Arun Kolatkar (1931-2004) was one of India's greatest modern poets. He wrote prolifically, in both Marathi and English, publishing in magazines and anthologies from 1955, but did not bring out a book of poems until he was 44. Jejuri (1976) won him the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and was later published in the US in the NYRB Classics series (2005). His third Marathi publication, Bhijki Vahi, won a Sahitya Akademi Award in 2004.
Always hesitant about publishing his work, Kolatkar waited until 2004, when he knew he was dying from cancer, before bringing out two further books, Kala Ghoda Poems and Sarpa Satra. A posthumous selection, The Boatride and Other Poems (2008), edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, contained his previous uncollected English poems as well as translations of his Marathi poems; among the book's surprises were his translations of bhakti poetry, song lyrics, and a long love poem, the only one he wrote, cleverly disguised as light verse. This first Collected Poems in English brings together work from all those volumes.
Jejuri offers a rich description of India while at the same time performing a complex act of devotion, discovering the divine trace in a degenerate world. Salman Rushdie called it 'sprightly, clear-sighted, deeply felt…a modern classic'. For Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, it was 'among the finest single poems written in India in the last forty years…it surprises by revealing the familiar, the hidden that is always before us'. Jeet Thayil attributed its popularity in India to 'the Kolatkarean voice: unhurried, lit with whimsy, unpretentious even when making learned literary or mythological allusions. And whatever the poet’s eye alights on – particularly the odd, the misshapen, and the famished – receives the gift of close attention.'
'My discovery of the year arrived from India, in Collected Poems in English by Arun Kolatkar. Sublime and satirical, comic and visionary by turns, close to the gutter but looking at the stars, Kolatkar over many years became a Bombay bard to march, or outperform, the city's novelists. Any reader of Midnight's Children, and of its tribe of fictional children, should get to know Kolatkar too' - Boyd Tonkin, Independent
'The best new discovery of the season is… Collected Poems in English by Arun Kolatkar, one of the great poets of post-war India… The poetry is utterly fearless. No topic is out of bounds… What is so delightfully unexpected, always, is his angle of attack. You can never quite prejudge how he will view the odd, improverished particularities of the topsy-turvy world that he studies with such care and irreverent fondness' - Michael Glover, The Tablet
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