Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
When Mirrors Are WindowsA View of A.K. Ramanujan's Poetics$

Guillermo Rodríguez

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199463602

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199463602.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2017. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 23 May 2017

(p.378) Appendix 1

(p.378) Appendix 1

Primary Sources for a Study of A.K. Ramanujan’s Poetics

When Mirrors Are Windows

Guillermo Rodríguez

Oxford University Press

(p.378) Appendix 1

Primary Sources for a Study of A.K. Ramanujan’s Poetics

General Overview of A.K. Ramanujan’s Works in English

A descriptive classification of the texts1 that have been analysed in this book will allow the reader to appreciate the range of AKR’s work. It may also be of interest to those who wish to get acquainted with the author’s lesser known publications and the unpublished writings in the AKR Papers that are kept at the University of Chicago. The primary sources that are classified in this appendix cover miscellaneous material, disciplines, and topics that are relevant to an understanding of AKR’s aesthetics and poetics. For several reasons, the process of delimiting and selecting material to this purpose is not devoid of technical problems. First, it is the first time that the published material is scrutinized alongside the unpublished sources in the Papers for a study of this kind. Primary texts on a particular subject have to be recognized out of a vast amount of material in the Papers and many of the manuscripts are undated. Second, the body of texts comprises diverse genres (prose, poetry, letters, and interviews) and a large part of it is thematically wide-ranging and so interdisciplinary in nature that it challenges any definitive classification. Certain writings that at first sight do not appear to be of particular significance to the writer’s ideas on poetry may reveal, after closer scrutiny, unexpected nuances of his aesthetic sensibility. And as to the poems that might be identified as meta-poems or poems on poetry, there can only be a tentative list for the reason that many of the drafts and ‘final’ compositions, in effect, all of the poetry, could be said to reflect (on) the condition of being a poet and the creative act of writing poetry. The present compilation of primary sources is, therefore, an open inventory since all of AKR’s (p.379) work comes out of the same creative mind and oblique view of life that defines the poet.

While AKR wrote and published (essays, poetry, and tales) mostly in the English father tongue, he was also a creative writer (of poetry, plays, proverbs, and fiction) in the Kannada mother tongue, and for many years worked with Dravidian languages, mainly medieval and modern Kannada, classical and medieval Tamil, and, to some extent, modern Tamil and Malayalam. In the present classification of texts pertinent to AKR’s poetic universe, I have accounted only for sources in English or those translated into English. This primary material is ordered according to genre into prose writings, poems, and interviews, and the prose works are further divided into scholarly and private writings. All textual sources are identified as published or unpublished pieces. The description follows mainly a chronological order, and in the case of the prose the main themes are also pinpointed.

Published Material

The first category of primary sources is the published material, which comprises a substantial part of the author’s finished prose pieces and poems as well as interviews. Most of the prose and poetry is included in the three collections published posthumously by Oxford University Press: The Collected Poems (1995), The Collected Essays (1999), and Uncollected Poems and Prose (2001).2 Apart from the collected poems and prose writings, there are also the famous introductions, afterwords, forewords, and notes to AKR’s books of translations, namely, The Interior Landscape (1967), Speaking of Siva (1973), Hymns for the Drowning (1981), and Poems of Love and War (1985). In 2004, these translation volumes were published by Oxford India along with AKR’s previously edited poetry collections in English (1995 and 2001) in an omnibus collection titled The Oxford India Ramanujan. Two years later, Oxford University Press brought out a collection of his Kannada works which was the last in the series of posthumous AKR books. Poems and a Novella (2006) included translations into English by Tonse N.K. Raju and Shouri (Molly) Daniels-Ramanujan of his three Kannada poetry collections: No Lotus in the Navel (Hokkulalli Hoovilla, 1969), And Other Poems (Mattu Itara Padyagalu, 1977), and Hopscotch (Kuntobille, 1990), and of the novella Someone Else’s Autobiography (Matthobhana Atmacharitre, 1978). A few uncollected essays and early poems in English, and a handful of poetry translations from Kannada (p.380) and Tamil, along with several uncollected pieces of fiction and poems in Kannada translated by others, make up the remaining published primary sources available in English. Altogether, the earliest publication of original material in English dates from 1955 and the latest is from 2001.3 Except for material published in the 1950s and a few of the interviews and newspaper articles, most of the published sources in English are available online or at specialized libraries and research centres.

