poets Posts

Amazon KDP event in New Delhi, 30 Nov 2017

I moderated a panel discussion on self-publishing for Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing  Author Academy. The panelists included  Sanjeev Jha, Director,  Kindle Content, India, successful fiction writer Vineet Bajpai, and romance novelist Sundari Venkataraman on Thursday, 30 November 2017, Le Meredien,  Delhi.

It was a fabulous event consisting of an informative presentation by Sanjeev Jha after which a lively discussion ensued. The presentation was an excellent walk through about the various features KDP offers. For instance, KDP Select, the helpline support, digital tools to help upload illustrated books particularly children’s books etc. Apparently since the KDP was launched in September 2015 there are now more than 3.2 million books available on the platform. He reisterated that many readers like to browse through books digitally and if the author is readable or establishes their reputation there is the likelihood of the book translating into actual sales of print editions. Some of the most popular genres remain romance and self-help. A categorisation which is also noted in the traditional forms of publishing too. KDP was launched with the view to allow authors to access their readers with only the digital platform in between. Over time it has proven to be quite a popular way of publishing. In Dec 2016, ebooks in five Indian regional languages were launched on the Kindle. As of now it is possible to publish books on the KDP in Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam but it still in the Beta version so is not being publicised too much for now. Interesting facts emerged for instance that Amazon pays royalties to its authors depending upon how many pages have been read and not necessarily by the book. For instance, Sundari Venkataraman ( who has been a regular user of KDP since Feb 2014 and now has 20+ books on the platform) mentioned that there are months when she measures her books by the number of pages read and has notched up numbers such as 15-18,000 pages. It is not very clear how many books were opened and read or whether there was a “read through” in the process or not. Vineet Bajpai made it amply clear with his lucid interventions that publishing on KDP is a convenient process for it gives access to ready data immediately yet it also requires immense discipline and dedication to ensure that the book is discovered and read. In the short span of five months since his book was launched in August 2017, he has sold more than 25,000 print copies. Both the authors agreed that they dedicate time to marketing and promotion, otherwise as another author from the audience mentioned her ten books languish on the platform.

The audience consisted of a diverse cross-section of people. There were seasoned, award-winning authors to debut authors who had unpublished manuscripts but were not sure which method to adopt — traditional or digital. There were quite a few teenagers interested in writing who were being represented by their parents. There were storytellers in various languages keen to understand how KDP will be beneficial ? Would they be able to publish stories  + audio clips of their performances? There were authors who were puzzled by the distinction between KDP and KDP Select and what it meant in terms of exclusivity and support they could expect from Amazon. There were KDP authors who had had a good experience of the platform and wished to understand how to exploit it further for everyone in the hall was in agreement that Amazon, unlike other publishing firms, is responding in real time to its users ( authors/readers) and constantly improving its bouquet of offerings. There were book bloggers, journalists ( all media), ex/servicemen, doctors, strategic study analysts, translators, poets, print publishers wishing to understand the mechanisms of digital publishing etc.  Some of the pertinent questions asked by the audience present were about editing a manuscripts, ROI on publishing a book using  KDP, how are  books discovered from the 3.2m Kindle titles available, how do authors earn royalties especially if their books are offered in the  Kindle Unlimited bundle, how is  plagiarism detected, what is the ideal length of a book?  The conversations went on for much longer than expected and were continued over lunch.

2017 marks ten years of Kindle. When it was first launched traditional publishers were not sure how it would affect publishing. For some years thereafter a “disruption” was noticed when ebooks became exceedingly popular and many publishers made modifications to their business models. For instance by doing away with renting spaces in warehouses for stocking printed copies of their backlists and moving to the print-on-demand ( POD) model where it is possible to order one copy at a time. Another way was to penetrate newer markets using digital devices by launching apps on smartphones and not necessarily restricting themselves to specific hardware such as the Kindle. Now notably there has been a plateauing of ebook sales and print books are becoming more and more scrumptious in production. Having said that there is no doubt that Amazon with the launch of Kindle and its KDP programme with its mechanised process has democratised the publishing of a book in a manner seen first with Gutenberg. The Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century scaled up the productivity of printing presses by improving their construction and using steam power to operate them. Now with the digital process it has made it easy for every person to publish, circumventing publishing gatekeepers and tastemakers, accessing readers worldwide, in a very short span of time — a few hours. It is this seeming collapse of time which has sped up the process of production and expectations. Of course there is the flip side of this that despite Amazon offering its KDP authors the tools create book covers, many individuals need to invest in having their manuscripts edited as that is not a service option. Also to have the book discovered the onus of promoting the book lies with the author and not with Amazon.

