Indian poets lag behind fiction writers, says Pulitzer winner Vijay Seshadri | books | Hindustan Times
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Indian poets lag behind fiction writers, says Pulitzer winner Vijay Seshadri

Indian-American poet Vijay Seshadri, who has bagged the prestigious Pulitzer prize recently for his collection of poems called 3 Sections, says that the poet he ever wanted to become, other than himself, was Walt Whitman. Whitman is his 'atmosphere', he says in an interview.

books Updated: Apr 29, 2014 21:01 IST
Subuhi Parvez

Indian-American poet Vijay Seshadri's poetry looks deeply into human consciousness. It comes across as witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless. And as much as we think, Seshadri says poetry is not always about the first stroke of genius.

"I write many drafts and that is how I end up writing well".

Seshadri's compelling series '3 Sections' – an enactment or reflection on the multiversity of our consciousness – won him the Pulitzer Prize for poetry earlier this month.

The poet Seshadri ever wanted to become, other than himself, was Walt Whitman. Perhaps because Whitman was very different from him. He instead calls him an atmosphere, than "inspiration". He says, Whitman is the air in which he writes.

Born in Bangalore, Seshadri has remained in touch with Indian writing and writers even as he moved to the United States in 1959.

Seshadri's book's cover

“That slow person you left behind when, finally,
you mastered the world, and scaled the heights you now command,
where is he while you
walk around the shaved lawn in your plus fours,
organizing with an electric clipboard
your big push to tomorrow?
Oh, I’ve come across him, yes I have, more than once,
coaxing his battered grocery cart down the freeway meridian.”

- Lines from Vijay Seshadri's Three Persons, 3 Sections

Only the fifth person of Indian origin to bag the prestigious award, he isn't very impressed with the standing of Indian poets' abroad.

"Indian writing in English, especially that of Indian fiction writers, is of course tremendously celebrated abroad. As for Indian poets, I don't quite know. We might be lagging fairly far behind the fiction writers," Seshadri says.

Talk to him about his favourite Indian writers and he will demur.

The 60-year-old is all praise for Jeet Thayil, whose Narcopolis was widely acclaimed, and Poet, literary critic Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.

"They are personally the closest to me. Sudeep Sen has long been a friend to my work, publishing it in anthologies and reviewing it. I am forever grateful to him."

Even before the Pulitzer, Seshadri's poems were making waves in the west. He has received grants from the New York Foundation, and has been awarded The Paris Review's Bernard F. Conners Long Poem Prize and the MacDowell Colony's Fellowship for Distinguished Poetic Achievement.

Seshadri had moved to United States at the age of five and grew up in Ohio, where his father also taught in the state university.

The writer's earlier work - 'The Long Meadow' - won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and Wild Kingdom in 1996.

"As a poet, I lived in a fairly happy obscurity. To have the television lights trained on me is quite something," he says.

As much as we want to believe how Seshadri is the man of the moment, he impresses with his simplicity in no time.

In the times of social media, Seshadri chooses to stay aloof. He doesn't understand Twitter and uses Facebook once in a "long while".

"I never post anything. I just got an iPhone and it is the first cell phone I have owned, so I am behind the times in those ways," he confesses.