An Overview by Dr. H.K. KAUL

Indian poetry has flourished over the last 4000 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 organized 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, organized efforts need to be made to promote the production and publication of good Indian poetry. Poetry written in different parts of India needs 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 due to several factors. Different linguistic and regional divisions and language policies adopted by our State Government 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 collection is published, they hardly gain financially. The lack of coordination among poets has worsened the situation. As the Indian poets are not organized 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 an all too serious vocation of the most sensitive. The writing of poetry is not 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 get 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. The rest gradually lose interest in poetry, and turn to other pastimes. Due to lack of better distribution facilities, the publication of poetry has remained a non-commercial activity in India. Publishers do not expect high or quick returns. If they publish a volume they generally 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 the poets together. In early 1980's I organized several meetings of poets in Delhi and discussed these problems with them. I insisted that a forum needed to be created which would exclusively be devoted to the promotion of poetry in India. Many poets agreed with me and some also disagreed. Nevertheless, with the aim of promoting poetry, the Poetry Society (India) (TPS) was established in July 1984. Besides myself, Keshav Malik, Dr. J.P.Das, Dr. Lakshmi Kannan, Man Mohan Singh, Sunita Jain, S. Balu Rao, and Priya Devi became the founder members of The Poetry Society (India). 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 above objectives of the Society.

In the past TPS has organised several seminars, readings, workshops, lectures, festivals, symposiums, competitions and the publication and 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 in our early years. Thereafter many well-known poets conducted poetry workshops. Readings by many Indian and by foreign poets too are being organized by the Society regularly. 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 (U.K.). Ms. Carol Bruce, specialist in the art of reading poems too participated in the programmes of the Society. Christopher Moony, an Australian poet who sang his ghazals in English was yet another participant.

TPS has been holding conventions and seminars from time to time. To give just a few examples, a convention of poets for national integration was one of them. A seminar on Contemporary Australian Literature was organized in July 1987 in collaboration with the Australian High Commission and the India International Centre. An interesting group discussion was organized 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. The Society also organizes poetry evenings to honour poets. Among those honoured include Dylan Thomas, Gerald Manley Hopkins and Dinanath Nadim.

The Poetry Society in collaboration with the British Council organsed ten All-India Poetry Competitions from 1988 to 2004. Thousands of poets participated in these competitions. Ten volumes of short listed poems were published under the series POETRY INDIA. Thereafter we continued organising the All India Poetry Competitions on our own from 2013. In 2015 we added Hindi as the second language besides English for the competitors. We have been publishing anthologies of the shortlisted poems of the competitions under the series POETRY INDIA.

We have also been organizing the All-India Poetry Competitions Among School Children with the support of the Department of Secondary and Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. These national poetry competitions for school children attracted thousands of students to participate in these competitions. We have been regularly publishing anthologies of shortlisted poems of the All India Poetry Competitions Among School Children under the series POETRY OF THE YOUNG.

TPS has also been organizing with the support of the Department of Secondary and Higher Education the Creative Writing Workshops for students writing poetry in Indian languages. Such Creative Writing Workshops have been organized in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Karnataka and Kerala. Anthologies of shortlistede poems in local languages were also published.

The Poetry Society (India) also publishes the Journal. It was started in 1990. It is regularly getting published. Poems written by some of the best Indian poets in English and other Indian languages are getting published in English in the Journal.

The Poetry Society admits Life Members, Associate Life Members and Members who remain associated with its activities.

TPS continues to organize programmes from time to time. Poetry lovers and poets are welcome to help and participate in these programmes. The Poetry Society (India) will continue promoting and propogating poetry through its programmes and publications with its limited financial resources and unlimited goodwill in future as well.