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This is a review of the poetry collection of Sri Vegunta Mohan Prasad

Poetry with a difference.

Sandhya Bhasha (language of the evening) Collection of poems

By Vegunta Mohanaprasad.

Mohanaprasad popularly known as “Mo” in Telugu poetry circles is known for his unusual style of expression. The present collection of poems falls in line. Though complexity in poetry is not an invention of the poet under review, he has introduced it into Telugu and perfected it to a level where people started imitating him. They say the best form of flattery is imitation. That says it all.

In an article appended to the collection under review B.Tirupati Rao dealt extensively with the content of one of the earlier collection by name ‘ Punarapi’. There he identified the pet theme of the poet, rural nostalgia. Rural nostalgia, or the poet’s passion for the things from his days in the village continues in this collection too. Look at what he has got to say about the bye-gone life. He is nostalgic like anybody else is. The difference is in the expression of the same.

After an acre started costing a lakh and half,

After I long ago sold my child hood,

I have now become a quarter of a rupee or a half of that,

He then goes on referring to an age-old Hindi movie, an old movie star and then says that the lentil soup in him boils like Scotch whisky. It is so good to read, but what does it all mean? You have to become one with the poet to understand. Not that it is impossible. It is for sure difficult. That is Mohanaprasad for you. (To try translating his poem is to try touching the sky. You are already doing it and you can never do it!!)

At the end of the collection there is a set of poems, under a sub title “ Appeals”. These and certain other poems in the collection with their cocktail colors, stun the readers, chide and challenge them to make out the mind of the poet. You can never read Mo’s poetry. You have to study it. Enjoy them if only you can. Mo the apostle of novelty to other poets remains an enigma to the general reader at least in this section. He wants to be different. He is different. He is successful

Read the piece by Tirupati Rao added in the beginning of the collection, and you will understand the position that Mo commands in the field of Telugu poetry. One will not be noticed if it is a face in the crowd. One has to be different. Different to the extent that people are forced to notice you. Mo did exactly that and hence has a place for himself. His poetry is good to read if you are serious about poetry. There is already a notion that unlike short story and novel, poetry is read only by poets and perhaps also understood only by them. SriSri, the doyen of Modern Telugu poetry, said that poetry moves by itself and also moves you. Mo with his innovative style will shake you out of slumber. His expression, the unconventional use of words, word pictures are his tools. Poetry as such, means, exercising the brains a little to get into the world of the poet. With Mo this exercise is a journey into the realm of unknown.

It is said, that if you paint a word picture through a poem, the product is not really poetic. Poem after all is something with it’s own form. It is a highly personalised statement that a poet is making. It is the poet's assertion of innerness, of mind, and psyche. At a time when innerness is churned by nearly all aspects of lifestyle the expressions becomes more pronounced and alien to the reader than the usual festival poetry. Innerness refuses to be a straight statement like that of a schoolteacher. Innerness refuses to speak up at a Kavisammelan. Innerness demands that the reader slow down, take the time, pay attention to understand what is told there. Innerness demands that the reader's attentiveness be equal to the attentiveness of the poet and the attentiveness of the poem. On the surface it may look like confusion if you do not really pay the necessary attention. Become one with the poet and you will start seeing the order in the apparent chaos. This is for sure a tall order for the common reader because even the usual kind of poetry goes much above the head. Mo is a firm believer in this philosophy and hence is called ‘most radically innovative poet’.

Mo is an English language teacher. In the poem cited earlier he makes do with a Hindi film and an actor who are not really known to the present generation. In all his other poems, his acquaintance with the western literature, mythology and other aspects of western life appears, perhaps without his own knowledge. This makes things further confusing for the common reader. A very familiar Telugu word is used in a recognisably altered form. It is evident that he does it intentionally. He wants the reader to read the particular work and not the others, at least not until the reader has absorbed the one in hand. He uses the title to grab attention and usually entices the reader in and down the page. There are a few poems and a few lines, which can go in any other poet’s collection. For example when he says, “ all the arms are meant to be used on only the help less” he is on par with any other poet and not his own self. The moment he realises what has happened his highly individualised stamp comes back.

There is complexity and there is also the obscurity. The line between the two is rather thin. There has been some serious discussion in Telugu poetry about obscurity. Obscurity results in confusion. One can get away with a fair amount of complexity and still have the poem resonate with the listener or the reader, if the poem remains emotionally coherent, if the arc of the poem is clear. The listener or reader may not grasp the poem in its intricacies, but they will have a direct knowledge of it, an understanding that is emotional and tactile rather than intellectual. Mohanaprasad is successful in carrying the reader with him as always in the present collection too.

This review was published in Indian Literature 2003


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