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Jayanta Mahapatra, Sachidananda Mohanty

Jayanta Mahapatra: In Conversation with Sachidananda Mohanty

Jayanta Mahapatra. Photo Credit - Sridala Swami

This interview has first appeared in 'South Asian Review' in the U.S.

[Abstract: What is the link between loneliness and poetry? How can poetry mysteriously "move away, winding around the dream of" a mythical figure? What is the relationship between the avocation of poetry and the profession of physics? How does a poet combine in his life and poetry an interfaith sensibility? In this candid conversation with academic-critic and translator Sachidananda Mohanty, a highly eminent Indian English poet, Jayanta Mahapatra, widely recognized as one of the founders of the modern Indian poetry of English, explains how his poems enable him to deal with himself, handle his ancestral memories with pathos, and turn poetry into an instrument of identity and resistance.]

"My poems deal with the life within myself where the mind tries to find a sort of coherence from the mass of things in the world outside it." -Jayanta Mahapatra first heard of Jayanta Mahapatra in 1977 when I was a graduate student in English at the University of Hyderabad, India. In the Anglicized atmosphere that prevailed in English departments then, the Indian Writing in English (IWE), called Indo-Anglian Literature, was, 30 years after India's Independence, still fighting for acceptance in departments of English. I found it very refreshing to hear from some of my teachers the name of one of my compatriots, Jayanta Mahapatra, who came from a lesser-known province of India, Odisha. The name filled me with a sense of pride. I carried this knowledge with me even as I joined the profession and moved up the academic ladder. Years later, by sheer chance I came to develop a friendship with Mahapatra when he came out on a book promotion tour to Hyderabad in 1998. We spent time together at the salubrious guest house of Osmania University in Hyderabad, close to the American Studies Research Center (now the OUCIP). Behind the serious veneer of the poet, I discovered a genial and gentle person, sensitive and shy. Over breakfast, he opened up and spoke with remarkable candor about his early background of struggle. As he recalled poignantly: I have never been able to feel that affinity with mother as I had with father. She was erratic in her ways, and as I grew up, my conflicts with her increased. She was shrewd, ingenious, believing in anything she heard, even from total strangers. So often, I longed for someone in whom I could confide like a sister, or a cousin, of my age-but they did not come about. The ancestral memories he narrated to me came with a touch of pathos. Some of these memories have found place in a number of his poems. His grandfather's diary, dating back to the Great Famine of Odisha of 1866, became "torn and moth-eaten" yet "remained a prized possession" of his. Forced to convert to Christianity, due to starvation, the grandfather left behind a document that was history, memory, and communication all in one. As a "scroll of despair," it prompted him to write a poem titled "Grandfather." the poem first appeared in The Sewanee Review. Here are the opening lines: The yellow diary's notes whisper in vernacular. They sound the forgotten posture, The cramped cry that forces me to hear that voice Now I stumble in your black-paged wake. "Call me Jayanta Mausa ['uncle' in some Indian languages, including Odiya], and my wife, 'Runu Mausi'['aunt' in Odiya]," Mahapatra said one day. Over the years, I have cherished this friendship, this bond, even though RunuMausi has left for the other world. Jayanta Mahapatra's poems have appeared in the most eminent poetry journals of UK, USA, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, and Mexico-from Boundary, The Hudson Review. The Kenyon Review, through The New Republic, The Sewanee Review, The New Yorker, Poetry (Chicago), to TriQuarterly, Critical Quarterly, and The Times Literary Supplement. He has won wide recognition and several national and international awards for his fine achievement as a modern English poet. Born on 22 October 1928, in Cuttack, India, Jayanta Mahapatra comes from a modest middle-class family. He had his early education at Stewart School, Cuttack, in the eastern province of India, Orissa. After a first-class Master's Degree in Physics, he joined as a teacher in 1949, serving in different Government Colleges of Orissa, from which he retired in 1986. Mahapatra's tryst with his Muse came rather late in his life. He published his first poems in his early 40s. The publication of his first book of poems, Svayamvara and Other Poems (1971) was followed by the publication of Close the Sky, and Ten by Ten. In all, his collections of poems include A Rain of Rites, Life Signs and A Whiteness of Bone. One of his better-remembered works is the long poem Relationship, for which he won the Sahitya Akademi (India's Academy of Letters) Award in 1981. He is the first Indian English Poet to receive the honor. An early critical work by Madhusudan Prasad, entitled The Poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra (1986), hailed his achievements as a poet. Besides being one of the most popular Indian poets of his generation, Mahapatra was also part of the trio of poets-Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan and R. Parthasarathy-who laid the foundations of modern Indian English Poetry. He shared a special bond with A. K. Ramanujan, one the finest poets in the Indian English Poetry tradition. Over time, he has managed to modulate a quiet, tranquil poetic voice of his own-distinctly different from those of his contemporaries. His verbal lyricism, invariably at the service of authentic Indian themes, puts his work in a class by itself. At 85, Jayanta Mahapatra appeared to be surprisingly alert. We met him on a stormy evening at his residence, "Chandrabhaga," at Tinikonia Bagicha, a well-known poetic landmark in Cuttack, Odisha. I missed Runu Mahapatra's loving presence. Jayanta Mahapatra was excited as he shared his latest collection, Land, and his autobiography, the latter done in Odiya.