The main difficulty that the published primary sources pose to the researcher of AKR’s poetics is the lack of published prose that deals explicitly with his views on poetry as a contemporary poet. Although many of the essays deal with poetic traditions as a scholar and translator, there are no substantial commentaries on the art of writing (contemporary) poetry, nor are there any critical articles or artistic manifestos that could a priori be considered to describe his ‘poetic theory’. The majority of these essays and lectures delve into the repository of Indian folklore and south-Indian poetic traditions that AKR introduced to Western scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s. They cover mainly Tamil classical literature, Tamil and Kannada medieval mystic poetry, and popular oral traditions, but leave aside general discussions on art and poetry. Thus, we have a somewhat paradoxical situation. AKR was widely recognized as an essayist and commentator of Indian literary traditions, but unlike other reputed Indian poets of his generation writing in English (such as Nissim Ezekiel, R. Parthasarathy, or K.N. Daruwalla), he did not openly formulate his ideas on contemporary poetry and poetics in any of his published writings. Nor did he contribute articles or essays on contemporary IPE (and its critical scene) to journals or edited volumes in India or the USA, as a good number of his fellow poets in India did. I have been able to trace only one uncollected published essay that deals with contemporary Indian poetry as a monographic topic of discussion, and this short article has remained largely unnoticed.4 What is more, AKR was no friend of abstract ideas in discussions about poetry writing or particular poets. He often shunned direct critical value judgements or overt generalization and preferred indirect allusion and oblique statements, particularly when it came to describing his own poetry and that of other contemporary poets. Even in some of the published interviews, he appears uncomfortable with these issues and each comment on his poetics and connected topics is carefully worded. This reluctance to give away gratuitous information conforms as much to (p.381) his modesty as a poet as to his predilection for understatement and minimum redundancy. It was part of AKR’s way to avoid statements on his poetry in order to let the poetic work stand by itself. He wanted his ideas to be suggested by the poems rather than stated. In any case, the more than a dozen interviews published in the USA and India throughout the years must be acknowledged as rare valuable sources on his personal poetics and related biographical issues.

AKR’s published essays are brilliant scholarly papers and are almost entirely dedicated to Indian cultural systems and literatures (classical and medieval poetry, and folk traditions), comparative literature, linguistics, and general cultural studies. Some of the pieces seem quite simple at a first reading, but contain, in fact, carefully constructed arguments that rely strongly on quotation, description, repetition, and suggestion. Therefore, AKR’s ideas on poetry and aesthetics have to be abstracted from the scholarly comments on the various poetic and aesthetic concepts and traditions he was so deeply involved with in his professional career, and which are endorsed in these essays. At the same time, the descriptive analysis of poems, poetic styles, techniques, and poetics belonging to different Indian literary traditions and periods also offer important clues to AKR’s poetics. Except for his rare piece on the modern Tamil poet Subramania Bharati5 and the essays that introduce the reader to Tamil and bhakti poetics, few of the published essays are on a single poetic or aesthetic tradition. Rather, AKR had a tendency to let the essay(s) operate in an intertextual and interdisciplinary mode of ‘reflections’ (see the section ‘Quarrelling Relations: Towards an Appropriate Metalanguage’ in Chapter 2) through various literary genres and cultural systems. The structure of some of the essays deserves attention as it sometimes throws more light on the author’s poetic thinking than specific commentaries. Many of the essays read like anthologies of quotations and poems. They integrate aesthetic and poetic ‘samples’ which work by semiotic extension, analogy, allusion, variation, and repetition moving through different contexts and pre-texts, thus achieving an effect that is closer to poetic recitation and dramatic play than to the rational exposition of a monological voice.

Unpublished Material from the A.K. Ramanujan Papers

After his untimely death during an operation at a Chicago hospital, AKR’s papers and other documents were handed over to the (p.382) Department of Special Collections at the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago by AKR’s ex-wife, Molly A. Daniels, in June 1994. They were first kept in 21 books and could be accessed, but no completed research aid and inventory was available to the researcher, only a ‘preliminary inventory’. About 15 years later, the AKR Papers were meticulously classified and stored in 71 smaller boxes, the contents listed in a detailed ‘Guide to the A.K. Ramanujan Papers 1944–1995’ published online in 2010.6 This guide classifies the material into biographical (series I), correspondence (series II), teaching material (series III), research, translation, and writings (series IV), personal correspondence, diaries, and artefacts (series V), audiovisual and digital material (series VI), oversized material (series VII), and restricted student-related material (series VIII, restricted for 80 years). Series VI is further divided into the following seven subseries: essays and articles, linguistics, folklore, verse, fiction, notes, and writings by others. The material in the series and subseries is classified thematically and identified by box numbers and folder numbers. Since my research on the Papers was carried out when the collection had not yet been processed and divided into the present series and subseries, when citing material from the Papers in this book, I do not identify the box and folder numbers.

Although AKR was a trilingual speaker (English, Kannada, Tamil), and bilingual writer (English, Kannada), the majority of his writings contained in the Papers is in English. This shows that ever since he was a college student and lecturer in English in India, the English language served as AKR’s main intellectual medium of expression. AKR taught, wrote, and probably thought (as we can infer from his diaries) primarily in English, at least since the late 1940s. The Papers also hold original material in the south-Indian mother languages, that is, Tamil and especially Kannada. Other than AKR’s Kannada works translated into English by others, the original material in Kannada has not been included in the present analysis, which is concerned with his writings in English. Kannada remained throughout his life a very precious literary language. His Kannada writings published from 1955 to 1990 (three collections of poetry, a collection of proverbs, short stories, one novella, and several radio plays from 1955 to 1990) bear witness to his unrelenting creativity in that mother tongue.7 The Kannada corpus in the AKR collection at the University of Chicago consists mainly of plays, short stories, translations, original poetry, and his field notes in folklore.

