Illustration by Nahal Sheikh
Illustration by Nahal Sheikh

Prison writing sheds harsh light on our states and societies

‘For, In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit’, an anthology of prison poems, testifies to the coercive nature of the state and society – yet its under-representation of regional poets speaks of wider exclusions

My dangerous personality
That you do not understand:
The secret is poetry.

– 'Poetry' by Varavara Rao, 30 December 1987. Translated by N Venugopal

What is it about poetry that states and governments in power find difficult to accept? Varavara Rao, a well-known revolutionary poet and long-time detainee of the Indian government, writes in 'Poetry' about the enduring resilience and power of verse to voice people's concerns in the face of surveillance and propaganda. He expands on the poet's "dangerous personality":

You go on about surveillance
Poetry gets ignited and continues to fire.
You go on about governance
Poetry talks about people even in sleep.

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Himal Southasian