Fame visited the poet Dom Moraes (1938-2004) early, when his first book, which he published at nineteen, won the Hawthornden Prize. He went on to lead a richly diverse life as an international jouralist, war correspondent, anthologist and editor. Chosen from the eleven published collections of Moraes's poetry by the poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote , this volume is the essential Moraes. In the introduction to this first-ever editorial selection of Moraes’s poems, Hoskote proposes a new reading of his career, regarding him as an early but unrecognised transcultural artist. As against the better-known Maraes who apprenticed himself to the Romantics, Hoskote emphasises the less familiar Moraes who offered fierce testimony to the twentieth century’s dramas of betrayal, slaughter and heroism.
DOM MORAES (1938-2004) was one of the foundational figures of modern Anglophone poetry in India. The son of the famous crusading journalist and author Frank Moraes, he was born in Bombay and spent his childhood years in India, Sri Lanka, South-East Asia and Australia. Moraes was educated principally at St Mary's School and Campion School in Bombay, and at Jesus College, Oxford. His first book of poems, A Beginning, was published when he was nineteen; it won him the prestigious Hawthornden Prize. He published ten more collections of poems over a period of nearly five decades, including the highly praised volumes John Nobody and Serendip ; culminating in the posthumous Collected Poems 1954-2004.
Moraes led a nomadic life crowded with events. He was based, at various times, in London, New York, Hong Kong, New Delhi, and Bombay, and was active as an international journalist, war correspondent, editor, anthologist, and cultural diplomat with the United Nations. Moraes covered wars in Israel and Vietnam, the revolution in Algeria, natural cataclysm and political upheaval in Bangladesh, and investigated human rights violations in Indonesia. He wrote nearly thirty prose works, including travel books, collections of essays and reportage, commissioned biographies, as well as three memoirs, Gone Away, My Son 5 Father and Never at Home.
RANJIT HOSKOTE (born Bombay, 1969) is a poet, cultural theorist and curator. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Vanishing Acts: New and Selected Poems 1985-2005 (Penguin), I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics) and Die Ankunft der Vagel (Carl Hanser Verlag). Hoskote's poems have appeared in Akzente, Fulcrum, Green Integer Review, Iowa Review, Nthposition, Poetry Review (London), Wasafiri and Wespennest, and in numerous anthologies, including The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets (Bloodaxe) and Language for a New Century (W. W. Norton). Hoskote has been a Fellow of the International Writing Program, University of Iowa, and writer-in-residence at Villa Waldberta, Munich.
Dom Moraes (1938-2004) belonged, with Nissim Ezekiel, Adil Jussawalla and A.K. Ramanujan, to the first generation of postcolonial Anglophone poets in India. Their advent, in the literary universe of the 1950s and 1960s, marked a definitive break with the genteel Victorian sentimentality, mellifluous Edwardian cadences and mystical sonority of many Indians who had written English verse before them. These four poets brought an acute and self-critical attentiveness to their art: they knew it to be a contemporary project, an exploration of a complex present rather than an evocation of vanished pasrs. As such, they approached their work in the awareness that poetry was a serious career in itself, a sacramental commitment.
Each of them developed, early, a distinctive set of emotional and intellectual investments in particular disciplines, and adopted specific cultural affiliations. Ezekiel (1924-2004) was variously an editor, cultural organiser, academic and art critic who had lived in Britain and, briefly, in the USA; he elected, however, to return to India and framed an influential role for himself there. Similarly, Jussawalla (born 1940) has played the multiple roles of literary editor, college lecturer, publisher, anthologist, critic and cultural organiser; he lived mainly in Britain from 1957 to 1970, before returning to commit himself to the Indian literary and cultural scene. Ramanujan (1929-1993) was a cultural anthropologist and translator of classical Tamil poetry who lived in the USA for the greater part of his life, a productive contributor to the American academic system who probed the intricacies of Indian culture with refined sensitivity. Moraes was, at various times in his life, a columnist, a foreign correspondent, a consultant with the United Nations and an editor who had lived and worked in many parts of the world, but his formative experiences were bound up with his feeling of being both an entitled insider and a displaced outsider in four countries: India, Sri Lanka, Britain and Israel. All four poets had begun to publish their poetry in Britain or the USA during the Cold War: they displayed a sophisticated understanding of the writer's role in the twentieth century's entangled cultural processes; of the complicities and confrontations that relate literature to politics and history.
