing is common to all: they write free verse untrammelled by metrical rigours and regulations. A free flow of expression with feeling and commitment to the concept of quick social change, besides a picturesque or sonorous expression characterises free verse. Never before has there been such ebullience in poetic expression as came to be after the advent of free verse. That it has come to stay for long is an incontrovertible fact. Labels and classification do not automatically lead to better appreciation of inspired poetic talent. It is not right to put any poet into a circumscribing label, however prestigious it may be, for in and by itself the label may not mean much after the currency of a particular trend.
Categories are most often imposed constructs and need not be endlessly important. Their utility is limited, transient. They merge into one another. One can see sometimes even feminist poetry taking a turn into fierce ridicule. We come across men writing exquisite feminist poetry. There is feminist poetry with varying range of vision and sensibility from Dalits. The whole thing ultimately boils down to attitudes and perceptions. Authenticity could be the watchword to assay worth. The broad spectrum of rasa, of imaginative expressive excellence, of sonority and sensitivity are to be experienced by individual readers with their own insights playing the decisive role, receiving and sharing the conveyed and communicated experience. The spectrum’s wavelengths stand diverse and magnified. Social change is the crying need of the hour and sharpening awareness appears to be the main concern of the poets. Reviving social conscience by conveying a message has been the aim of an overwhelming majority of poets. During the last decade a number of small literary periodicals have come up publishing poetry, reviews and literary articles. Every region of the speech community has its own writers and poets and getting state-wide recognition is a slow process.
In the poems of the period the reader would come across, among several other things, suffering and pain in retrospect; vicarious suffering on introspection; revolutionary ardour reflected even in tantrums of expletives besides soft flowing expression of delicate sensibility; anguished, uproarious criticism of social mores, caste, gender or class-based oppression; songs of hope and musings, not only of darkness but also of flashes of light, envisioning the peace and joy to follow. Pleas for sensible social order, plaints for empathy, so much a part of sensibility itself, are sometimes lost in vituperation. Paeans of joy projecting widening horizons, delineation of expanding vistas appear frequently. Dazzles of insights relating to huge lights and thick dumps of darkness verge on psychotic or even inspired frenzied states, where language gets into a kind of hardening maze. All these poems help us look a little farther, deeper and a little more sensitively and sensibly into the external reality and hopefully, through it, into the inner spirit.
Great poetry survives standing the test of time with its genius to transcend. Beginning with the geographical here and the topical, temporal now, going beyond the partial and the merely immediate, it aspires to be all embracing and everlasting. It holds the attention of successive generations being and becoming universal. It never ceases to enthral and inspire.
The voices on the wing aspire to stand this ultimate test getting what success each of them deserves. It is for the posterity to judge them better with no constraints and entanglement contemporaries may have. May these voices carry far and be heard for long.
Those Years in Retrospect
The period 1985-1995 has been remarkable in the history of Telugu Free Verse in that there has never been such effulgence of enthusiasm among poets writing in Telugu. This has been explained in the introduction to the earlier volume Voices on the Wing published in March 2000. It has not been found possible to include all those poets worth including in a single volume and hence this sequel. Many poets deserve inclusion since the very objective has been to make the work representative, wide-spectrum and broad-based. The earlier practice of sending the translated versions to the poets has been continued making the translation interactive. Suggestions and modifications received are considered carefully to prepare the press copy to make the work authentic.
A word about the selection too since someone asked me “what is the yardstick for inclusion ?”. My answer must have sounded either as naive or hot headed for I replied “I took the ones I liked”. The poems were published at least once if not got further included in anthologies or obtained awards.
This ‘continued’ introduction hopes to answer the need of a rapid survey of the poetic scene and the work of poets included in this volume. The advent of free verse in a big way gaining popularity with readers and more enthusiasts joining the growing numbers of poets, some forward looking literary organisations and literature loving individuals began holding contests to enthuse people to start writing poetry if they are not already poets. One important organisation has been the Free Verse Front. Ranjani of the A.G. Office took the cue and in collaboration with Free Verse Front began to hold contests every year under the banner Ranjani-Kundurti. This organisation not only declared awards to worthy poems but also collected them in volumes according to their convenience. So far Ranjani has brought our four volumes of award winning poems covering the period between 1984 and 1996. In 1997 the organisation published a collection of poems written on the theme of ‘mother’. Most of the poems thus collected were written quite earlier and published in anthologies or in journals. There is another organisation of literary enthusiasts in Nela Nela Vennela, a forum of friends of literature, which has been meeting once a month and coming out with publications of selected poems too. So far they brought out three volumes. X-Ray too has been holding contests to spot out and encourage poetry. The contests have proved that given slight impetus and a motivation, however small, the numbers of new corners swell and the established ones too take up their pens to produce something new that can stand the test of a competition.
Another very significant fact emerging from a study of the free verse produced during the period is that more and more poets are coming forward to brave the travails of self-publication. Emerging poets and fairly established ones are writing enthusiastic forewords to new collections of junior poets. That poetry does not sell is true : but that the number of readers spending time reading and even writing poetry is dwindling is wrong. Commercial viability is no great bar or a hurdle for a poetry enthusiast. Telugu periodicals have been encouraging poets in a very big way for almost every one of them carries a section of poetry and some an exclusive one for new poets. Poets thus encouraged are finding their own funds or assistance where it is forthcoming to publish collections on their own. And then, writers’ associations have come up in almost all districts and though the readership is limited, these associations have been undertaking publications too. Some of the more active among them are those in Prakasam and Warangal districts, to name just two. This is heartening enough and even translators (even from languages other than Telugu) could be cheerfully adventurous trying to do their best for the poetic achievement in their respective mother tongues.
Continued to Next Page