Why do some of us write poetry in English? |
Yes, why do we?
It is a question that arose in my mind after a recent conversation with Mintoo Bhai (Enayetullah Khan, editor, New Age). Meeting with him after a gap of twenty years, our talk at one point veered towards literature. Towards South Asian fiction in English. In the midst of which he suddenly confessed to being mystified by Bangladeshis who wrote poetry in English, to the fact that he had never gotten any pleasure out of reading it; he lofted his hands into the air, rotated the palms, and said 'Its images and metaphors, somehow I just don't...', then trailed off. A little taken aback, I muttered something about the Indians writing some excellent poems in English, which he conceded. Then we turned the car back on to the main road, went on to other topics. But that line of his stayed with me. I could have answered that while our response to Bengali poetry is inborn and innate, the ear, the senses, for English language poetry, whether South Asian or Caribbean, or, indeed, British or American, has to be acquired, has to be developed and nurtured before it becomes something close to innate and natural, and that what might be equally interesting to explore was not only Bangladesh poetry in English, but the kind of reader that read it. But what stopped me from saying it was the perfectly valid, larger question implicit in Mintoo Bhai's statement: Why do we, or some of us, write creatively in English? Yes, why do we?
That stopped me. Sometimes the basic questions are the best.
It is a topic that has been debated by an older generation of Indian authors and poets more prone to soul-searchig--Raja Rao is one example that readily comes to mind--than the current crop of Indian writers, most of whom take writing in English for granted, simply because not only due to the ease with which they write it, but because of the tradition of such writing they are backed up by. 'Keep on truckiní, Daddy O,' seems to be their attitude, 'and don't explain and don't complain'.
But what about us Bangladeshis? While the above debates/essays are relevant to us within the larger frame of South Asian writing in English, yet, I felt, surely there had to be some features, some kinks, unique to the Bangladeshi context. I turned to Kaiser Huq, described as 'the leading Bangladeshi poet writing in English' by the Journal of Commonwealth Literature (UK), as the perfect person to respond to the question. The following article is his answer, the title an echo of Sir Philip Sydney's An Apology for Poetry (1595). Hopefully, there will be others.
Kaiser Huq is represented in several international anthologies, such as Stories from South Asia (OUP) and The Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literature. He has published five collections of poetry: Starting Lines (1978); A Little Ado (1978); A Happy Farewell (1994); Black Orchid (1996); The Logopathic Reviewer's Song (2002).
--Editor, Literature Page