Through their choices of location and strategy as writers, they recognised the circulation of authority, influence and ideas between the former imperial centres and the formerly colonised world. They also demonstrated an awareness of emergent crises in the regional theatres of the postcolonial world, extending their writerly practices in diverse ways to address these. Ezekiel dedicated himself to such conceptions as world citizenship as an antidote to parochial nationalism, and to modernity as a self- renewing project for the individual and the community, rather than a programme enacted by a dirigiste nation-state. Ramanujan's practice as a translator was oriented towards retrieving, and leaking elegantly into the present, abundant cultural resources Consigned to the obscurity of classical libraries or confined to religious lineages. For Jussawalla, translation became a means of generating dialogue among linguistic and literary universes that otherwise regarded one another with mutual suspicion if not antagonism. With Moraes, international reportage served as a device to probe the disquietudes and struggles of that vast, turbulent swathe of the planet that we would today call the global South.
The poet and cultural theorist Amit Chaudhuri (2008) conveys, memorably, the self-assurance of these Anglophone Indian poets, and their organic, visceral, unanxious ownership of their language of expression:
The peculiar excitement of the poetry that Ramanujan, Arvind Mehrotra or Dom Moraes (to take only three examples) wrote in the 1960s and 1970s derived not so much from their, to use Rushdie's word, 'chutnification' of the language, but, in part, from the way they used ordinary English words like 'door', 'window', 'bus', 'doctor', 'dentist', 'station', to suggest a way of life ... The poets I have mentioned appeared to make no .overt attempts to 'appropriate' or 'subvert' the language, because the English language was already theirs, linked not so much to the coloniser as to their sense of self and history; these poets' use of language had less to do with the coloniser than with modern Indians' exploration, and rewriting, of themselves.
Ezekiel and Ramanujan negotiated fluidly between their Indian and Western lives, while Jussawalla has continued to wrestle with the productive as well as the disruptive aspects of this dual belonging. Moraes, however, was unique in having led, in succession, two mutually exclusive literary lives in two different countries. He was active in the British literary context during the 1950s and 1960s, publishing as a British poet of Indian origin. Subsequently, after a long absence from Britain, India and poetry, he became active on the Indian literary scene during the 1980s and 1990s; although local observers were slow to accept him in his transitional avatar, as a poet finding anchorage in India yet continuing to carry a UK passport. In addition to being a poet, Moraes was also a prodigious writer of diverse kinds of prose: an outcome of his decision, made early in life, to be an independent writer. Except during the relatively brief periods when he occupied senior editorial positions at a newspaper or a magazine, or was commissioned to work on research and writing projects by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, he kept up a seemingly indefatigable output of essays, travel books, newspaper columns, front-line reportage from conflict zones, biographies, collections of interviews, translations and scripts for documentaries.
Moraes also published three memoirs written at the ages, respectively, of twenty-two, thirty and fifty-four. These autobiographical writings are luminous examples of their genre; they are, by turns, reflective, candid, playful and melancholic. His main subjects as a memoirist are his long poetic silence following early success, the tension between the writer's professional life and the demands of family life, his troubled relationship with his mother, and his inability to call any place home for an appreciable length of time.
Miraculously, despite the widespread feeling among literary commentators that Moraes had neglected his poetic gift for the workaday prose which a freelance writer must turn out to survive he produced a rich, complex and considerable body of poetry between 1954 and 2004. Such an achievement is all the more remarkable because this fifty-year period included a seventeen- year hiatus during which he wrote little poetry. Moraes's Collected Poems 1954-2004, which appeared a few weeks after his death in June 2004, included 190 poems. These had been culled from the nine collections of his poetry that had been published in the UK, the USA and India, as well as from a privately printed booklet; the last section of the volume comprised a set of new poems. For the present edition, which is the first book-length editorial selection of Moraes's poetry, I have chosen eighty poems from this corpus, representing every phase and tendency of its author's five-decade-long record of poetic activity. Naturally, the emphasis does not fall equally upon every phase and tendency, for reasons that I shall make clear in the course of this introduction.
I have six primary objectives in making this selection. First, I would like to present a corrective to the image of Moraes that has been perpetuated by a number of critics and anthologists. He was often regarded as a belated Romantic or Pre-Raphaelite adrift among the modernists, a nostalgist and fantasist whose lyrics are redolent of childhood dream, fairy tale and Arthurian romance. Or he was written off as a decadent who had surrendered before the ruinous temptations of la vie Bohime, viewing life through a whisky haze in the interval between one rumpled bed and another. This, the better-known Moraes, is more precisely the young poet who had quickly earned himself a place in the emergent post-World War 11 British cultural scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s. If his virtuoso gifts of prosody and easy mastery of the cadences as well as the traditional resources of English poetry gave him a passport into that scene, his membership was guaranteed by his personal charisma and his enthusiastic participation in the life of the literary pubs, salons and journals of the time.
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