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c     was first introduced to me in an anthology of contemporary Indian poetry that I had sought out because I didn¶t know who

contemporary Indian poets were. The
poem was titled, aptly enough, µAn Introduction.¶ I read and promptly forgot all about it until I was in college and forced to take a paper called µLiteratures of India 1.¶There was
awe in the lecturer¶s voice when she spoke of Das, an awe which, at first, I naïvely and ungenerously attributed to her being Malayali. But as we kept on with the text, I discovered
that the poem held a power over everyone in that room. I wished I was everyone.

For those unaware of this poem, let me explain:  


 appeared in Kamala Das¶s first collection of poems.

saying µMy god./ Don¶t write in English. So back we are in this large room full of nineteen. visiting cousins. its queernesses /All mine. Not a good one in any case./ Every one of you? Why not let me speak in/ Any language I like? The language I speak. born in Malabar. talking about love and sex. critics. She was to be admired. Here was a woman who was married young in a rigid Nair community. She broke with tradition almost violently. its distortions. they said. It is often cited as a powerful argument for Indian writing in English (µI am Indian. Her biography  Ô . and is one of her most well known works. yet managed to be both promiscuous (I say that with positive connotations) and write about it. Of course no one said a thing and I was too busy being self-righteous and personally offended to volunteer anything. write in/ Two. what an inspiration!¶ and all I could do was wait intently for someone to address the elephant in the room. /Becomes mine. || Kamala Surayya || I studied at a women¶s college. Sex with men ‘  women. English is/ Not your mother-tongue. very brown.¶) and also an example of Indian feminist writing. Always a controversial figure.Ô  ./I speak three languages.and twenty-year-old women reading Kamala Das. friends. taking on the name Kamala Suraiyya. Das defied expectations of her when she converted to Islam in the late nineties. mine alone. Why not leave/ Me alone. dream in one. that this woman wasn¶t a poet. The truth is Kamala Das was a powerful presence all through her life. so Kamala Das became doubly important.

and that¶s nothing to crap on. we were told that the poem has three parts. µthe same. Amazing stuff. at others downright whiny (µWhy not leave/ Me alone. It makes me stop reading. It was also interesting how the narrator¶s promiscuity was so quickly glossed over. anything can be µread¶. Das was one of the most well known figures in the literary scenes ² both in English and in Malayalam. from a theoretical point of view. She opened doors. critics. When we studied in class. µConfessional poetry doesn¶t mean you show everyone what¶s in your diary¶ doesn¶t get you very far. even national newspapers carried the news. but for the most part. When she died in 2009. The poem jumps from one idea to the next for no apparent reason (like when it goes from the funeral pyre to her description of childhood). but it¶s not all whiny!¶ . But how did µincredible woman¶ get confused with µgreat poet¶? The question does not pertain just to my class. friends. reads like prose with line breaks. in cruder terms. but that elephant is still pretty big. µLook. Even worse ² and one usually does not want to say such things outside of a workshop ² the linebreaks are absolutely juvenile. It is at times petulant. unchanneled angst. something we don¶t expect for most poets.¶ This could¶ve have been an interesting point of contention. It has a couple of nice images. Even a poem as wildly uncontrolled as this is given structure and form. What¶s interesting now is that today. except this was one of those lecturer¶s that doesn¶t allow discussion in her class. visiting cousins. and is full of an unpleasant. the second part depicts the young woman growing up and rebelling. So it is no surprise that she was received with admiration by most of my classmates./ Every one of you?¶). The first part of the poem contains the language arguments. My explanation usually consists of sharing other confessional poetry and saying. Here¶s what I think of the poem: not much. The other interesting aspect ² and I imagine this is true for most people who read poetry ² is the inevitable technique versus emotion debate that crops up when you very naïvely suggest to your non-poetry reading friends that a poem is poorly written. and the final part offers her argument that female (or is it more broadly human?) experiences are essentially collective. shocked Kerala. they¶re talking about personal stuff too. The poem is too explicit.

a poorly crafted well can never be any good. I always think of this bit I read in Guardian poetry workshop: to paraphrase Î . There are moments in Kamala Das¶s poem that don¶t ring true for me. but more significantly. It¶s as if the poem doesn¶t know where it is going. simply because of how the poem is written.I¶ll admit the most crafted poems aren¶t always the best.

. I¶m sorry. which may be very good. it is shockingly contemptuous of language. if there is one. I don¶t want to discredit Kamala Suraiya (I¶ve called her Kamala Das all this while because. Language as something organic and irrefutably your own. For a poem that begins with language. At the end of the day. would be: [my language] is useful to me as cawing Is to crows or roaring to the lions. It¶s the only bit of rhetoric in the poem that I think works. The poem is powerful (for many) because we know the experiences behind those words. My favourite part of the poem. She¶s a fascinating woman and I¶d like to get my hands on her autobiography. not because those words reveal those experiences and emotions to us.¶ You feel because the right word has been found. And to the five or six people who have told me to read Kamala Das to help me write better. I¶m also not familiar with all her entire body of work (but that. Even here it¶s a bit rough: shouldn¶t it to be µit is useful to me as cawing/ is to crows or roaring to lions¶? That little article changes so much. in just the right way. but no.   . µfeeling proceeds through language. means I cannot criticise the poems I have read. What I know is this: µAn Introduction¶ is a lazy poem. in no way. and pauses. just saying). and it is connected to other words. and sentences. if I¶m not mistaken. that is who she was when she wrote the poem) the person. I also don¶t have access to her work in Malayalam.


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