Excerpts from the Conversation

Sachidananda Mohanty:
What is your understanding of Poetry?

Jayanta Mahapatra: Simply speaking, a poet is a poet by virtue of what he sees or hears. Living as I do, beside a crowded road lined with shops, there is always something going on around me, and I am a witness to things trivial and catastrophic. Early mornings, I am awoken by the poignant bleat of goats and sheep being led to the slaughterhouse a kilometer away, and this causes me to look beyond the boundaries of my existence. When I walk down a kilometer to the bank of the river, I can see bullock carts piled up with bales of hay, pulling the loads they did not choose, in their rheumy eyes the moistness of tears. There is no crisis here; it is an everyday happening; but as sentient, thinking creatures what matters to us is life, the urge to see beyond what we see. Perhaps that's what makes one a poet, I cannot say. I never read poetry. I never wanted to be a "poet." But somehow I did look around me, and into myself; and when I began to write, late in life, something led me to find meaningful connections between the intimate and the imaginative. Indeed, poetry has to be a witness. We have to know what is there before us. It goes without saying that we have to have a clear and relatively detailed condition of our world, of the human condition, and have to be reminded again and again of what is really in the world, of what is there before our eyes and to look within us. There is a strong social dimension to poetic-form, and we need to think of it seriously, in relation to the time we live in. A dramatic example of such social meaning can be found in what Czeslaw Milosz once said: During the Nazi occupation of Poland, when poetry became more popular, even the most timid person could feel, by carrying with him some poem in Polish-a poem not even having political overtones-only to feel that such a possession was an assertion of identity, and, therefore, of resistance.1 Therefore, I feel poetry has the right to judge. One feels one has the right to make this sort of statement. Any poet, writer or artist has the need to do this. One can infer that our right to judge is fed by the fawning ways of our politicians, who must get on the right side of a mass electorate. This is evident because our public men in our country may think and feel like the emperor Aurangzeb, but there are none who would talk like him in front of their public audiences. Poets, normally, watch the game of politics from the side lines. We act like an audience when we are poets; not as actors. And this view from the side lines enables poets to see clearly much that is a blur to the players. However, it also distorts one's vision in certain ways. The spectator, our poet, easily assumes an attitude of condescension, forgetting himself, taking up a high and mighty posture, and almost rejecting their play. So the great danger we encounter, as poets, away from direct participation in the affairs of the community, is that we take ourselves easily as the guardians of moral purity. A poet, rooted firmly in this sort of pride, might say, politics is dirty and the government is dirty; but as a poet, I am clean, my aims are honorable. And I have better things to do than politics and to waste time on that. Politics can only take me away from those high ideals which come into my poems, remove me from the better people who are able to talk like angels. So let a poet not be snug in his belief that he is the upholder of his country's morals. To do that will be wrong. Let not this arrogance lead to ranting, to a protest that would ultimately pull him away from the true poetry that is his goal. In one of my own poems, there is a verse that says: Anytime my government breaks its promises a line of this poem is dragged along the wide streets of New Delhi. ("The Lines of My Poems") Perhaps this is an example of what I was referring to, i.e., of the poet's stand as a guardian of moral behavior. In saying this, I seem to incur a small sense of guilt-the guilt that our educated middle class carries with them whenever they go on to criticize the government for whatever ails our people. It is within this apparent contradiction, this seemingly exciting paradox, that poetry exists. Such a task is difficult indeed: the making of the poem. To reconcile our shortcomings and unfulfilled desires with the noblest of ideals only makes one aware of the enormous tension involved in the writing of the poem. For even the simple subject of the poem, such as a star or a flower, makes unimaginable demands upon us-upon our language, our emotions and our judgment.

