Published: 30th June 2018
The University of Iowa is calling Thiruvananthapuram-based poet Chandramohan S for their International Writing Program
University of Iowa's International Writing Program has picked Dalit poet Chandramohan S as one of their fellows
Poet Chandramohan S defines a Dalit as "someone who is politically disenfranchised, culturally interiorised and economically impoverished," but he also firmly believes that "being a Dalit poet endows one with a tremendous potential to turn one's own experiences and unique perspectives on history into poetry." And certainly, with his own potential, this Thiruvananthapuram-based poet has bagged Iowa's prestigious International Writing Program. "This opportunity helps me situate myself in the international arena and benchmark myself against young poets I have always admired like Vladimir Lucien, Warsan Shire, Lesego Rampolokeng, Danez Smith, Malika Booker and others," says the poet, who himself is famous for poems like Rape and Murder of a Dalit Girl, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Burkini and several others. Through this fellowship, Chandramohan also wants to learn to be a part of the struggles of marginalised communities elsewhere.
From falling in love with poetry after reading Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer's work to writing his own poetry collections — Warscape Verses (2014) and Letters to Namdeo Dhasal (2016) — Chandramohan has come a long way and yet, "it is still a challenge to write poems when the inspiration doesn't strike you," he exclaims. But the process this acclaimed poet usually follows is that he writes a phrase he likes and then, "weave more flesh around it," he explains. He has also attempted to write poems as a response to events, especially atrocities against Dalits and Muslims. For example, his poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Burkini, "attempts to rewrite and recast Wallace Stevens' acclaimed poem (Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird) in the landscape of combating Islamophobia."
The poet is currently working on a book of long poems on the act of translating, LOVE after BABEL. It attempts a pan-optical scrutiny of the cultural act of translation across languages and articulates an act of resistance against predatory language-empires
But now, Chandramohan isn't happy with just being a Dalit poet alone; he wants to be a caste provocateur, by asserting his identity as an Indian English Dalit poet. "A lot of Indian English poetry is too elitist, upper classiest, upper casteist and caters to the urban milieu. My very existence is a breaking of a glass ceiling and may provoke someone to think and identify their slot in the 'ascending scale of reverence and descending scale of contempt'," says Chandramohan. And today, when Pa Ranjith can make films with a Tamil matinee idol twice in Kaala and Kabali and when Tina Dabi can top the UPSC exams, the Dalit assertion might be breaking more than a few glass ceilings, he feels. Contemporary Dalit poetry by poets like Sukirtharani in Tamil, Neerav Patel in Gujarati, Kotiganahalli Ramaiah in Kannada and Challapalli Swaroopa Rani in Telugu have enthralled him.
Speaking about Dalit literature in Malayalam, Chandramohan feels that it has been "mainstream-ised". And in this regard, poets like S Joseph, MB Manoj, and emerging poet Sudheer Raj are his heroes. And though the Dalit tradition in Malayalam poetry is very strong, in fiction — barring writers like PK Prakash and Baby Thomas — there is a dearth of Dalit writers in the short story format, he feels.