Why India needs a poetry library for posterity
A home for the best Indian verse.
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In the beginning of 2017, I visited the Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre in London and Poets House, New York. Both places have rich collections of poetry, published mainly in Europe and North America. A few books published in Africa and Asia also make their way into these libraries — but only a minuscule number. My visits made me think of exploring the possibility of establishing a poetry library in India.
I broached the idea when I met entrepreneur and columnist Suhel Seth at Jaipur Literature festival 2017, and he showed enthusiasm and keen interest in establishing a poetry library in India, which could be a public-private sector partnership. I also discussed it with HK Kaul, director of DELNET and the president of the Poetry Society of India. He too expressed his support. The secretary of the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters, K Sreenivasa Rao promised to explore the possibility of creating a poetry library at the Sahitya Akademi itself, possibly named after eminent Indian poets such as Kalidasa or Rabindranath Tagore. Hopefully, something will come out of these conversations in 2018 or later.
Indian poetry, written in more than two dozen languages, is blossoming with a number of poetry festivals being held in India, spread throughout the country and the year. Several mainstream publishers are publishing new poetry books besides the many publications being brought out by specialised poetry publishers. In 2017 alone, more than three dozen poetry collections have been published in English, not to mention the numerous poetry collections published in about two dozen Indian languages.
The author at the Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, London. PC: Abhay K
The beauty and richness of poetry born out of India's numerous languages is truly mind-boggling and needs to be taken to the rest of the world through translation into the most spoken languages. I realised this while editing an anthology of 100 great Indian poems from 27 of the languages spoken in the country. Most of the works in the anthology come from regional languages.
Verse worth preserving
We need to collect poetry books published across the country, in all languages, at a central poetry library, and translate and publish the best of Indian poetry every year. The poetry library could also double up as the central translation centre taking Indian poetry to the world. The best works of the year published in India can be awarded the Tagore Prize for Poetry on the poet-laureate's birthday, May 7, or on World Poetry Day.
From Poker-Faced, by Adil Jussawalla.
Lal Singh Dil was a Punjabi poet from the margins. Photo: Independent blog/Blue-eyed son.
In 1999, UNESCO declared March 21 World Poetry Day "to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities". Explaining the reason for observing such a day for poetry, the UNESCO added: "The observance of World Poetry Day is also meant to encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, to promote the teaching of poetry, to restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and to support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media, so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art, but one which enables society as a whole to regain and assert its identity."
In India, the diversity of languages is remarkable and worth preserving — this must be done by letting poets and writers assert their linguistic identities. A central poetry library can help make this possible by hosting regular readings by poets from different parts of India, purchasing their poetry collections and hosting annual national and international poetry festivals. The chief poetry consultant of the library could also act as the poet-laureate of India, who could travel across the country to inculcate higher conscious towards reading and writing of poetry.
Such a central poetry library can also inspire different Indian states to establish their own poetry libraries, thus setting in motion a historic poetry movement in India in the 21st century.