And yet, no world would perhaps exist unless poetry creates it for us. And this poetry has its source within every person that lives. So, would it be absurd to suggest that the poet who doesn't see what is happening around him is dead; and the poet who only sees reality around him is also dead? The poet who is irrational will only be understood by himself and his closest friends or his beloved, and this is very sad. The poet who is all reason will be understood even by fools, and this is also terribly sad. Therefore poetry will not abide by hard and fast rules, by good and evil. Yet it will be there, and must not be defeated. Let us not forget that poetry is a deep, inner calling in man. From poetry came liturgy, the Vedas and the Psalms, and the content of religions. The poet confronted nature's phenomenon and in the early ages called himself a priest, to safeguard his calling. Today's social poet is still a member of the earliest order of priests. In the old days, he made his pact with the darkness; today, he must speak and interpret the light.

SM: Looking back, what do you think are the major poetic achievements?

JM: [Reflects before speaking] You speak about "achievements" in poetry. But here I don't know what to say. Would you point to literary awards, prizes, and publications as "achievements" in my journey as a poet? I can never agree to the thought that such awards or prizes, whenever these have come to me, have been things for me to exult in. Nor are these any indications of the kind of poetry I do-this activity- which has been occupying me for almost fifty years now. I wrote. That was it. There has never been any such moment of weightlessness for me because I realize I have had no such moment of achievement. Poetry has always been a calling for me. That it could be some sort of career; no, never. It has sustained my life in ways I cannot map. It has left me in a space which kept me both bound inside it and still let me be free, and each time that I went into this intense experience of the poem, I came out not entirely unscathed. So when one is talking of poetry which mysteriously directs the imagination, one shouldn't be thinking of "achievements" that only take one away from poetry. I don't really know, nor can I explain this. But, for me, there is an inseparable bond between loneliness and poetry. Even when I read a lonely poem, it seems to ease my own loneliness. And writing helps greatly, whether loneliness nourishes my poetry, or saps it, I cannot say.

SM: Which collections are particularly memorable to you and why?

