8 Contemporary Indian Poets Whose Work You Should Know

8 Contemporary Indian Poets Whose Work You Should Know
Poem Credit: Tishani Doshi, Image Credit: Anjul Dandekar

“I think when you read a wonderful poem, when it starts, by the end of it you’ve moved so far – and you think how did you move me so far in so few words?”

Even today, I clearly remember the day I read an Anis Mojgani poem for the first time. Sitting on an aeroplane flying back home I was rattled by the turbulence, but his words created images for me that transported to a place far beyond where planes can fly. That’s the power that poetry can have. Once you find that voice that speaks to your bones you feel a shiver with every syllable you read out-loud in your head.

Poetry affects different people in different ways, and can easily do through written words what many conversations fail at – it can heal, inspire, enrage and even spark joy in the darkest of spaces inside you. Poets have a special kind of power that allows them to speak to each and every person on an intimate level and keep you hooked, even if it’s a subject you have little-to-no interest in.

Contrary to many arguments, the finesse and art of poetry are not lost on millennials. It has evolved in form, technique and language, perhaps, but has adapted itself to current times as more and more young poets step into the light, pens in hand. I enjoy the work of Ghalib, Kamala Das and Nissim Ezekiel, and when I set out to find contemporary poetry by Indian writers in English that I could connect with I didn’t think it would be an easy task, but boy, was I wrong.

There is a class of contemporary Indian poets who have revived a love of poetry in their own unique way. They’ve given voice to a myriad of subjects, from light to heavy. While I personally can’t understand why people struggle to stay awake in a class of Donne’s incredible work, these poets have captured the imagination and peeked the interest of an entire generation of young minds and truly deserve recognition.

I. Meena Kandasamy

Speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Meena Kandasamy expressed that the “aim of her poetry is to send a social message.” As a woman, that too a Dalit woman, who gives a voice to issues such as caste oppression, discrimination and gender relations, her powerful poetry creates waves that are both celebrated as well as questioned by many in our patriarchal society.

The Chennai-based poet, writer and translator had her first book Touch published in 2006 and has won prizes in all-India poetry competitions. Her work has been published in various literary journals and publications such as the Kavya Bharati, Muse India and the Quarterly Literary Review. She took on the role of Editor of the bi-monthly English magazine The Dalit during its initial year of publication, from 2001-2002. Kandasamy is political and selective with her words and has stayed true to her identity in carving out space for the voice of resistance and dissent in our tumultuous social and political climate.

'The Seven Stages' by Meena Kandasamy

To know more about Kandasamy and her work you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

II. Tishani Doshi

Born to Welsh and Gujarati parents in Tamil Nadu, Tishani Doshi is a poet, writer and dancer whose first book of poetry, Countries of the Body (2006), won a Forward Prize for Best First Collection, as per the Poetry Foundation. Having since published six books of poetry and fiction, Doshi’s accolades are plenty. Recipient of an Eric Gregory Award for Poetry and winner of the All-India Poetry Competition, she even represented the country at “a historic gathering of world poets for Poetry Parnassus at the Southbank Centre, London,” as her website states.

Her poetry covers a range of themes and subjects, ranging from travel, love and longing to finding and transforming your identity across borders, self-illumination, all tinged with her own experience with the same.

“I think it’s about experience and expression, and also about transformation to some degree. So you have the initial trigger for a poem, and in the act of writing you arrive somewhere else. It’s a mysterious thing because you don’t always know where you’re going. There’s always a moment when you think, oh that’s what I mean, that’s what I was trying to say. It’s mostly a surprise, but there’s that real element of transformation. Which is why it remains a very important literary form,” she tells Port.

To know more about her work you can visit her website.

III. Sonnet Mondal

Described very aptly as a “weaver of marvelous words”, Sonnet Mondal’s accomplishments when it comes to his poetic works and representation of Indian writers and poets on a global scale are incredible.

The ‘young bard of India’ creates whole worlds with his words, with seemingly simple words that trigger vivid imagery through and through. From his humanistic approach, his poems touch upon notions of love and loss, hope and longing, flitting between the past and present beautifully and smoothly. His words ring like gentle bells in your ears as your mind travels elsewhere with each line you read.

