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Home page > English > Interview > Poetry is a dream for emancipation

Poetry is a dream for emancipation

An interview with K Satchidanandan, well-known Malayalam poet and president, Kendriya Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.

Wednesday 12 November 2003, by Sunil K Poolani



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Modern Malayalam poetry without K Satchidanandan is like Indian poetry in English without Nissim Ezekiel. Discerning readers of Malayalam poetry started noticing Satchidanandan’s verse around the time of India’s Emergency in 1975, though he started penning poems since he was 11.

In the seventies and early eighties his words, both prose and verse chose the innovative route with a radical touch. And his poetry mellowed around larger, universal and humanistic themes inspired by Marxism. It might have changed now. But for him, today, poetry is a manifestation of self-resistance and he is convinced that from the moment a poem is externalised, it becomes social property.

Satchidanandan (born on 25 May 1946), is an essayist and translator, and has so far published more than 20 volumes of poetry including Anchu Sooryan (Five Suns); Peedanakalam (The Times of Torment); Venal Mazha (The Summer Rains) and Socrattessum Kozhiyum (Socrates and the Cock). His Collected Poems was published in 1983, and two selections, one in 1977 and the other in 1985.

A collected version of interviews with him, Satchidanandante Sambashanangal (Conversations with Satchidanandan) was brought out in 1989. Kavithayum Janathayum (Poetry and the People), his literary critique works, won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 1984, and Evane Koodi (Him Too), a collection of poems, won the same award in 1988.

His translations of Indian poetry include selections from Nazrul Islam, Jibananda Das, Dilip Chitre, Sreekant Verma and Sakti Chathopadhyay, and of world poetry, Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Lorca, Alberti, Yehuda Amichai, Zbigniew Herbert, Vasko Popa, Alexander Blok, Mayakovasky, Evtushenko, Voznesenski, Mao, Chairil Anwar and Bertolt Brecht, besides black poetry from three continents, most of which have been collected in his seven anthologies of poetry translations.

Satchidanandan has a flair for translating Indian, African, Latin American and Chinese poetry. Translation for him is a transmigration of ideas and cultures. Thirty of his poems have been translated into Hindi by Rajendra Dhodapkar for inclusion in The Contemporary Indian Poets series sponsored by Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal. Translation of his works in English has appeared in various library journals and autobiographies like Kavita Asia and Another India. He represented Malayalam poetry at the Valmiki World Poetry Festival, held in Delhi in 1985, and Indian Poetry at the Sarajevo Poetry Days in Yugoslavia the same year.

He has participated in poetry festivals in Russia in 1987 and in Bangladesh for the Asian Poetry Festival in 1990. He is also connected with various conscientious groups in Kerala and he influenced a generation of students in the seventies as editor of a little magazine, Bodhi, and continues to be regular contributor for small and large Malayalam and English publications. He was also the editor of Kendriya Sahitya Akademi’s bimonthly journal, Indian Literature.

He was an English professor at Christ College, Irinjalakuda, in the Thrissur district of Kerala, and is presently the president of Kendriya Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. Excerpts from an interview:

A veteran political leader once said that nothing can be gained out of poetry. Do you agree?
He was right. Poetry is not meant for gaining; it is for giving everything.

I think modernism in Malayalam poetry started right from the period of Kunjan Nambiar. Then why is it said that modern Malayalam poetry originated only a few decades ago?
You can view modernism from myriad angles. Say, it started from Kumaran Asan or Changampuzha Krishna Pillai. We consider modernism as a product of neo-civilisation. Modernism originated sparsely before 35 years in Malayalam. It was mainly expressed with vengeance, towards mechanical humanisation.

Do you think Malayalam poetry is not yet free from romanticism?
We cannot totalise it like that. There are few poetry that are not in the grasp of romanticism — of Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan and K G Shankara Pillai. In the stage of evolution, naturally, all the aspects and characters will be in fraternity.

Which do you believe is in the forefront of Malayalam poetry — romanticism or modernism?

I don’t know. It is difficult to label. I enjoy the poets Sugathakumari, O N V Kurup, Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan, Attoor Ravi Verma, K G Shankara Pillai and others.

The Independence struggle and revolutionary movements owe much to Malayalam poetry. What is its present role?
Why do you generalise it as Malayalam poetry? You must say, you visualise some poetry, some poets and some intentions are in the forefront. Some people aim poetry towards evolution, towards devotion, even towards poetry itself.

Environment and feminism are staple ingredients of modern poetry.
One aspect concerning society may be reflected in the poems. That’s all.

There is a common belief that poetry is written by and for the middle class.
Poetry is never written for merely the middle class. Some social circumstances make poetry in that category. In another condition, the same may be relevant to the lower class — as Russians appreciate Pushkin today.


What is the present stand and aim of Malayalam poetry?
Mingling development and modernism, and modernism and tradition is evident today. The politics of poetry, when compared to the seventies, is now fading. Along with this, a neo-Hindutva poetry is also evolving.

Which was your first widely acclaimed poem?
The first person who praised my poetry was Dr Ayyappa Panicker. Before my collected version of poetry was published, the poem Anchu Sooryan was warmly welcomed by the literary world.

Did Latin American, African, Chinese, revolutionary, emancipationist and Dalit poetry influence you?
Initially I was influenced by the Indian Freedom Movement. To conquer the formal orthodox norms of poetry, I sought the aid of those factors, as many other poets do.

Do you believe your poems are revolutionary?
I can see some leftist political and social organisations using one’s poems as their weapons. The speciality of poetry is that it gives multifarious experiences. The same poetry that is revolutionary for one person may be a poetry of change for another. In the revolutionary period, if you believe there was one, my main subjects were suicide, murder or martyrdom. And if it is about the dream for emancipation... which poet does not bear that?

What do you believe is the basic theme of your poetry?
It is not for me to examine that. My theme is always my own experience. Mine means the society’s.

Does your poetry stress on humanism?
Ideologically I am more attracted towards Marxism than humanism. If you evaluate Marxism as humanism you can consider my works as humanistic.

Your poetic ideas have been taken a full circle?
A poet is a man; so normally commutation may occur. He goes through various ages — childhood, teenage, youth. A poet is not making a prejudiced life realisation; he doesn’t create poetry in that limited framework.

How do you term Indian poetry today?
To delve on a theme is difficult. Nature, freedom, death — everything is there.

Is it growing?
If change is growth; they are growing.

And about world poetry?
The same.

Why is it our poetry is not so vigorous in society-building, say, like Latin American poetry?
Poetry cannot take that role. To change the total norms existing in a society is a teamwork. Poetry can reflect these values. To some extent it can even inspire. In social evolution the role of poetry is very small; even if the poet thinks otherwise.

Does today’s poet seek to see contemporary poetry changed?
It is not made by a passing a resolution. There are many ways in poetry. Some forward, some backward. We must go forward, in language and in structure.

To sum up, can you define poetry?
It can be defined as something that cannot be defined.

Home page > English > Interview > Poetry is a dream for emancipation


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  • Poetry is a dream for emancipation 19 September 10:44, by brian antony, Jr.

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