JM: Here I face a difficult question. And my answer would surely be erratic. I would suppose a poem or a collection of poetry would be memorable only when other readers are touched by the poem; or, as I said earlier, only when a reader is able to find his way out through one of the opened windows of the poem; and eventually resolves the mystery of thought inherent in the poem. And this is because readers of my poetry have always, or almost always, alluded to the abstruse quality of the poems, although I wouldn't want to comment on this. When I had published two poorly-received collections of poetry in 1971, my endeavors were focused on my next volume of poems titled A Rain of Rites; this book of poems was selected as the best of all the entries for poetry received by the University of Georgia Press, USA, in 1976. Indeed this was significant for me as it also coincided with the invitation I received from Paul Engle of the International Writing Program in Iowa City. The poems were all set in my native Odisha; and yet, they were strangely chosen for publication by the University's Poetry Series. I was sort of alive in this book and wished to embrace the world around me. I feel the poems reflected a way of getting close to the world, and, in that sense, perhaps memorable. Really, it's hard to pick what you call "memorable." But as my work progressed and I went from book to book, I thought of Keats writing to his friend Benjamin Bailey on writing, or trying out, a longer poem. In 1980, my long poem, titled Relationship, appeared from the Greenfield Review Press, New York, in 1980. I was new to this form, and the published poem was more or less experimental-but it was in a way unforgettable for me because culture, history, and tradition dominated the pulse of Relationship. It is hard for me to say if this extended lyrical poem was a successful one, but it gave me a lot of space to wander in. My own Odisha, which has always seemed to me to be quite different from neighboring Indian states, took up a life of its own in this poem, or so it appeared to me, with its distinctive quality, asserting itself as a land where only the spirit can flower. And may be this episodic poem was a failure because the episodes could not link and "grow" into a unity I can't say. But my memory came in, as it always does when I am into a poem, and helped me organize my experience. Relationship is in many ways memorable for me, because it grew out of my dream memories of a past life-the past life of my land as well as mine. In that sense it was memory that built the poem, forcing me to go into my past, and then going about delivering me from it. Autobiographical elements have always seeped into my poetry, even when I am writing about the indefiniteness of other voices. I haven't been able to prevent my own voice coming through even in poems located in other, far-off zones. When it's there, as in the poem on my origins, which first appeared in 1979 in a Special Issue on Commonwealth Literature in The Sewanee Review, I suppose it is just not there on the page as a linear narrative, like a straight line, in fact. "Grandfather" speaks about an imagined year, 1866, when my grandfather, starving to death, staggered into a white missionary camp during the terrible famine that had struck Odisha. It's a poem that kept me up at night before I wrote it. It's a poem that kept me up at night when I was writing it. And it's a poem that keeps me up at night when I am not able to write.

So it's a memorable experience for me, this poem "Grandfather." The poem seeks its own memory, it lives to be it. There have been poems, narratives about myself, spread out through the books I've written. But I'd simply like to mention about Temple, a second long poem I wrote, longer than Relationship. It was published by Dangaroo Press, Sydney, Australia, in 1989. By all accounts, Temple is a dream narrative. It deals with the myth of Putana and the strong gender consciousness of Woman. It was a problematical subject to write about; and although I began the poem with a linear path in mind, confronting the four adjuncts of an Odishan temple to reach the Shrine, the poem moved away from me, winding around the dream-persona of Putana, in the way I'd not imagined. The poem was not noticed here in India, although it deals with the present- day Indian Woman. Perhaps the long narrative of the poem was not compelling enough for readers to enter the book. I will, however, repeat that the poem has a certain power, which readers have for some reason not tried to feel. The subject of surrendering to the poem is not found much in India; we like the easy way out, as most of us like to revel in the instant joy or sorrow that's felt at the recitation of an Urdu couplet. But this isn't the place for cavilling. I'd only say that Temple still holds my imagination. I am alone with it. And with its poetry; the poetry is there. That is why it is so memorable.

SM: What have been the important milestones in your poetic Odyssey? What significance do you see in the growth of your poetic self?

