What is termed as Indo-Anglian poetry has been having a long innings with P. Lai’s Writers’ Workshop acting the role of a midwife, as it were, for a whole lot of poets, good, bad and indiffe¬rent during the last 30 years. The Illustrated Weekly of India during the editorship of C.R. (Shaun) Mandy used to pub¬lish a lot of verse. The editors who succeeded him had diffe¬rent tastes and poetry was given low priority. In recent times, Pritish Nandy, him¬self a poet of considerable achievement, has been devot¬ing whole pages to his favourite poets. Otherwise, Indo-Anglian poetry is a rare, downgraded commodity.
In this context, the emergence of Lakshmi Kannan as a new strident but poetic voice is to be welcomed. She holds a doctorate for her thesis on the American novelist, Saul Bellow. And, a wide range of Tamilians know her as ‘Kaveri’, the pen-name under which she has written novels that have been hailed.
Lakshmi Kannan’s Exiled Gods are those who abdicated and disappeared on a long exile, when we went secular with the result
politicians and poets took over replacing bloodless gods.
The one arranged blood¬letting
and the other let blood stain the
paper in angry smudges.
In a poem entitled, ‘Indira, you did not burn alone’, the following stanza is striking
You burnt furiously
clarified butter poured on
kindling flames of wrath
and we watched as your volatile
dreams, and ours went up in smoke.
Burn Joan, burn we said
all of India is burning with you
tongues of flame licked the sky
and behind, the sun set a dull,
dumb pain in our hearts.
In a poem on the North and the South, the Aryan and the Dravidian, in India, a Tamil feminist behind the poet’s mask can be discovered. This is how the poem, ‘Burnt Brown by the Sun’ begins
The sun blazed above, impersonal
but we were told this sun was Aryan—
as everything important was
Aryan like the people over
their skin, a pale gold
their height, their syllables
were all, all Aryan
and we, who turned our full
with the complete trust of a
were burnt brown.
And this is how it concludes
This Aryan I have been talk¬ing about,
he can be gracious at times
He said the other day:
‘You know, you are quite an attractive woman
Even though you are from the South’.
These are just a few samples of her poesy. There are 28 poems in this slender volume and all of them reveal that she can handle English with ease and grace, as if it is natural. But she is firmly rooted in her Tamil Nadu and like the Tamil poets of yore, she is attuned to nature, the seasons, the flora, their scents, fire¬flies, et al. But there is a re¬freshing originality in dealing with these subjects partly due to feminine sensitivity and partly due to philosophic insight.
To the reviewer it was a re¬warding experience to go through the volume, which is happily illustrated by Sanjay Bhattacharya in the modern manner the drawings are charm¬ing, endowing the book with additional value.
Jag Mohan is the Editor of The Book Review.