Literary Shelf

Indian English Women Poets on Creativity Voyage

Analyzing the poetic creativity process in poems has not been a major pre-occupation with poets as Relationships, Love, Nature, Social Consciousness, Metaphysical Musings on Life, Death and God have continued to constitute the quintessential concerns of the universal poetic corpus. However, the contemporary writers’ increased focus on the inner world and exploration of the deep recesses of psyche has resulted in an enhanced interest in analyzing and expressing of the process of poetic creativity .

The contemporary women poets, across continents, have evinced a substantial  interest in exploring their Poetic - Self  through their poems and prose treatises. Kamala Das onwards, the poetry of Indian English women poets has become an effective means to ruthlessly scan the entire gamut of experience- the internal and the external  worlds .In their process of  self –analysis; the process of poetic creativity and a probe into the poetic identity become significant fields of comprehension and examination. For these women writers, analyzing the creative process becomes much more than just a poetic theme. As they unravel the mystery of their poetic psyche in their writings , it becomes an epiphanic joinery for the poets and their readers.

Akin to Adrienne Rich who finds ‘ a kind of emotional release in the act of writing the poem', the contemporary Indian English women poets have also dwelt on this 'therapeutic value' of verse :

As words crystal
In the soul’s spill:
The pain

For Mamta Kalia also it has a cathartic value:

In my hour of discontent
I neither shout nor rant
I simply fill ink in my pen
And spill it with intent.

It is a means of self-expression for Kamala Das:

I must let my mind striptease
I must extrude

It is a kind of compulsive act for her like for Whitman who felt ‘suns’ rising inside him which must be ‘sent-out’. Creativity is self-revelation or expression for Rukmini Nair also where she is “reflexively displaying myself’. ('Five Uneasy Pieces,’ The Hyoid Bone). For Vijaya Goel it is both a cathartic and a compulsive act:

It is an urge, a compulsive urge which cannot be suppressed.
It makes its own way. It flows out of me….whatever the reason,
I feel at peace with life after doing so.

The act also becomes a means to improve the self and society. For Kamala Das, it becomes a medium to attain the higher state of being in 'Composition' as “by peeling off my layers/I reach closer to soul’ (The Descendants,). It brings ‘abundant recompense’ and sublimation of instinct for Sujatha Modayil who has been denied creativity as a woman i.e. motherhood. She laments:

One great miracle
Has passed me by
And is painfully aware of her condition where:
Any woman could pity me
But then ‘other miracles’ come to her as her
Spirit has its own clear streams it walks beside
I have known creation of another kind.
The  satisfaction which is denied to body comes through mind.

The conditions of the modern world are disconcerting enough to jolt the sensitive psyche of these poets and they take to poetry as a means to react to the world around. Suniti Namjoshi was ‘terrified’ into writing poems:

She wrote her poems because muteness
                 Terrified her
Seeing, as she did, in thelevel lake water
       .                                 An upside down swan.

Mamta Kalia takes up cudgels against the world through her writings:

I write
Because I cannot bite
It is the way
The weak ones fight.

In Sunita Jain it is a means of self-defense against the thrusts of the world:

Words, you are all I ever had
Against pain
Calculated injury.

whereas the act becomes a way of offence in Eunice De Souza. In her hands are

Words the weapon
To crucify.

She has ‘cutting edge of words’ and in the end piece of Fix- 'One Man’s Poetry' claims: “The rage is almost done.” For Lalitha Venkateswaran this act is the most effective way to give public utterance to truth: “Could there be/a somewhat better form for me/of public truthfulness ?” (‘Public’, Rocking Horse, p.21) Sujatha Modayil considers it to be high form of awareness which contains the dreams of past and hope of future:

What is poetry
If not the essence
Of long ago visions
That foreshadow change.
This ‘awareness of life’ can never be ‘meaningless’.

The poets have also expressed their disillusionment and frustration with writing as it has not been able to achieve its desired purpose. Monika Varma realizes the ‘powerlessness’ and futility of the whole exercise in 'Words I' as words seem to serve no personal or social purpose:

Does just one misery, one weary
Round and round squirrel thought
Settle down?
Does one stone-throwing violent
Frustrated young arm stop paralyzed
By words, words, words……
She finds
No peace
In writing poetry
It is unending, leaves me no peace

The poet compares herself to a ‘cricket’ that keeps on cog-wheeling and is an ‘unceasing irritant’ and a ‘stupid chap’. Mamta Kalia also feels

Fed up
Using my pen like sword.
Creating at best only verbal discord

and turns materialistic, in tune with the times, to reject paper and ‘board’ and wishes for ‘cash’ to ‘hoard’.