JM: It was Iowa. Iowa city, USA, 1976. With eleven poems appearing in Chicago's Poetry Magazine in 1974 and 1975, and subsequently the award of the Jacob Glatstein Memorial Prize for those poems in 1975, I suppose I was noticed in literary circles. I had also poems of mine published in The New Republic, Chicago Review, The Sewanee Review, Boundary 2, Critical Quarterly, and The Times Literary Supplement; and these publications were significant ones. These drew the attention of Paul Engle, Poet and Director, the International Writing Program in Iowa City, USA. In December 1975, I received an invitation from Paul for a six-month long stay at the Program along with twenty other writers from various countries. I was delighted. Here I was, living away from the metropolitan cities like Mumbai or Delhi, a student of Physics, and, without even a formal application, I had been chosen as the writer from India to be a member of the International Writing Program! Why, I think it was the only important milestone in my lone journey in poetry! I suddenly felt I was going somewhere. And that was enough to motivate me. Truly a milestone in that I got recognition at least for what I'd been doing for years, by myself, and all alone. I felt light, cut off from gravity . . . But that was just the beginning. For the next four months and more, interactions with poets from all over the world-Shiraishi Kazuko from Japan, Otto Orban from Hungary, Danarto from Indonesia, Sigurdur Magnusson from Iceland, Rita Dove from the United States, to name a few-and other visiting writers like Stephen Spender, and Robert Bly who came to Iowa, helped me reach into my own poetry, as I went on comparing mine, studying mine with theirs. It was, as I mentioned, the start of re-living intense poetry, and a beginning that made me come into contact with many more excellent poets as I began travelling around the world, attending festivals and readings. Certainly, this was stimulating. And I think my own work would not have grown stronger had I not felt the reaches of poetry other than my own.

SM: What do you have to say about your maturation as a poet?

JM: Perhaps one grows in poetry and one does not know it. The dark enigmas that are there in my poems, striving to find meaning, are still there. And you ask: How does one reach maturity as a poet? I wouldn't know! Ondra Lysohorsky, the Czech poet, wrote, "To be a poet is very difficult." And that is the truth. At 85, I am here, writing still, trying to be a poet. The battle (Could I call it that?) goes on. And the poem goes on consuming words. Will it ever consume silence?

SM: Why did you think of writing your autobiography, and in Odiya?

JM: It's difficult to say why I wanted to write about myself. When I was 82 or 83, I started writing it. I never knew I would write it in Odiya because many of my close associates from outside wanted to read it in English . . . But when I started it, I knew I had no other choice than the use of Odiya. I wanted my people to know about what I had written. The autobiography would give them some perspectives on my poetry as well.

SM: What role did memory play in the arrangement of events you have reconstructed in your autobiography?

JM: It is memory that drove me to Poetry in the first place. If it hadn't been for memory, I do not think I would have written Poetry. Life itself is reminiscence, and Poetry therefore is reminiscence. All Poetry, I think, stems from a sense of disillusionment, a sort of despair, a certain gloom . . . My childhood, and my later years are a period I wouldn't like to relive or rethink. And so, my past plays an important role in my Poetry. But going over my past was necessary, and my life provided me a route through it.

SM: Indian men are generally close to their mothers. And yet, in your case, in all your writings you show closeness to your father vis a vis your mother. Would you like to explain that?

JM: Now, this is very true! I was the eldest son in the family. We are two brothers and my father used to stay away most of the time. He was a Sub-Inspector of schools. He would return once in two months . . . My mother and I would be alone in the house and I would be there to take care of the house in a way. As I grew up, I found my mother very suspicious of me. I don't know why. I mean there was a sort of chasm which we couldn't bridge. Maybe, there was something we couldn't share. Then, my younger brother was born and my mother had fixed the attention on my younger brother. These minor little things used to affect me. I wouldn't like to talk about such things because they are now my autobiography . . .

SM:Tinikonia Bagicha, Cuttack, is more than an address for you. There seems to be an inexorable desire [in you] to return to Cuttack again and again. This is also reflected in your autobiography. Why is this so?

JM: [Laughs] This is very difficult to say! This is a place where I was born; this is where I have lived, a place where I have spent my evenings, close to the rivers Kathjodi and Mahanadi, a place where I learned to crawl when I was six months old. Perhaps it is that which helped me get rooted to Odisha, and Cuttack. I have never had any regrets that, like my poet friends R. Parthasarthy, A.K.Ramanujan or Saleem Peeradina, I couldn't stay abroad for a long period. Even Dilip Chitre was there for three to four years in Iowa. But I came back from Iowa after six months. I didn't like to stay. Odisha kept calling me!

