"Poetry is meant to be communicated": such is the poetic manifesto of Jayanta Mahapatra, eminent Indian poet in English. John Barnie, comparing Wordsworth and Mahapatra said, "The differences in the two poets are profound, yet in one sense at least, the comparison is just, for few poets in our century have evoked the still, sad, music so movingly as Mahapatra. He writes mainly about Orissa and everyday characters and incidents in Oriya life as in his poem about Raju sweeper.
Despite being an established Indian writer in English, Mahapatra turned to writing in Oriya and became a bi-lingual writer. He has stated that he is basically an "Oriya poet who incidentally writes in English". Speaking about the constant presence of Orissa in his poetry, he says," My writing portrays cultural values native to Orissa, not to other regions of India. And perhaps I have done just this in my poetry". His collections in Oriya include Baya Raja, Bali, Kahibi Gotie Katha and others. Madhusudan Prasad, who collected a series of essays on him in The Poetry Of Jayanta Mahapatra: A Critical Study finds him " authentically Indianï¿½rooted deeply in Indian socio-cultural values."
His poetry is evocative and haunting, and settles down slowly in the mind like rain. His Collection of poems include The Rain of Rites, the award wining Relationship, Close the Sky, Ten By Ten and others. He has won the prestigious Jacob Glatstein Prize (Chicago, 1975) and the Sahitya Akademi Award, 1981. He admits that poetry came to him rather late. In his own words," Poetry came to me much later, when I thought I had almost finished with my life. And writing a good poem makes me feel really good." Most of his poems, written in flowing free verse, reveal a graceful sense of motion, of perspective, and of time. His latest collection, Random Descent has been widely appreciated and even thought by many to be his best work till date.
Living in the most charming and cozy house in Tinikonia Bagicha in Cuttack, he has attended poetry conferences in Australia, Japan, the United States and other nations. Sitting on the very edge of his chair, displaying an incredible restlessness and energy, he professes to have a deep love of adventure. He has known the importance of the small pleasures of life such as the sound of rain on a tin window and the warmth of a bath with a bucket of water warmed in the sun. Along with recognition of life's little pleasures, he also has an awareness of its underlying sadness. Renowned poet and critic, K. Ayyappa Paniker maintained that "The tragic consciousness does not seem to operate in the work of any Indian poet in English as disturbingly as in that of Jayanta Mahapatra."
As many artists before him, he has a complaint to make of the media, who pay more attention to sensationalism than to promotion of culture and literary events.
With the publication of his collection The Green Gardener, 1997, he made his first foray into the genre of the short story, though he had started writing fiction long back. In the collection, persons and events acquire symbolic significance and language is strangely lyrical, not unlike Hardy.
Currently he also edits the bi-annual literary journal, Chandrabhaga. He refers to it as a means of showcasing writers, old and new. When poetic inspiration flags, his wife Jyotsna Mohapatra says, he turns to experimentation in the kitchen, making a considerable mess of things.