Founder of The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, Mondal has authored eight books of poetry and has many more in the works; he’s even on the editorial board of a multilingual magazine called Levure littéraire based in Paris, France. While he may be a globetrotter, widely published in international and Indian literary journals and publications and speaks at festivals and literary gatherings the world over, Mondal has his feet rooted to India and its people. “Poetry, for me, is a source of inspiration,” said Mondal, “It must uplift people, especially in these hard times, by talking of the possibility of hope!”

Photographed by John Minihan

Visit his website to know more about his work.

IV. Akhil Katyal

Professor, poet and PhD scholar, Akhil Katyal’s works tend to have a political undertone to them – politics of people, relationships, society, and of course, governance. Katyal came to most readers attention with his writings on Kashmir, a contentious subject many tend to avoid.

Katyal doesn’t mince words when it comes to critiques of the government, of journalist assassinations and advocacy for LGBTQ rights and equality, and that’s what makes his work so powerful. Katyal strings together words in a manner that resonates with each and every reader regardless of your stance on the subject. Author of Night Charge Extra, Katyal plays an active role in the Delhi art and cultural space, as well as University issues and movements.

'Grief' by Akhil Katyal

Follow his work on Twitter and Facebook.

V. Harnidh Kaur

Currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Harnidh Kaur describes herself as a “part-time poet, full-time student, and overarching feminist.” As she tells us, writing and uploading her work to the internet is something she always indulged in, starting with Facebook Notes, a blog that she still runs, and now Instagram “because of its simplicity, and its incredible engagement potential.” Harnidh’s work covers a wide range of subjects including the 1984 Sikh massacre, feminist empowerment, and her poem ‘Pantheon,’ led to an array of lewd comments and hate mail on social media.

“Poetry is now more alive than ever. We’re reimagining what poetry is. We’re writing because we can. We’re making poetry sexy again. If anything, we’re slowing nursing it back to health,” she told Homegrown.

Stay updated on Kaur’s work on Twitter and Facebook.

VI. Nabanita Kanungo

Nabanita Kanungo paints images of beautiful landscapes with her poems tinted by a sense of longing and belonging. Her debut collection of poems, A Map of Ruins, sing love songs for her hometown Shillong; to years gone by and the memories that she holds on to. There is a sense of nostalgia that prevails through this collection, but as she shifted from Shillong to Assam, there’s also a shift in the scope of subjects she’d cover. A teacher of Geography in Assam, it’s no real surprise that her love for this subject and that for words and imagery come alive through her poems.

Source: Scroll.in

VII. Arjun Rajendran

When you first read through Arjun Rajendran’s work you feel like a punchline is coming up – that someone is going to jump out and scream from behind the book. That’s the seemingly absurd overtone of a lot of his poems – ranging from beetroots, to Tin Tin, Archie comics and Phantom cigarettes. But his work is far from mockery. It’s an earnest look back at memories and personal stories of this life that are remarkably relatable, bridging the gap between the writer and the reader.

You journey back and forth to the poet’s childhood and his present circumstances with ease and sincerity. Through his eclectic use of words and form, he forces you to transform and grow as you too recollect past memories with a sense of joy and a chuckle.

'Interviewing a Beetroot' by Arjun Rajendran; source - Bombay Literary Magazine

VIII. Arundhathi Subramaniam

She describes herself as a poet first and foremost– a ‘lyric poet’– but Arundhathi Subramaniam’s talents are far reaching. An editor, curator, writer of prose and journalist of literature and performance arts as well, she has grown to become of the most prominent contemporary female poets of India. Her book of poems, On Cleaning Bookshelves, was published in 2001 and her body of work has grown extensively since then.

Themes of “unbelonging” and identity, love, vulnerability and uncertainty find their way into her work. “I write best when I’m in between places. Some measure of discomfort is vital for writing. There needs to be enough unfamiliarity to be extremely alert, but enough familiarity to be relaxed. That’s true of most learning situations,” she said in an interview. She has traversed the urban literary landscape as a modern female poet and her many accolades are more than well deserved. With four published books on poetry, several contributions to literary journals and anthologies as well as best-selling biographies, Subramaniam is a formidable, commendable and important figure in the world of contemporary Indian poetry.

For more information about her work you can visit her website and Facebook.

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