SM: Your life seems to be marked by trauma and fear. In fact, I see this as a recurrent motif in much of your writings. How does the poet handle trauma and fear in poetic and existential terms?

JM: You see Sachi, I was a restless person ever since I was a boy, and this restlessness took me into different directions such as the [pursuit] of Physics. I couldn't complete my Ph.D. in Physics. And then I took up Photography and reading. I do a lot of reading even now. And then, I wanted to travel a bit. I was not successful in writing stories that were rejected by The Illustrated Weekly of India. I wanted to build up on my language. When I thought I could use the English language to my needs, make a noun into a verb, a verb into an adjective, turn the meanings around to the meanings that were not, I was in love with what I would call "language plus." Poetry, I thought, would help me that way. I thought I would use English in a way that had not been used before by my compatriots . . . And that helped me!

SM: You write a lot about women and the indignities they still suffer. Why?

JM: Look, even 65 years after we achieved Independence, anyone can declare that our attitudes toward women haven't changed at all. Women are still chocolate slaves, to be treated as things, abused, brutalized, tossed out on the streets to fend for themselves after we've finished with them. And any person, sensitive toward his fellow beings, cannot but be moved by this violence. My life of 85 years has witnessed much of this; thrown me into a corner of life where I've been able to do nothing-except perhaps write a poem or two on the tragic condition of women in our society. I've written on women, and all this because one just can't sit back and dream; dream of a river where women are splashing away in the water, their clothes hanging on the branches of the trees on the river bank.

SM: You are fond of images and of their use in your poems. Aren't you?

JM: An image always helps to say what I wish to in a poem. It is such a satisfying thing to do, and it goes a long way in coming to the final outcome of the poem the poet desires. My poetry pivots, I think, on images that help the truth to crystalize the poem. I think the idea of an image is very important in poetry because it turns into a moment. And if it can introduce a subject, the image I mean, this comes out as one explores the poem. I would say, of course, that's my way of thinking; and that is a useful idea when the image finds its subject.

SM: Your thoughts, images, shift rapidly in a poem. Why? Can you talk about this "shifting of thoughts" in your poems?

JM: I don't quite understand what you mean by "shifting of thoughts." You see, when one is writing a poem, the driver as one would put it, lies there, in wait. We are never sure of the forces of our imagination, the leaps they take easily, through space, through time, and perhaps the poem derives its strength from the intensity of imagination. This strength of the poem can make it into a good poem or a disruptive poem. It is hard to say, even after fifty years of continuous writing, whether the imagination can do the job it was intended to do in poetry, and, that is, raise the level of meaning in the poem to a higher, magical level. One cannot but keep remembering the French poet Baudelaire who said that the magic of art is inseparable from its risks. This risk is a part of poetry, a very necessary part-because its work is to bring out that equilibrium between reality and the imagination. I can only relate from experience that I feel I am both in the poem and out of the poem when I am writing the poem, and that itself is a risk I have to take when my thoughts go on shifting as I explore the poem, going to the end of it

SM: Although Christian by birth, your creative self is primarily Hindu in terms of myths, symbols, folklore and idiom. How have you achieved a sense of balance and acceptance with your multiple selves?

JM: True, I have multiple selves. My grandfather became a Christian and he was totally Hindu. When you go into his autobiography, you will find it totally Hindu. Christianity is something I learnt at my mother's feet. The evening prayers were there. We learnt to revere Christ. He was such an exemplary figure. Everybody could live and die for Him. But, when you come to Hinduism that is a part of me again. The genes are there. I have planted a Tulsi in my courtyard, although I don't do Puja to it. I love the Tulsi. I love to sit near it. That's my inner self, and my inner self may be totally Hindu.

