THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Seth Michelson, a poet from the US who is at Kritya 2014 poetry festival being held in the city, has authored many poetry collections. He is also a translator, but one with a mission - he translates only the work of feminist women. Does feminist literature make literature more plural, or is it an unsavoury stamp which relegates women to a corner where they can be conveniently ignored? Some of the poets at Kritya respond to the question.
Augusta Laar, who is a visual artist, musician and a poet, felt there was discrimination in all three fields.
Her reply to the ‘all-man world’ was an all-woman literary session which she called Schamrock-Salon der Dichterinnen. She started hosting these salons in Munich from 2009 onwards. Eventually, in 2012, it became a biennial festival where only women poets are invited. She applied for grants, approached cultural institutions, to garner the funds to invite the poets.
Her husband Kalle Laar supports her initiative. “The very fact that it is so successful proves the fact that it is necessary. There are various ways to respond to the issue. Augusta chose to do something about it,’’ he says.
However, Augusta feels her mission is far from being accomplished.
“Women are not published as much. They have less opportunities to perform. They also win less number of accolades, as all juries are headed mostly by men who give prizes to men,” she says.
Ingrid Fichtner, who came from Switzerland, agrees with Augusta. “In March 2014, I was invited to read my poetry at World Poetry Festival, at Sabad, Delhi, in the opening session. There were nine men and I was the only woman on the podium. It is very important that one talks about this. It is very important that there are these feminist women poets who fight for equal standing,” she says.
Seth, who has translated three women writers so far, says: “The absence of these women’s voices is a certain tragedy, gender-based tragedy.”
“As I bring their poems into me I can reproduce the sound of their writing. Also, through their writing, I can gain new insight into what it means to be in a gendered body that is always besieged by gendered stereotypes, gendered inequality and gendered injustice. So, I have a very special privilege,” he adds.
Does feminist literature make literature more plural? Feminism is often derided. Kristian Guttesen from Iceland says: “One way to respond to a feminist issue, is to respond with a joke. Turn it into something absurd. Either the person is afraid or he does not understand it.”
One is too quick to note that the festival here does not have a balanced number of men and women. Festival director Rati Saxena says that it happens so. “Last time, there were more women. This time, three women poets cancelled their trip. So, the number of men is higher. However, I give more importance to the poetry,” she says.
Rati says that being a woman festival director, she had problems getting funds for the event. She, still sticks to the view that compartmentalisation of literature is not required. “When you give a room to a man and woman, they should both have access to the entire room, not a part of it,” she says. “Barefoot through Old Naledi Slums/ with the same undulant grace/ marks, scars visible on her face/ watching her cross garbage and excrement/ in Old Naledi Slums,” writes Berry Heart, one of the poets invited to the festival. Now would you call Berry a poet or a woman poet?