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Indian poetry has flourished over the last 4,000 years. Today, it is composed and written in more than twenty Indian languages, including English. It has always echoed the voice of the times and revealed the pains and passions of the people. Its growth has also reflected our rich cultural heritage. The history of Indian poetry makes us aware of its glorious past in contrast to its present state. Today, as the world is shrinking and the communication network is projecting man on the global scene much faster, the past values are getting lost in the struggle man is involved with. Issues confronting man have multiplied and so have his efforts for survival. Poetry today is facing the test of time. Poets need to be organised more vigorously than in the past to voice effectively their innermost thoughts and interact with each other more often. Giving away of awards to some of the few distinguished ones is not enough. Poets in India need to be encouraged in their creativity if we expect their contributions to transform our society. New life is to be given to old values, which had stood us in good stead for so long. The poets should come to the forefront to undertake this job. As such, organised efforts need to be made to promote the production and publication of good Indian poetry. Poetry written in different parts of India need to be collected, interpreted and propagated.
We have no figures of the very many poetry lovers among our masses. Though some of them still attend readings, mushairas or kavita sammelans, the unprecedented growth of film songs and their regular broadcasts and telecasts have rendered the populace less attracted to good poetry. This effect ought to be counteracted by encouraging the reading and appreciation of good poetry or by listening to it in suitable environments.
We also notice that the poets and poetry-lovers are divided into segments because of several factors. Different linguistic and regional divisions and language policies adopted by our State Governments have brought about this state of affairs. No single language can grow in the present circumstances uniformly throughout the country. Poets are an indigent lot: after spending much time and energy in composing their verses, by chance or persuasion if any of their collections are published, they hardly gain financially. The lack of coordination among poets has exacerbated the situation. As the Indian poets are not organised they are hardly able to communicate with their readers and are unable to receive the necessary feedback. Writing poetry may not be regarded as a wholly professional activity as no poet lives on the earnings from his poetry, but writing poetry is certainly a serious vocation for the most sensitive. The writing of poetry is not a mere pastime.
The distribution of anthologies is creating great problems for the poets and publishers. The distribution systems facilitating the transport of books and journals to readers living in different parts of the country have not developed fully. Our readers are not able to know what is being published elsewhere in the country and if they do know about a title, they find it difficult to obtain it unless they are favourably located. It is for this reason that the anthologies do not reach a wide audience. Also, as poetry publications are priced low, the distributors do not find the distribution of these works profitable. Thus, only a very small number of poetry-readers are able to receive them. They gradually lose interest in poetry, and turn to other hobbies or diversions.
Due to the problems of distribution the publication of poetry in India has remained a non-commercial activity. Publishers do not expect high or quick returns. If they publish a volume they do it as an act of charity to oblige the poet, or to maintain a growing list of new titles.
Some steps, therefore, need to be taken to bring poets together. Dr. Kaul had the privilege of taking the initiative to organise several meetings of poets in Delhi in order to discuss these problems with them and create a forum which would exclusively be devoted to the promotion of poetry in India. Many poets agreed with him and some disagreed. Nevertheless, with the aim of promoting poetry, The Poetry Society (TPS) was established in July 1984. Besides H.K.Kaul, Keshav Malik, J.P.Das, Dr. Lakshmi Kannan, Man Mohan Singh, Sunita Jain, S. Balu Rao, and Priya Devi became its founder members. The Society was launched to (i) promote Indian poetry and look after the interests of poets in India; (ii) undertake collection, interpretation, translation, publication, and propagation of Indian poetry in India and other countries; (iii) arrange expert advice on composition, publishing, distribution, and translation of Indian poetry; (iv) help maintain the highest standards and foster a sense of literary affinity among the poets writing in different languages in India; (v) undertake, facilitate and provide for the publication of newsletters, and of a journal devoted to Indian poetry; (vi) assist in settlement of differences and disputes between members of the Society on the one hand, and other bodies and individuals on the other; (vii) award grants, fellowships, prizes, subventions and assistance to poets and translators of poetry; and (viii) engage in such educational, literary, and charitable activities, as would promote, provide and develop the objectives of the Society.