SM: Did you feel comfortable depicting the erotic experiences of your adolescent life?

JM: The fragile erotic moments of love and of touch which I experienced as a boy helped me to get over the antagonism I felt from my mother. It was not sex. It was a feeling of reaching out to the other person and the feeling of the other person reaching out to me . . .

SM: In the Lawrentian sense?

JM: Yes! It is there in the present moments of my life, too.

SM: Your grandparents had to embrace Christianity because they took refuge among the Christian Missionaries during the Great Famine of Odisha in 1866. How did you translate these real-life experiences, personally very tragic and agonizing, into the poems that you published in The Sewanee Review?

JM: I don't know. I can't answer this. You are talking about the creative process. I couldn't tell you [about that]. I can only tell you that I have written honestly from my heart. . . . You know that I have not had any [formal] training in poetry. My poetry has been exploratory. The first sentence was there that my father was dying. I start with that. And then, I am entering a black box. But I do not know about the door which is there on the other side of the box. And so, my poetry just goes on exploring, until I find my way on the other side of the box.

SM: Do you revise your poems, or leave them as they come?

JM: I revise quite a lot . . . Last month, the editor of The Sewanee Review asked me as to why I had kept the word "merely" at the end of one poem. "It does not work," he said. And so I revised. I took out that word and put in another one in its place.

SM: How did you combine your interest in poetry with our profession as a physicist?

JM: You know that I loved to teach physics, and later on, I loved poetry as much as I did physics. I saw that poetry and physics had the same ring around them. The non-understanding and mysticism of higher physics and higher poetry are common to both of them.

SM: How do you look upon Death as a poet?

JM: Death has different meanings for you at different stages of life. For example, when you are fifty or so, you are more afraid of death. You see so many of your close associates dying, and the fear of death builds up. But when you come to be my age, when you are eighty plus, the fear of death gets dissipated. The point is, you don't know what death is. Today when I live in isolation, I have this overwhelming desire for death. But, the next moment, the urge to live comes back.

SM: You have successfully edited the poetry journal Chandrabhaga for many decades with all their ups and downs. What are the requisites for running a good literary journal?

JM: It should be a one-man show. . . . You should be a sound judge of poetry.

SM: Don't you think it would help to have an Editorial Board?

JM: I can't cope with dissensions. I have no flair for administration. . . . The best thing for me is to rely on my own judgment.

SM: What has Poetry meant to you in existential terms?

JM: I began writing Poetry at a late stage, like Wallace Stevens or Thomas Hardy. Poetry gave me an opportunity to love people, to love fellow beings. That is what Poetry taught me.

SM: And, finally, what would you say to the new generation of Indian English poets?

JM: I would say that poetry is not about English, Odiya, or Telugu; it is about what your heart says. What you feel you should put into your poetry is what matters. The point is whatever you write, and whatever you do in life, should be interrelated. You should be responsible to your conscience. Responsibility to your conscience is at least of as great importance in poetry as it is in your life.


1. Czeslaw Milosz, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, spoke with Robert Pinsky regarding the role of Polish poetry during the Holocaust.

Works Cited

Mahapatra, Jayanta. "The Lines of My Poems." Bare Face. Kerala State, India: D C Books, 2000. Print.

-. Sunday Observer. 27 May 1984. Print.

Prasad, Madhusudan. The Poetry of Jayanta Mahapatra. New Delhi: Sterling, 1986. Print.



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Ambika Ananth: Editorial Note
Abin Chakraborty
Amreen B Shaikh
Ankush Banerjee
Charles Thielman
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Neelam Dadhwal
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Anirudh Kala: ‘Mr Haq’
KL Chowdhury: ‘Tenderer than a Petal…’
Madhuliika Ghose: ‘Inspiration’
Prashila Naik: ‘The B.A. Pass Groom’
Sunil Sharma: ‘Dream’
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