Against the tide

THACHOM POYIL RAJEEVAN hopes Yeti will be able to accommodate writers who are different and poets who are not welcome in mainstream publishing. Excerpts from an e-mail interview with


Can you give us the background on Yeti?

IT all began two years back with some of my friends working in West Asia and the United States asking me to associate with them in launching a new Malayalam publishing house. I thought there's no meaning in setting up yet another label in Malayalam publishing, because there is at least one publisher in each township in Kerala. But, so far there hasn't been any worthwhile initiative in English publishing.

The English publishing industry gives scant regard to translations from the "regional languages". Another consideration was the big publishers' functionally innate disinclination to take "risks" with new writers who don't conform to existing "success formulae". I was also desperately in search of a publisher for a translation of my own poems into English. Some said they had taken a policy decision not to publish more than one poetry book a year. "It is already fixed up till 2004." Some said they don't publish poetry at all.

Isn't shameful that a country like India, with one of the world's oldest poetic traditions, hasn't got a single publisher for poetry? It seems like there's an undeclared "ban" on poetry. These experiences made me think of starting a new publishing house with a view to giving prominence to poetry, translations and new writings. And I convinced my friends of its importance.

Why Yeti? It is a beautiful construct of human imagination. The concept bears a symbolic relationship with culture and literature. The man/woman in a writer/artist is easily identifiable. But, the writer/artist in a man/woman always escapes our logical comprehension, leaving a work of art as his/her footprint on the vast expanse of time and space. A work of art or a book is a footprint the yeti-like writer stamps on culture as the evidence of his being at a particular point of time and space. It suggests the mythical dimension inherent in all genuine expressions of human culture and literature.

Are you open when it comes to subjects published?

Initially, Yeti's main focus will be on creative writing, both English and translations from the Indian languages. Anything that is creative with a bearing on our life circumstances is acceptable. We don't have any genre, author or nationality discrimination. But we're determined not to publish purely academic work or pulp.

Do you have a panel of experts that evaluates manuscripts?

We have a panel of writers, editors and scholars such as Alan Alfred Walker, Anita Nair, Noah Hoffenberg, K. Satchidanadan, Prema Jayakumar, K.M. Sheriff, Richard Laskowski, C.S. Venkiteswaran and Alan Finlay to advise us on the manuscripts. Now, Dom Moraes, Suresh Kohli and Anna Sujatha Mathai have offered their support.

Most big publishing houses in India and abroad are shunning poetry. What does it say for values in the publishing industry today?

Publishing poetry may not be as lucrative as publishing fiction or biographies. The situation was not very different in Malayalam till recently. But new poets turned the tide through small publishing. Since 1980, it has been the small publishers who bring out almost all the new poets' first collection in Malayalam. As some of them became economically successful, the big houses have begun to show some interest in poetry.

Publishing, I think, is unlike other businesses, for it has a cultural dimension too. Poetry may not sell in millions, but, properly published — this we can say from our experience — it won't bring you a loss either. I don't say that big publishers should indiscriminately publish poetry. But, to shun a genre absolutely for profit motive is a cultural crime.

Does being located in a city like Kozhikode have any disadvantages? Or does it make you more aware of authors and issues that are not seen by mainstream publishers?

We don't feel any inconvenience in functioning from a town like Kozhikode. Rather, locating ourselves in a lesser-known place on the Indian English publishing map helps us widen our reach in terms of authors and readers and interact with people for whom a book is not a showcase curio.

A personal question. Do you think that poetry is still valid as a form of personal expression? Many poets I know have switched to theory...

Theory will never be a substitute for poetry, for the former is essentially an intellectual activity and the other stems from life's entirety. But I feel that theoretical innovations always help poets comprehend the changing realities without losing their elemental complexities and also refine and make exact their language and expression to resonate with them. But it's in poetry that words manifest their historical associations and shades of meaning and experience. Poetry has a role and function which cannot be fulfilled by theory.

Have you been able to keep to your schedule of a book a month?

Yes. We published three books in June. And will publish three more next month, which include, The Trial Of the Mahatma, Prema Jayakumar's translation of Madampu Kunhukuttan's Malayalam novel and Marginalised Voices, a collection of Malayalam women short stories, translated and edited by K.M. Sheriff. We've also scheduled South Indian Women Poetry and the Modern Arab Women Stories for March 2003.

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