The actual process of poetic creativity has also been recorded by these poets. For a few it is a passionate act, for others an intellectual exercise and for still others a process that involves the heart, the mind and even the soul. For Achla Bhatia, it involves both soul and passion: “Writing a poem is never a very conscious effort, but rather a passion with me. Poetry comes out naturally, when the soul stirs”. Sunita Jain finds it as intense as love-making:

We make the best love
When we write
The body’s intensity
Enters a word, enters the mind.

For Nilima Wig, the process involves arousal of intense frenzic passions which finds expression in form of creation. The intellect is not at work as passion is let loose. The process does involve one’s soul and is an expression of soul:

When a mind breaks through from within the mind and gallops away with the fury of an unrefined horse with a voluptuous swell of passion that has reached its Spanish heights….it rockets away from the body, crashes against the paper and crumbles into a song.

The painter has painted his soul, the poet has named his.

Monika Varma finds the act to be a ‘rage in creating’ with a frenzy of its own which creeps:

       Into your blood and bone with nibbling fingers
       Drives you into a wild mnemonic rage
       Not knowing what, why and when.

It remains a mysterious phenomenon beyond analysis. The poetic imagination of the modern poet has been described as ‘tiger’ by Rukmini Nair. ‘Tiger’ is tortured and wants to break her old confines-the printed line, rules and regulations:

Anger in her heart a rusty nail drives
All her agonies make her braver
A search for stillness troubles her.
The poet dramatizes:
Look, tiger is about to leap.
And finally:
Abandoning mere metrical grace
Rhythm, rhyme, that measured pace
Tiger breaks free.

Mary Gupta's 'On Having a Poem' is a rejoinder to an article by B.F Skinner, the leading behaviorist who argues that a poet can no more take credit for a poem he writes than a goose can for the egg it lays. The  poet establishes that a poem is very much an outcome of a poet's efforts and involves either heart or intellect and a poet possesses consciousness of both - past and present in him:

Where are all the poems that I Know will come?
Oh, how hard it is to look for them!
Though beckoned to the fore by simple incidents
They're fast within the heart's own core.
Held by half- forgotten antecedents,
To be released by accident?
Or by meandering intent of intellect
As it strives to recollect more
And more from the confluence
Of Time Present and Time Past.

For Monika Varma, one's various and varied experiences in life provide the basis for one's writing: -

  Behind every poem
  there is a tremendous conglomerate of experience
  Which like an ocean swell
  Breaks with a roar leaving
  Foam of surf on the sea- shore
  That is what this poem is.

The act is intellectual in nature for Roshen Alkazi:

Still pools of thought,
Emerging surge of words.
Picked gently by the hand
Arranged before us.

Poetic creativity is not a ''spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings''. Art or craft is also an important integral part of poetry writing. ''Every good writer is a sculptor with words''25 observes Kamala Das. A writer's feelings and thoughts are given a concrete form through the medium of words. These women poets have not only unravelled their poetic process, but have also examined efficacy and efficiency of words - the vehicle of expression.Words grow on Kamala Das 'like leaves' and she is very well aware of their multiple functions and potentials:

                  beware of them, they
                  Can be so many things, a
                  Chasm, where running feet must pause to
                  Look , a sea with paralyzing waves,
                  A blast of burning air or
                  A knife most willing to cut your best
                  Friend's throat..........

Monika Varma needs words to communicate in the wilderness and loneliness:

Lost in this wilderness
I need words - words that belong
to people and poets,
Words that speak from one loneliness to another.

but she cannot stand mere soft and sweet ‘wordiness’ without substance. She is tired of ‘windy - worded men’. Words are meaningful and purposeful only when human associations blend with them:

Words as words do no heal
It is only when we remember
and blindingly recollect
that words

The poet well knows the ‘hurting’ power of words and her advice in 'Only Words' is ''Be gentle in this life/ violence of words murders'' (Green Leaves and Gold). Imtiaz  Dharker has full faith in the capacity of the medium. For her, word has immense power and it can perform a variety of functions:

It is pure power,
It is pure power,
prepared to heal or wound,
give birth to a whole nest
of hungry thoughts.

The evocative power of words has a tremendous impact on human minds:

This way is madness,
This may change the world, this
Tame a thousand beasts
or make monsters of a million sheep.