The response to it has been enthusiastic with many participants writing in with appreciative notes of thanks, particularly how informative the session was!

1 Dec 2017 

Wild Girls, Wicked Words

Wild Girls, Wicked Words

Wild GirlsAt the recently concluded World Book Fair, New Delhi, Kannan Sundaram of Kalachuvadu publications gave me a copy of Wild Girls, Wicked Words.  An anthology of four women poets who write in Tamil –Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani. The poems have been translated from Tamil into English by well-known translator, Lakshmi Holmström. This book is a joint publication of Sangam House and Kalachuvadu Publications. It can be ordered online from Flipkart: http://www.flipkart.com/search?q=wild+girls+wicked+words&as=off&as-show=off&otracker=start . 

I enjoyed reading the poems. Powerful poetry. The themes range from love, war to oppression. With the women poets included in this anthology they write about the feelings commonly shared by women. Poetry is a form of expression that helps them to articulate their feelings and experiences. I can only read the poems in English but the Tamil versions have also been made available. 

Given below is an extract from the exquisite introduction to the book. In it Lakshmi Holmström gives a nuanced and sensitive context to the poets featured, and places them within the traditions of Tamil literature and poetry. It is being reproduced with permission of Lakshmi Holmström, Sangam House and Kalachuvadu Publications.

Wild Girls, Wicked Words

Introduction

Lakshmi Holmström

In 2003, at a time when politicians and other establishment figures of Tamil Nadu were caught up in a surge of Tamil chauvinism, a group of men and women, setting themselves up as guardians of Tamil culture, objected publicly to the language of a new generation of women poets, particularly in the work of Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani. They charged the women with obscenity and immodesty.Malathi Mythri

These women poets came into prominence at the same time; their first collections of poetry were published between the years 2000 –2002, when they were in their late twenties and early thirties. Though each of these poets is unique in what she has to say in her poetry, there are some themes which are common to all of them, notably the politics of sexuality, and a woman’s relationship to her body. For the moral police, such language was not permissible for Tamil women. So the poets were condemned and vilified. The debate gained focus with the publication of Kutti Revathi’s Mulaigal (Breasts, 2002). The poets received abusive letters from individuals as well as literary organizations. The media had a field-day. A popular song writer for films gave a much publicised interview to a literary journal condemning women writers in general. This was followed by another film-song writer, Snehithan, who appeared on television declaring that these women should be lined up on Mount Road in Chennai, doused with kerosene oil and burnt alive.

kutty revathiIt might have been easy for these self-appointed moral guardians to assume that the young women poets were all ‘powerless’ and, therefore, particularly vulnerable: none of them comes from a privileged background. Salma comes from a conservative Muslim family based in a small town near Madurai; Sukirtharani is a school teacher in Lalapet, and a Dalit. On the contrary, despite considerable persecution and even death threats, the women refused to be intimidated, insisting on their freedom to write as they chose. Malathi Maithri sought legal advice, and made a complaint to the Women’s Commission against Snehithan.

The Tamil literary world was divided in its response. Kalachuvadu, a literary-cum-political journal which has always engaged with political and literary issues, called a meeting in Chennai on 21 November 2004 to debate the issues that had been raised by the violent response both towards the poetry written by these four women poets, and towards the women personally. The meeting was chaired by Indira Parthasarathy, and attended by well-known writers such as Prapanjan, Ambai and Ravikumar, and older women poets Krishangini and Thaamarai. Rajasekaran reports in Kalachuvadu that the discussions were mostly to do with the larger issues of freedom of expression: Ravikumar spoke at length about the need to struggle against all oppressions, Prapanjan about patriarchy’s various and subtle workings, and Krishangini about why men find it so difficult to accept it when women write in specific and personal terms about their sexuality. However, Rajasekaran also pointed out that none of the critics and writers present analysed in any detail the specific poems which were at the root of the controversy.Sukirtharani 1

Meanwhile, by 2005, the national press more generally was taking up the issue of moral censorship of Tamil women by all the political parties of Tamil Nadu. About this time too, two film-makers, Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar, made a documentary on our four poets, entitled SheWrite. The film was important in that it brought to the notice of the nation at large the courageous stand the four women had taken; it also served to bring out many insights about their personal lives and backgrounds. However, in the film, the poetry was shown mostly as the focus of a controversy, and not examined in any detail for its own worth and value.

