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Arun Kolatkar: Collected Poems in English

Arun Kolatkar: Collected Poems in English

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The best books for Christmas: Our pick of 2010 - The Independent

"The best new discovery of the season."
Michael Glover, The Tablet

"My discovery of the year arrived from India, in Collected Poems in English by Arun Kolatkar. Sublime and satirical, comic and visionary by turns, close to the gutter but looking for the stars, Kolatkar over many years (he died in 2004) became a Bombay bard to match, or outperform, the city's novelists. Any reader of Midnight's Children, and of its tribe of fictional children, should get to know Kolatkar too."
Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

Edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.

Arun Kolatkar (1931-2004) was one of India's greatest modern poets. He wrote prolifically, in both Marathi and English, publishing in magazines and anthologies from 1955, but did not bring out a book of poems until he was 44. Jejuri (1976) won him the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and was later published in the US in the NYRB Classics series (2005). His third Marathi publication, Bhijki Vahi, won a Sahitya Akademi Award in 2004.

Always hesitant about publishing his work, Kolatkar waited until 2004, when he knew he was dying from cancer, before bringing out two further books, Kala Ghoda Poems and Sarpa Satra. A posthumous selection, The Boatride and Other Poems (2008), edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, contained his previous uncollected English poems as well as translations of his Marathi poems; among the book's surprises were his translations of bhakti poetry, song lyrics, and a long love poem, the only one he wrote, cleverly disguised as light verse. This first Collected Poems in English brings together work from all those volumes.

Jejuri offers a rich description of India while at the same time performing a complex act of devotion, discovering the divine trace in a degenerate world. Salman Rushdie called it "sprightly, clear-sighted, deeply felt… a modern classic". For Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, it was "among the finest single poems written in India in the last forty years… it surprises by revealing the familiar, the hidden that is always before us". Jeet Thayil attributed its popularity in India to "the Kolatkarean voice: unhurried, lit with whimsy, unpretentious even when making learned literary or mythological allusions. And whatever the poet's eye alights on – particularly the odd, the misshapen, and the famished – receives the gift of close attention."

"He had a magical gift for translating the familiar into the wonderful, by focussing on details or tweaking our programmed approaches to objects, people and relationships. In his poems, wry irony underpins the miracle of things seen and touched, people met and sized up...Kolatkar's poetry orchestrates a play of scales: the epic alternates with the intimate, the Self weaves through the Other. In Sarpa Satra, he assumed the alternately elegiac and excoriating voice of a private self beset by public terrors, tempted into cynicism but mandated to bear witness to history… Kolatkar addressed mythic themes that still resonate in India's public life — ecological devastation, the military occupation of farflung provinces, and the staging of pogroms."
Ranjit Hoskote, The Hindu

"Kolatkar was a poet of world class with a very individual way of looking at the world. In his writing every cliché is transformed into something new and unexpected, a transformation by imagination, language, and tone."
Bruce King, Modern Poetry in English

"Moving deftly from street life in Bombay to Hindu myths, these last poems confirm his cult reputation as the greatest Indian poet of his generation."
Pankaj Mishra, Times Literary Supplement