Words are expression of one's state of mind and body also. In Kamala Das's 'Bromides' one of the signs of madness is that words of a person become 'disembodied’ and ‘weightless’. All they do is to 'flail their limits and fly'. In her poem 'Cart House' sense of an impending death affects her expression :

Of late my words have worn
Thin, my speech resembles
The jagged gallop of
A cart - horse that needs to
Be reshod and perhaps
Given rest

Intensity of passion makes words redundant and inadequate in the poet:

There were no more
Words left, all words lay imprisoned
In the ageing arms of night.

That is why she writes verses only till she finds her lover and after finding him ‘ my life lies content in you' in ''Love''. Then the lover becomes for her:

the poem to end all poems,
A poem, absolute as the tomb.

These poets, however, have also realized the limitation of verbal medium. Monika Varma is diffident about the expressive power of words:

Words are always so inadequate, therefore,
Let them be nimble, like needle and thimble.

Like Shelley, Sujata Bhatt feels the limitation of language as medium in articulation of one's experiences:

The best story, of course,
is the one you can't write
you won't write.
It is something that can only line
In  your heart,
not on paper.

In lines reminiscent of Emily Dickinson : “ Never in a book it lie…/

True poems flee…”, Sujata Bhatt expresses impossibility to capture the movement and beauty of the living world on paper through word:

Beneath the fish
there are clouds.
Here the sky ripples,
The river thunders.
How would things move on paper.

In her poem ‘Poem : Edited and Unedited’ Vijaya Singh brings out a poet's mental blocks in full revelation of his/her real self in poetry:

All memories, desires, dreams
can't be included
In a poem.

For a poem 'after all is a public utterance' and concludes:

the unedited poem
decays endlessly
in the frozen forque
of the mind

These Indian English women poets have also articulated the linguistic crisis generating from expressing oneself in an ‘alien tongue’.On one hand the language seems inadequate to really express one's thoughts/ emotions with original force and authenticity, on the other hand this ' Indo - Anglian' identity makes one feel like a Dangling Man/Woman between the two worlds, leading to alienation and rootlessness .

Malavika Sanghvi in her poem ' What's What with the Wog, 1978' realizes : “besides the tourist department / my country has no use for me”(Poems Recent and Early p. 43). Recognition as a serious Litterateur  does not come easily. De Souza's students 

think it funny
that Daruwallas and De Souzas
should write poetry.
because for them
Poetry is faery lands forlorn
women writers Miss Austen.

Kamala Das. also become the target of carping criticism:

Don't Write in English, they said, English is not your mother tongue.

 and her vehement protest was:

              Why not leave
              Me alone , critics, friends,cousins,
              Everyone of you? Why not let me speak in
              Any language I like, the language I speak
              Becomes mine.

In her poem ' Search for a Tongue' the Commonwealth Poetry Prize winner poet Sujata  Bhatt dwells on the alienness of English tongue and its insufficiency to  express all that she wishes to convey. No intimate experience can be reproduced in a foreign language:

My mother in the kitchen
My mother singing
      (Gujarati script used in original poem) 
(Mon mor Meghar shungay orday cholay
I can't hear my mother
In English.
Desperately searching for a new tongue:
I Search for my tongue
I must find my tongue.

Sujata Bhatt goes on to introduce a new form of multi-lingual poems in Indian poetry in English. She uses two languages- Gujarati and German in their original scripts in her poem ‘The Undertow’,  intermingles English and Gujarati in 'Garlic of Truth', ‘A Different way to Dance’, 'Devibhen Pathak' and in her long above- referred poem 'Search for My Tongue' the  lines are made up of both Gujarati and English:

I can't (Gujarati original) dha
I can't (Gujarati original) dha
I can't forget, I can't forget
                  [Gujrati original of Dha, dhin, dhin, dha].

The poetic process of these women poets seems to defy the established  canonical definitions of yore. Their poems are not born from 'emotions recollected in tranquility' (Wordsworth), nor are they an attempt to 'escape from emotion/personality' (T.S. Eliot) or 'Mirrors which make beautiful that which is distorted' (P.B Shelley). Nowhere have they revealed the psychopathic and suicidal 'Sylvia Plath effect' and for them the process of poetic creativity becomes a means of self-expression, self-exploration and self-awareness. At times, it also becomes, what Helen Cixous advocates it to be an ‘act of empowerment’ for these women writers. Going beyond the analysis of the poetic process, they have also confronted the issues related to Art, Craft and Linguistic Medium which augurs well for the stylistic growth of their poetry. Imbued with their new found confidence:

Tears are not our Style
Erudition says it better.

the contemporary Indian English women poets seem to march in to a vast world of new poetic possibilities.


More by :  Rashmi Bajaj

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