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NITHYA SIVASHANKAR
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Musings Indian women poets talk about poetry that inspires them

Taking pride in being a woman Maya Angelou
Taking pride in being a woman Maya Angelou

“...I'm a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That's me.”

T hese lines written by Maya Angelou in her poem Phenomenal Woman have inspired women across the globe to celebrate womanhood. Many women have chosen to express themselves and the societies they belong to, through poetry, for many centuries now. While some like Angelou extol womanhood, there are others like Kamala Das, whose poems recurrently deal with suppression inflicted on them by a patriarchal society and Carol Ann Duffy, who writes on gender and violence ( Havisham, Elvis' Twin Sister and other such poems). Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote sweetly of her courtship with her husband in How Do I Love Thee, on spirituality ( Aurora Leigh) and also on political and social conditions in the Victorian era ( Cry of the Children, A Curse for a Nation). Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton wrote confessional poetry ( Daddy by Plath and The Double Image by Sexton, for instance) and Annie Finch brings out the connection between nature and humans in her verses ( Moon and Landing Under Water, I See Roots).

We questioned three Indian women poets on who their favourite poetesses are and whose works inspired them. Amita Basu, whose poetry has been published in various literary journals in India (Her poems In The Bath and When Thisbe Was Dead were published in the latest issue of Muse India, a literary e-journal) and internationally, is inspired by Emily Dickinson. “The only woman poet I read often is Emily Dickinson. I like her ability to convey emotion without emotionality. Even when her tone is melodramatic, it seems justified, weighted by the occasion. Her innovations in punctuation (which unfortunately is often regularised and modified in publication) and unusual meters are noteworthy.” She finds the strong personality that runs through all of Dickinson's work most fascinating, especially “the personality of a passionate puritan, a woman able to dwell on madness and darkness but whose essential sanity shines clear.” Amita, who is also interested in translation and literary criticism, goes on to add, “Dickinson inspires me most in my use of punctuation and in modes of exploring the shadowed half of existence: including death and any private mental experience.”

Srividya Sivakumar, a teacher and poet, feels that poetry is grounded in reality. “A poet cannot help herself. She must talk of what she sees. It is almost involuntary but always exuberant, passionate, honest.” Srividya, whose works have been published in various anthologies and journals of contemporary Indian poetry ( The Peacock's Cry and the Krithya Anthology of Poetry), admires poets who are honest. “They are trail blazers, especially when they wrote in the time that they did. I have admired Maya Angelou, Kamala Das and Sylvia Plath for a long time. Kamala Suraiyya talked about women's sexuality, the desolation of the marital bed, a loveless marriage, the desire for another man--her poetry covered it all and at a time when these themes were considered taboo and not easily found in writing of any kind. Sylvia Plath's is an important voice to understand that women, while they may lead poor external lives--tied as they might be to home and hearth and society's diktats--lead rich internal lives.”

Srividya chooses to see writing poetry as having no choice at all and attributes this thought to the other poets' influences “(My poetry) may be painful, people may wonder at what kind of being I am, but it must be honest. And that influence, more than themes and tones, is one I celebrate and cherish.”

Rajashree Anand, an educator whose poems have been published in a collection titled In Quest, says that she has been inspired by the wit of Austen, the depth in Christina Rossetti's poetry and the works of Maya Angelou. “As a Literature student, I have been exposed to the best of national and international female writers and poets. Instilled in me is an appreciation for many of these women; for the immense skills in narrating heartfelt verses or stories, which could have fallen silent, if not for their poignant voices during the hardest of times.”

NITHYA SIVASHANKAR

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