21st Century Indian Women Poets: An Introduction

Updated on October 13, 2017
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Poet, blogger, college professor, literature, and film enthusiast. Excited about critical and creative writing. Pursuing a Ph.D. in English.

Recovering Memory: In search of an Indian Feminine poetics with reference to the 21st century poetry

The comparative study of women’s poetry reveals many patterns of similarity in thought, themes, metaphors, and diction. It also reveals profound contradictions between the image of the poet as the “transcendent speaker of a unified culture” (Kaplan 70) and the image of Woman as silenced, dependent, and marginal. Women poets must also imitate or revise the tropes of the male tradition, as the feminist critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have noted, “Female poets both participated in and diverged from the literary conventions and genres established for them by their male contemporaries.” Furthermore, internal differences between women of nationality, class and race preclude a single poetic matri-lineage.

How might poetic influence and the relationship to tradition, be different if the poet is a woman? Do women have a Muse ? One theory is that for post romantic women poets, the father-precursor and the Muse are the same powerful male figure, both enabling and inhibiting poetic creation. Another theory holds that the woman poet also has a female Muse, modeled on the mother-daughter. Women poets’ relation to female literary tradition, may be less competitive and anxiety-ridden than men’s relation to their precursors, since women desire successful models of female creativity.

In this context, a look at the lines by Sukrita in “Without Margins” might give an additional dimension to the concept of femininity as tradition. As in “cold storage” she claims,

“Between the writing

And its reading

Time cracked”

it becomes a direct poetic echo of Ellaine Showalter’s words in “ Towards a feminist Poetics” where she divides feminist criticism into two major types: the first, “feminist critique” (concerned with woman as reader) and the second, “gynocritics”(concerned with woman as writer- with the woman as producer of textual meaning)- what the French feminist Helene Cixous calls ‘ecriture feminine’.

The Indian cosmopolitan approach can be best seen in the words of shomshuklla who evolves her own diction and metaphoric signification to express herself:

Red chiffon

Embroidered

Veil

Covers the bride’s face

Falling softly on her,

Tender

And mysterious

Sita’s face was also covered-

Should Draupadi wear a veil?”

At the same time she is aware of the anxiety of influence together with an urgency to re-historiograph :

“I screamed

Echoed

I whispered

Echoed softly

Standing in the caves

Of Ajanta-Ellora

What did I say

About past

About present

Or me?”

Nirupama Menon Rao seeks her answers to these specific questions in terms of her matrilineal history, in Tharawad (which means the Nair Matrilineal family of Kerala):

Where I came from

This dark room where

Grandmother waited

For the deliveries of her myriad

Daughters

Is swept clean now…

You

Have been away

Too long, they say.

It is willed that I

Should not claim

This matrilineage

But retain this

Odd resonance I must,

Of memory blips bouncing back…

Working within the dictates of rules and willed deprivations woman can only fall back on memory because to recreate ones history one needs to deconstruct other people’s stories and other people’s memories.

Yet she knows that even her own story can never write the history of the entire generation. At least she admits the fallibility of her memory, as does sukrita in “unloyal Memory”:

Each time

I look back

Open the locks

Enter the room

Clear the cobwebs

I see more

But

Hold something less in my hand.

She can only become the “tunnel for the pilgrim to pass through”

Yet somewhere there is an overpowering desire to locate oneself with respect to time, after all where personal memory becomes unloyal, generational memories make histories:

My mother with her

Shadow, I with mine and

My daughter discovering

And stepping into hers,

All the three shadows are alike

And the umbilical cord

Unsevered.

Other than the skillful use of standard poetic devices, the semiotic, symbolical and metaphorical properties of language help to emphasize the feminist strategies of interrogation. The fissures and fragments of post-modern life are questioned and reflected in the highly experimental diction. The problems of sociological vis-à-vis literary politics, of gender inequities of marginalization and sub-humanization of women, of their social and artistic exclusion and of the dominant need for inclusion and democratization, all contribute towards the distinctive character of this poetry. For the first time, mapping out new terrains the poetry of such Indian women poets bring forth the suppressed desires, lust, sexuality and gestational experiences. This new poetry is new forms of new thematic concerns of contemporary issues has changed the course of human civilization as the country entered the new millennium These and many more recent women poets bring out the conflict of gender through the Indian female psyche in its interaction and correlation with the male psyche.

Written in a personal and confessional style, their poetry acts as a social document because they themselves are victims and agents of social change. In the twilight zone in which the creative mind dwells, there is a natural feminine ability to turn inwards, to accept intuition and tenderness as values long with the gentle sensitivity to one’s natural environment and to the latent communications among human beings which mobilize the feelings and imageries and bring forth the new feminine voices creating new terrains. Female bonding in literature has thus taken a variety of forms, the agenda being common, women need to come together and call into question all the diverse strategies of patriarchy and rehistoriograph in terms of generational memory.

© 2017 Monami

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