ABOUT THE POEMS The work of a new generation of female poets in Tamil has been one of the most charged spaces in the literature of that language in the last two decades. But these poets are often judged not by the quality of their language and imagery, or the density and detail with which they pursue their themes, but by the prevailing conventions of the world they live in—even the more liberal sections of that world. As the writer and translator Lakshmi Holmström observes, “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.”
These poems, by four poets who have each at some point been tagged as “bad girls”, are taken from Holmstrom’s new anthology of translations Wild Girls Wicked Words (Sangam House/Kalachuvadu Publications). Intensely proud, sarcastic, assertive and probing, these poems speak in a voice that distances itself from the world’s encrusted vocabulary and categories—a poetic discourse that thinks of itself variously as a “demon language” (Malathi Maithri) or an “infant language” (Sukirtharani). The poems are unapologetically “body poetry”. Indeed, they must necessarily be so, for they show how the female body itself has all too often served as a kind of text that is subjected to certain oppressive and enfeebling readings—readings that the body itself then must try to overthrow by speaking afresh, in a harsher voice, shorn of euphemisms. Holmström’s deft translations bring across to readers in English the unforgettable sound, blazing with oppositional energy, of some of contemporary Indian literature’s brightest flares.