'Language poetry is the grey matter of Indian literature'
Sonnet Mondal has read, and represented India, at literary festivals in Macedonia; Cork, Ireland; Istanbul, Turkey; Granada, Nicaragua; Sri Lanka; and Slovakia. One of the directors of Odisha Art & Literature Festival, Sonnet Mondal edits the Indian section of Lyrikline Poetry Archive, Berlin and serves as the Editor in Chief of the Enchanting Verses Literary Review. His works have been translated into Hindi, Italian, Slovenian, Slovakian, Spanish, Turkish, Macedonian, Bengali and Arabic.
Give us your overview of how you see the space for poetry changing and evolving in India - specifically, for regional language poetry alongside writing in English.
Taking poetry as a curiosity and a form of expression — it has always had a limited yet pronounced space in India. The general mindset — that people don’t understand poetry and are unenthusiastic about reading poetry is a misconstrued rendition of the queries — that readers have about poetry while thinking of buying an anthology. Taking poetry as a subject, many steps are still to be taken to expand its presence in the academic curriculum. Nature and expanse of space is a state of mind and it is same for poetry — varying from person to person. But considering the platforms endorsing poetry nowadays — the number of Indians taking interest in the genre is indeed increasing.
If poetry is the spinal cord of Indian literature, language poetry is the grey matter in it — begetting reflexes to our cultural fillip. But, given the pace with which Indian English poetry is blooming, off late generations are more into exploring their poetic prowess in English than in regional languages. But thanks to the initiatives focusing on translations — by many literary magazines and institutes of the country — which have been instrumental in restoring the essence of language poetry in India.
Tell us a little about your plans at the Prakriti Festival. What can audiences expect, given your participation at the event?
I am looking forward to reading some of my poems from my upcoming book Karmic Chantings. The poems in this book have emerged from the reaction of my consciousness with daily incidents and accidents, and have taken their form through the words I chant — to realise the gravity of Karma and awareness in my life. Stepping out of the world of 'Information based Knowledge', these poems are a part of my 'Knowing' which is supported by the unwavering will to inquire, judge and discern. I also wish to have an engaging interaction with my co-panelists Brian Turner, Eric Lindner, and Priya Sarukkai Chabria on the art of reading poetry, editing and the importance of metaphors in our daily lives.
How would you like to see the Prakriti Festival holding its own alongside various other new events and biennales dedicated to poetry, across the country?
I think the moment we enter into comparison, we loose the soul of individuality. One lonely fallen maple leaf may not give rise to rapture. It is only when they cluster on roads — they give life to something beautiful. Same is true with the literary festivals of India. But, we all know that the percentage of child deaths in our country is quite significant. Many literary festivals have died young. But, what is most appreciable about Poetry with Prakriti is the consistency it has maintained in the past decade and the way it organises poetry readings and discussions at several venues across the city. With limited number of invitees and several reading schedules, Poetry with Prakriti gives enough time — to know a poet and for a poet to be known through his works and muse. This way it sets itself apart from many festivals, where numbers often eat up time.
Would you consider poetry readings to be rather similar to performance art pieces? How does the performative aspect of a public reading change things in terms of engaging listeners, and disseminating and offering poetry?
Poetry readings are similar to performance art pieces, when intoned by an elocutionist but if we hear poets reciting their own poetry — the pathos and emotion get evident from the way they present it — for it is life for them and not just a public performance. One gets to hear their life, though pauses and occasional deep sighs.
Poetry recitals, poetry in conjugation with other arts and verse dramas often use the element of sound, to stir the sensitivity of onlookers. Sometimes poetry which might be difficult to decode while on paper, might have a healing effect when read aloud. The performative facet of a public reading disseminates — the fervour of each word and the sentiment of pauses — transporting listeners to a different horizon of thinking.
Please tell us a little about how poetry is gaining significance as a form of protest, in the present day. How can activism through poetry be more effective?
Of late, Indian poetry has been effectual in giving rise to national discourses — which in turn might shape the cultural and political future of this country. Be it any incident that demeans humanity, poets in our country are always vigilant to use the axe of poetry to chop off inhuman convictions.
Poetry can be more effectively used in activism by writing stuff that maintains a strict balance between truth and imagination. Poetry festivals may reserve some time for protest-poetry readings and Indian literary magazines might include editions dedicated to such poetry. This doesn’t make us negative but allows us to use a powerful literary tool to spear certain perspectives — which if allowed to flourish can create a blockade for the cultural history of the country.