Confessionalism in the Poetry of Kamala Das – Samarendra Kumar Nayak, Odisha

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kamala-dasIn the Second half of the twentieth Century a group of American poets started writing on a highly subjective matter.  Expression of personality without escape bloomed in the poems.  The emotional content appears personal rather than impersonal.  In the narrative content the protagonist seems to be unbalanced, afflicted or alienated.  This group of poets includes Robert Lowell, John Barry man, W.D. Snodgrass, Theodore Roethke, Anne sexton and Sylvia Plath to establish the confessional pattern in poetry.  The new poets in India writing in English initiated their voice in poetry in a manner that resembled with that pattern.  They used the ‘self’ as a poetic symbol around which hover a personal mythology.  Among them Kamala Das excels the position.  She started writing in open from and in open language.  Her poetry especially displays moral courage with anti establishment in content and alienation in common theme.

          Kamala Das is a revolutionary poet who started the trend towards frankness and candor in the treatment of a subject which was almost taboo and which women poets particularly hesitated to deal with.  She is thus a trend setter and the trend started by her has now become almost vogue.  She has criticized the tradition bound conservative society which of course, was always harsh on her unconventional lifestyle.  One think is sure; she is far ahead of many Indian writers in her ideas, unconcerned about what others think of her.  Her poetry highlights the miseries of forlorn women and the treatment meted out to her in a male dominated society.  Controversies became the constant companion of her poetic achievements.  The candid disclosure of her personal life in her poetry gave opportunity to critics to label her poetry as “erotic” and “sexy”.  Her love poetry is unconventional and shocking to the orthodox conservative community because of her frank and uninhibited treatment of sexual love and the human body.  Most of her poems are based on the theme of love, amorousness and sexuality.  The female persona in her poems yearns for pleasures and emotional warmth beyond sexual gratification.

                             ………Can’t this man with

                        Nimble finger – tips unleash

                        Nothing more alive than the

                        Skin’s lazy hungers.

                                                (“The Freaks”)

            Kamala Das thought herself to be one of the victims of the prevalent orthodox attitude towards Indian women and of male domination over them.  Having personally experienced what see thought to be her husband’s ill treatment of her and of his cruel neglect of her feminine needs, she could not help giving vent to her grievances in her poems.  She expresses the vehemence of her emotions and her resentments.  She made her poetry a vehicle for the expression of resentments against her husband and subsequently her grievances against all males because of her sad and bitter experience of her indiscriminant sexual relationships with a large number of men.  She strives to establish her identity as a woman through her poems, and she, in fact, tried also to impact an identity to Indian women as a neglected class of Indian society.  She writes:

                        You let me use my youth like coins

                        Into various hands, you let me mate with shadows,

                        You late me sing in empty shrines, you late your wife

                        Seek ecstasy in others’ arms.

                                                                                    (“A man is a season”).

            The poem “Glass” states clearly that finding no emotional identity or satisfaction with her man, Kamala is driven into others’ arms :

                        I enter others

                        Lives, and

                        Make of every trap of lust

                        A temporary home.

As a confessional poet, she mostly confines herself to the reasons of her own experience.  By show doing she becomes very frank and honest, close and intimate, in her details.  He hardly ever writes about ‘old, unhappy, far-off things’, as words worth and his band of followers did.  That’s why ‘confessional’ poetry sounds so appealing and so convincing.  The poet’s failure in love is displayed clearly in the poem in “My Grandmother’s House”.  That is:

            I who have lost

            My way and beg now at strangers’ doors to

            Receive love, at least in small change?

            As Kamala Das is devoid of getting emotional attachment from her husband, that’s why she keeps relationship with many unknown person to get pure love.  Such a confessional attitude of Kamala Das has heightened her universal appeal.

   Her hollow marital relationship comes under fire in the poem “Captive” :

                        My love is an empty gift, a glided

                        Empty container, good for show nothing else.

“Composition” brings to the fore rottenness of her body and the uselessness of her love pranks.  In it she states:

                        To be frank

                        I have failed.

                        I fill my age and my

                        Uselessness.

Kamala Das was totally dissatisfied in her marital life, as she was deprived of getting love and affection, so she expresses her view in a melancholic condition.  In the poem “The Old Play House”, we find her depressed psychology.  That is:

                                    There is

                                    No more singing, no more a dance, my mind is an old

                                    Play house with all its lights put out.

                                                                                                (“The Old Play House”)

When the light of love is put out, an encircling gloom pervades the mine.  This happens usually with a sharp, sensitive person like Kamala Das.  Kamala Das has written quite a few poems on decay, disease and death.  Many poems like “winter”, “The End of spring”, “A Relationship”, “A Request”, “The Suicide” and “Palam” etc.  The poem “Too Early the Autumn Sights” signifies early decay and subsequent cheerlessness of the poetess:

                        Too early the Autumn Sights

                        Have come, too soon my lips

                        Have lost their hunger, too soon

                        The singing birds have

                        Left.

In the poem “The Suicide”, the poetess expresses her desire to die when she is unable to find true love.  She says:

                        O Sea, I am fed up

                        I want to be simple

                        I want to be loved

                        And

                        If love is not to be had,

                        I want to be dead …….

“Palam” is another poem dominated by the thought of decay and death :

                        Walk-off from me into lonely night

                        With my finger-prints on you,

                        My darling, go, while like

                        Blood

                        Running out.

And death beginning, this day of ours is helplessly ending.

In the end, Kamala Das is a typical ‘confessional’ poet who pours her very heart into her poetry.  She is largely subjective and auto-biographical, anguished and tortured, letting us peep into her sufferings and tortured psyche.  Thanks to her that a reliable poetic voice has been heard in contemporary indo-English verse at long last.

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