While contemporary Indian fiction is now firmly entrenched in the world literary scene, very little is known about Indian poetry and poets. In his Foreword to The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, Sudeep Sen gives you the lay of the land as far as English language poetry in India is concerned: “Only a handful of contemporary English language Indian poets command international and national status. And the others who are visible happen to be known within very tight and narrow confines of the poetry circles, university reading circuits and literary festivals.”
The book, while not the first of its kind, is certainly an important step forward for Indian poetry. Bringing together the works of 85 Indian poets, the book showcases and reflects the vibrant contemporary poetry culture of India as well as the broader Indian diaspora. Some of the prominent names include Vikram Seth, Amit Chaudhuri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Meena Alexander, David Dabydeen, Sujata Bhatt, Daljit Nagra, Tabish Khair and Priya Sarukkai Chabria.
A sort of celebration of contemporary English language poetry in India — the history of which is inevitably tied up with India’s history as a republic — the book charts out and showcases the best of the last 60 years. All the authors included in the volume were born post-1950 and have been a vital part of the Indian poetry scene.
Perhaps the noteworthy and unique feature of this anthology, one that distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that 90 per cent of the contributors have contributed new work. This means that the majority of poems are previously unpublished. This is a significant departure from other anthologies of poetry that usually bring together famous published works.
Every poem is a glimpse into the consciousness of the poet as well as the cultural milieu of his/her time, and the almost 400 poems in the book provide a fascinatingly wide spectrum that displays a broad and strikingly varied range of form, technique, style and preoccupation.
In his Foreword, Sen, a poet himself, says that the focus of this book is poetry originally written in English, since a wider selection including India’s many official languages would make the book too voluminous and unwieldy. “This is just the start and hopefully there will be more such anthologies representing Indian poetry, including those in translation which in itself is an extensive and huge area.”
Bottomline: The majority of poems are new and previously unpublished
The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry; Edited by Sudeep Sen, HarperCollins India, Rs. 599