In the past TPS has organised several seminars, readings, workshops, lectures, competitions and the releases of poetry anthologies. The poetry workshops conducted by Henry Taylor, Prof. Nissim Ezekiel, Dr. Tom Paulin and Brian Patten were found useful by the poets. Readings by many Indian, and by foreign poets too, were organised by the Society almost every month.
Among the foreign poets invited to read were Shirley Kaufman (USA), Alexander Mezhirov and Olazhas Suleimenov (USSR), Prof. Edwin Thumboo (Singapore), Les Muray (Australia), Tom Paulin (Britain), Barbara Lefcowitz (America), Sigurdur A Magnusson (Iceland), Christopher Levenson (Canada), Tulasi Diwasa (Nepal), Madisson Morrison (USA) and Alan Brownjohn (UK). Ms. Carol Bruce, specialist in the art of reading poems, explored the labyrinth of love from Confucius to e.e. cummings by reading love poems. Another interesting programme was by Christopher Moony, an Australian poet who sings his ghazals in English.
A convention of poets for national integration was held by TPS with the financial assessment from the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, in March 1985. Papers read were followed by discussion on three main themes: (i) Translation of Poetry and its Impact on National Integration; (ii) Poetry and the Roots of Indian Culture; and, (iii) Role of Poets in National Integration.
A seminar on Contemporary Australian Literature was organised in July 1987 in collaboration with the Australian High Commission and the India International Centre.
An interesting group discussion was organised in November 1987 on rhythm and sound in Indian poetry in English. Prof. John Oliver Perry, Tufts University, led the discussion by presenting a paper. It was noticed that the variations in the pronunciation of English in different parts of India created major problems in establishing uniformity in this aspect of Indian English poetry.
An interesting programme entitled "Those Sad Blancmanges" was organised in collaboration with the India International Centre. The title "Those Sad Blancmanges" was taken from Vikram Seth's book, The Golden Gate. The programme included a light-hearted presentation on the poet and his preoccupations, and a poetry quiz was devised by Gaynor Barton, David Spiller, David Crapper and Margaret Crapper. Vikram Seth won the first prize in the quiz. The Society also organised poetry evenings in honour of Dylan Thomas, Gerayd Manley Hopkins and Dinanath Nadim.
The Poetry Society in collaboration with the British Council Division and British Airways organised the first All India Poetry Competition in June 1988. More than 6,650 poems were received from about 2,400 poets from every state in the country. The short listed poems were published under the title Poetry India: Voices In The Making (Arnold). Vijay Nambisan (Delhi), won the First Prize. Among other prizewinners were Vivek Khadpekar (Ahmedabad), Vinayan Bhaskaran (Thiruvananthapuram), and S. Ganapath (Delhi).
The All India Poetry Competitions are conducted by The Poetry Society (India). The Poetry Society (India) was registered in 1984 under the Societies Registration Act, 1960. It promotes Indian poetry and looks after the interests of poets in India and undertakes collection, interpretation, translation, publication and propagation of Indian poetry in India and other countries.
In the second All India Poetry Competition 1989 organised with similar collaboration, we have received 5,700 poems from about 2,100 poets. The first prize has gone to Rukmini Bhaya Nayar. The shortlisted poems of this competition will also be published in a separate volume.
The Journal of the Society is just launched. It is a challenging task, which TPS has taken in hand. I am sure that, with Ajit Khullar as the Editor, the journal will promote the aims and objectives of TPS.
We gladly acknowledge that the Ministry of Human Resource Development provided a grant of Rs. 15,000 per year to the Society during the last two years towards its maintenance expenses. We hope that the Ministry will continue supporting us.
TPS will also be organising good programmes in future. Although its membership is offered very carefully, keeping in view the published work of the poet, it has crossed the 200 mark. More members from different parts of the country writing poetry in different Indian languages are joining the Society. We hope that its activities will spread throughout India in due course.