One of my favorite poets, Robert Frost, says: “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and thought has found words.” By reading Sudeep Sen through his interviews, the truth of these lines is illustrated. The book, Sudeep Sen: Selected Interviews & Conversations, is a compendium of inspiring accounts of how poetry constitutes the soul connection for this writer, but also reaches out to understand the place of poetic arts in the literary world. Sudeep Sen’s introduction that begins with the line, “I didn’t choose poetry, poetry chose me” captures a trajectory of circumstances in which she dedicated herself to the craft of writing and also found herself at the center of fundamental changes in the emergence of Indian culture. poetry in English.
The book being analyzed is the first of three volumes on Sudeep Sen, this one focuses on interviews spread over 30 years of her literary career. Volume 2 will include “critical essays and reviews” on his work during the same period; and Volume 3 for Sen’s own ‘critical and creative essays on nonfiction’. Volume 1 is divided into two broad sections: ‘Selected Long Interviews’ and ‘Selected Short Interviews and Conversations’. Topics covered vary widely and pertinently from personal observations to strong advocacy for poetry in public forums. According to Sen, the history and achievements of Indian English poetry are older and deeper than those of Indian English fiction, but the poetic tradition is little recognized. Although this is the point of view of a poet and Sudeep never claims otherwise, such a book opens up the wonderful possibility for other leading writers and critics to express their views on the priority of poetry.
Of the 25 interviews, the most comprehensive are by Ziaul Karim from Bangladesh, Akshaya Kumar from India, Doina Ioanid from Europe, and the spiciest by Catherine Woodward, a frequent contributor to the American Poetry Review. From philosophical questions to inquiries on specific lines, the scope is wide and Sudeep’s thoughtful and intelligent responses are a joy to read. Best known for his stunning visuals, prolific variety, and technical brilliance, interviewers demand frank answers, and Sudeep never doubts.
A recurring question is about “home” and “rootedness” when a writer constantly changes locations, and Sen explains his cosmopolitan upbringing in a Delhi-based Bengali-speaking family, an upbringing in English and Hindi as the language of friends . A parallel home in London and frequent residences in many parts of the world further strengthen the transnational quality. The result is expressed in these suggestive lines:
‘I return home from another / house, escaping from the fabric of reality to another / that sweetly remembers and paralyzes / to confirm: my body is the stepson of my soul’ (from Flying home in Fractals).
Yet the Indian spirit seems to remain at the center of Sen’s poetic sensibilities, best illustrated by his immersion in dance, music, art, and mythology. One of my favorite poems is Bharatanatyam dancer, inspired by Leela Samson, where she invents a rhyme scheme (abacca) that replicates the (ta dhin ta thaye thaye ta) ballerina step patterns. The poem is presented visually as on a stage. The “sacred darkness” and the “radiance of silent femininity” offer a timeless union in classical literature, and Sen draws on this over and over again, whether in the Prayer flag sequence established in Ladakh, or in the Naked Blue poems inspired by Henri Matisse. As a poet with allied interests in filmmaking, photography, design, and documentation, Sen has a rich repertoire to draw on, and the same page may contain aspects of science, the Radha-Krishna myth, as well as masters of European art.
As with other writers, Sudeep Sen is also asked about the creative process: is it inspiration or hard work? It is not surprising that the hours of discipline are the most important, but here is the secret: “Being a writer is like being some kind of strange beast …”, one that records “fragments, fictions, voices or images heard”. Did a creative writing course in the US help classify the material and shape the language? Another interviewer wants to know and the answer is honest: it helps to master prosody and read lots of international contemporary poetry through “education.” ”.
In a sense, Sudeep Sen encourages and cautions practitioners of poetry. In his mission to bring quality work from India to the fore, Sen has published two pioneering anthologies, The HarperCollins Book of English Poems [by Indians], and the recently published Modern English Poetry of Young Indians (Sahitya Akademi). Add to that Sen’s own poetry translations, Aria, who won the prestigious AK Ramanujan Translation Award, and we have an impressive corpus for a systematic understanding of the history of the genre.
Altogether, esthete par excellence, Sudeep Sen lives and breathes poetry, one might say. “Poetry is music, poetry is gold,” Sudeep says in an interview with Agnes Lam, citing her own lines on “the pleasures and epiphanies of poetry.” This interview book wonderfully covers your theories and practice, memories and challenges, innovations and experiments. Using a title from one of Sen’s books, we see here the fascinating “fractals” of a poet’s journey and his deep critical engagement with it. Sudeep Sen: Selected Interviews and Conversations It is an impressive and important book for anyone seriously following Indian and world literature.
Malashri Lal, academic and writer, is a member of the English Advisory Board of Sahitya Akademi.