Wild Words Four Tamil Poets published by Harper Perennial is a collection of selected poems by four contemporary Tamil poets, Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani, translated from Tamil into English by Lakshmi Holmstrom.
Lakshmi Holmstrom is best known for her translation of Bama’s Karukku and the news from Ambai, Ia forest, a deer. In the translator’s note Holmstrom informs the reader that the four poets in the collection have become evident with the publication of Kutti Revathi’s Mulaigal (Boobs, 2002) which was the subject of strong criticism for having tackled the taboo subject of the body of women, to the point that they were even the subject of death threats from the so-called “guardians of culture. Tamil ”.
Perhaps what this collection best highlights, even without going into the turbulent history of their publication, is the nuanced diversity of women’s experiences across class, caste, location, and religion which gives a new twist. perspective to feminism. Therefore, just as it makes no sense to homogenize feminism in the same way, it is extremely naive to immediately label poems as “obscene” or poets as “bad girls” without taking the artistic point of view. Although what binds the poems in this collection together is the effort of all poets to awaken some form of consciousness in order to alleviate the oppression of women, the feminist and artistic journey that each takes is unique and universal, which perhaps gives this collection an immediacy and freshness of approach.
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The poems of the poet and activist Malathi Maithri who was born and raised in a fishing community set the tone for the collection of ‘Wild words’. There is in fact a juxtaposition or movement between two distinct streams of thought in his poetry: the familiar states of oppression and experience and the imaginary states of emancipation. The first relates to her description of the plight of women in the fishing community subjected to hard work and hunger who can only fill their empty stomachs with a little rice water (Camels, horses and a basket of fish), or the familiar natural environment of the river bed (Observe the crane). The common experience of childbirth turns into a ‘snow storm‘ and ‘raging wave‘and finally to a’big exploding volcano ‘ (in Bhumadévi) and swinging on the swing turns into a supernatural experience where ‘the stars are blooming‘ and ‘lightning charge‘(Swing). His imaginary states of emancipation are further linked to his alliance with the poets of the past Sappho, Sylvia Plath and Velliviidhi to create a world where ‘we will read our poems / full of dreams and desires, Sovereign Queens of words; we will weave with our bodies‘(empress of words). Even this is not enough so that in the end the women, the poet and the demon become one to stand up out of time like ‘nilli nasty wife‘(Demonic language).
The poet Salma who had a middle class Muslim education was deprived of education at an early age and is completely self-taught. His poetry explores alienation in a traditional marriage, the balance of power in favor of the husband, hostility and lack of support towards women, even from his parental family. These poignant experiences are recounted in A Midnight Tale, New Bride, New Night, The Contract and One evening Another evening. She explores a world where ‘locked in four walls / there is no shade for me to sit ‘ and ‘in this universe / there can be a lot of creatures / alone with their prey / living together amicably / leading a good life‘(One evening Another evening). The husband, even after childbirth, continues to want a spotless body from his wife. While birthmarks cannot be erased from a woman’s body, the man has the advantage of maintaining relationships with other women without ever getting caught. The woman is forever punished for everything that is wrong, for the sister of the bride is angry and her mother subtly blames her “for everything that is wrong / in the room‘(The contract), while the man is always in a position of advantage for his, ‘the body is not like mine, it proclaims itself / it manifests itself ‘(A midnight tale).
The poet Sukirtharani who belongs to the Dalit caste gives a new perspective to women’s experiences by incorporating the caste point of view into her poetry. Like Maithri, in his poems too there are distinct threads of mundane states of experience and imaginary states of emancipation. The first relates to the introspection of the life of the Dalits in the villages who transport, dispose of or skin the carcasses of upper caste animals, beat the drums in funeral processions and are ultimately humbled by constant segregation and denial. from the main village. life (I speak frankly and one slight meaty smell). In these poems, his imagery is always rooted in the Dalit experience, whether it is imagery of the village, the land or the people. In Portrait of my village the ‘caste pain‘is always present, just like the’torment hunger‘because the Dalits receive such meager compensation for their hard work. In the imaginary realm, she seeks a new language that ‘will end sorrow‘(Infant language). In the The only woman in the world she imagines a woman for whom Men turned to stone wait eon after eon to be freed from their curse by the touch of his feet. ‘
Kutti Revathi expresses her feminist concerns as she soaks up women’s experiences, be it the act of love, ‘The strength of the union of our love / is like the read earth and the pouring rain‘(Rain river), childbirth (in the poem Childbirth), through the metaphor of nature and the female body. But the silence and surrender of women through the metaphor of the body is also highlighted in poems such as Stone goddesses or ‘at the slightest hint of human odor, they turn into lifeless corpses‘.
In conclusion, it is worth going back to the eventful history of the publication of the poetry of this collection. The translator notes that since the 90s, female poetry has come to the fore because it was different from traditional poetry. This brings up an important point regarding the review of this book. Kutti Revathi in “The Poetry of Tamil Women: A Stream of Contemporary Voices” noted: “Just as the body belongs to man, so do the words that designate its parts … Likewise, the exclusion of women from poetry is also. And where its entry is authorized, this authorization is granted only on the condition that its poetry submits to self-censorship.. “So, just as in society, a woman must conform to certain dictates, so to enter the best literary genre of poetry, a woman must seek conformity to the established male tradition. even if she is talking about her own body, her own experiences must be in tune with the male view of the female self. Without going into that sociologically, it is also relevant to say that obscenity is frequently an allegation concocted by women. dominant sections of the literary world to dismiss the non-standard modes of expression of the weaker sections as not good enough.
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It is common knowledge that frequently each of the women in this collection seeks to uproot this tradition that Maithri seeks’demonic language‘(Demonic language), Sukirtharani a language which is’open and honorable ‘ (Infant language), Kutti Revathi wants to reject everything ‘the errors of history / the cuts that shape the body / the destruction of the imagination‘(Face to face), and Salma ‘wants to imagine a whole new dream‘(Green Angel).