It is now ten years since the publication of Mulaigal. During this decade, each of our poets has published more than one further collection, continuing to write and publish as courageously as before. Each of them has won national and international acclaim. However, the grumbling against the language and thrust of their poetry goes on, while the wider issue of what Tamil women are allowed to wear, say, and where they choose to socialize continues to be raised from time to time and debated by the politicians, and in the press.

salmaWhen we look back at the history of Tamil poetry, the marginal status of women in the literary canon and their relatively meagre output is evident since classical times. It is true that, in modern times, Tamil women have been writing and publishing in various genres, but as far as poetry is concerned, we have seen a gradual change only since about 1970. Women such as R. Meenakshi and Sugantha Subramaniam were being published throughout the 1970s and 80s, yet it was only in the late 80s that their poems appeared in significant numbers, both in anthologies and single volumes. Then, suddenly, in the 1990s, the contribution of women to Tamil poetry became notable. This was a poetry that had to be noticed, not because it was written by women, but because it was different from what appeared in the mainstream.

As V. Geetha points out in her Introduction to an anthology of poetry by women from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, Paratthal Athan Sudandiram (Flight is its Freedom, 2001), not all the contributors to the book are feminists, nor even necessarily sympathetic to feminism, yet they bring completely new themes into Tamil poetry: an engagement with the minutiae of everyday life, new perceptions of familial lives, the truth about a sudden end to childhood, about bleak marriages, the joys and sorrows of childbirth and motherhood. And some women, at least, were writing with boldness about their inner lives in very different terms, using an awareness of their bodies and their sexuality. Drawing attention to an overall tendency in the anthology towards inwardness and the inner world, V. Geetha calls upon the Tamil women poets of her time to engage more with the outer world and its politics; to consider social and cultural oppressions and inequalities more widely. She suggests that the difference between the Sri Lankan women and those from Tamil Nadu lies in the political engagement of the former; that as far as the Sri Lankans are concerned, even when they write about ‘myself’, ‘my love’, ‘my sorrow’, there is an underlying political discourse that pushes the individual story into a wider context.

That was in 2001, and it was important to say it at the time. Since then, we have seen another generation of women poets whose poetry does indeed engage with a wider political discourse and a more nuanced feminism. Yet, in the case of Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani, ever since the events so publicised by the media in 2003, their poetry has been grouped together and discussed only in terms of their engagement with questions of sexuality. It is also clear that a deep divide persists in the way readers and critics perceive women poets as a whole, today. The editor of a well-known literary journal observed to me that for these past years, Tamil women poets have been categorized into ‘Bad Girls’ who write ‘body poetry’ and ‘Good Girls’ who refrain from doing so.

This anthology, then, celebrates four women poets, Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi, and Sukirtharani, and showcases, through English translation, a small sample in each case, of their work over a decade. My attempt has been to bring out the beauty, originality, and above all the individuality of each of these poets. It is perhaps useful to remember that the traditional values prescribed for the ‘Good’ Tamil woman were accham, madam and naanam (fearfulness, propriety, modesty or shame). Our poets have chosen instead, the opposite virtues of fearlessness, outspokenness, and a ceaseless questioning of prescribed rules. It is surely significant that at different times and variously, they have claimed as their foremothers, role models and equals, Avvai, Velliviidhi and Sappho; Anna Akhmatova, Sylvia Plath and Kamala Das. And Eve, above all, who defied divine authority to pluck the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Bad Girls indeed, all of them.

***

There are many common themes and tropes among the poems presented here: light ‘prowls like a cat’, the tiger stalks within the bedroom and along the imagined mountain landscape. But there are also profound differences, which the reader will note. Each poet has struggled to find a language of her own to express her particular vision. ‘Language must be redeemed from the grave of its own inadequacy’, Malathi Maithri wrote in 2001, in her Editor’s Note to Paratthal Athan Sudandiram, putting forward, later on, the possibility of a pey (demon) language. Sukirtharani seeks an ‘infant language’, with all the rough and physical reality of new birth, still sticky with blood. Kutti Revathi invents a blazing language of love. Salma reaches out, even to the ‘rust of silence’.

Above all, in this anthology, I have wanted to celebrate the courage of each of these poets in breaking out of and defying easy categories. As Sukirtharani puts it in her magnificent poem, ‘Nature’s fountainhead’ (Iyarkaiyin peruutru):

I myself will become
earth
fire
sky
wind
water.
The more you confine me, the more I will spill over,
Nature’s fountainhead.

***

Wild Girls, Wicked Words Poems of Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathi and Sukirtharani. Edited and translated by Lakshmi Holmström. Kalachuvadu Publications and Sangam House, Nagercoil, India, Dec 2012. Pb. pp. 240. Rs. 295

26 Feb 2014