(p.383) For an exhaustive overview of AKR’s life and work, one would have to consider also the writings that the author may have left behind in India when he departed to the USA on a Fulbright scholarship in 1959. It cannot be determined with certainty if AKR’s entire early writings have been stored in the Papers, but it is perhaps safe to assume that the author had gradually relocated all valuable material to his permanent base in the USA, for it was his habit to keep a record of all his drafts, fieldwork material, and private writings. After AKR’s demise, most of this material must have been included in the collection of Papers that were handed over to the Regenstein Library. Apart from the available interviews, some of the most revealing observations on creativity and poetry appear in private prose (journals, diaries and drafts, or copies of letters) and in some unpublished papers, drafts of essays, and lecture notes, all kept in the AKR Papers. All in all, the Papers provide an exceptional opportunity to gain new insights into undisclosed areas of AKR’s poetic theory and practice, allowing for a comprehensive analysis of his private thoughts on art and poetry and of the creative process behind the making and publishing of his poems in English. The Papers, thus, light up and complement the commonly accessible texts in the published sources, which offer only a one-sided perspective of AKR’s poetic and aesthetics.

Descriptive Classification of the Primary Sources


The first type of material that is described in this classification is AKR’s prose in English which includes scholarly and private writings.8 We begin by looking at the multidisciplinary scholarly prose that is available as published and unpublished material, before moving on to the private diaries and notes, which are all unpublished.

AKR was one of the most reputed Indian scholars of the second half of the twentieth century. In his academic career, which, in spite of its abrupt ending, extended over 40 years, he moved progressively through several disciplines. As a transcultural teacher, scholar, and creative writer, he was comfortable in diverse intellectual traditions, feeling simultaneously at home in the ‘Indian’ and ‘Western’, ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’, ‘scientific’ and ‘artistic’ mould. The frequent criss-crossing between countries, languages, and miscellaneous fields of interest kept his complex identity alive. In (p.384) his prose writings, he kept a life-long allegiance to two of his earliest personal interests—poetry and folklore. AKR was since teenage fascinated by oral narrative traditions9 and medieval bhakti poetry, and later, as a young scholar in the USA, discovered for himself and for a good part of Western scholarship the treasure house of classical Tamil Sangam aesthetics and poetics. He analysed these traditions from innovative angles as his own academic toolbox expanded to accommodate new systems of analysis and thought over the years. He typically worked on several parallel projects at the same time and in several disciplines and languages. His work as an essayist, therefore, cannot be separated from his occupation as a lecturer and teacher. From the 1950s till 1993, AKR taught at over 15 universities in India and the USA. At the University of Chicago alone, where he lectured from 1961 till the end of his career, he had teaching assignments at four different departments. He was the William E. Colvin Professor at the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the Department of Linguistics, a member of the Committee on Social Thought, where he taught mostly English and American literature, and a member of the Department of Anthropology, and also lectured at The College.

When we regard AKR’s entire academic output, we soon realize that he was a miscellaneous, but not overly prolific scholar-writer. He was known to constantly rework his ideas, and published material only after having carefully revised it, albeit with oft-regretted intermittence. It also needs to be stressed that in almost all of his papers, articles, and essays, he kept a focus both on poetic as well as scientific discipline. He confessed that he inherited this ‘double allegiance’ to both science and poetry early from his father, who was a mathematician with an equal interest in astronomy and astrology (see the section ‘First 30 Years in India’ in Chapter 3).

The major courses or subject areas AKR lectured on were English and American literature, Dravidian and general linguistics, structural anthropology, semiotics, poetry and creative writing, translation, Indian literatures (classical, medieval, and oral), Indian civilization and mythology, comparative literature and theory, and psychology. All these academic fields also informed much of his work as a writer of scholarly papers and essays. It can be quickly discerned after scrutinizing the main topics in his scholarly prose, that poetry, translation, and folklore occupied the centre stage of his intellectual (p.385) universe, and were also the disciplines he was most engaged with in the latter part of his life.

The fact that he was concerned with such a wide range of topics, both as an academic scholar and teacher, certainly had an impact on his habit of revising his intellectual and scientific agenda. For, just as academic syllabi, especially at American universities, is periodically updated and interrogated in the light of new academic guidelines and theoretical inputs, so too the conscientious professor may revise his/her academic leanings and shift to different subjects or courses for a period of time to avoid intellectual ‘burnout’. AKR moved back and forth between several intellectual domains and often amended both the content and style of his papers, sometimes dozens of times, as he refreshed or realigned his point of view, in a constant dialogue with his writings and himself. And so, many of the topics, samples, and examples put forward in his scholarly prose reappear in a variorum of forms and ideas throughout his career. Writings typically overlap, complement, or echo one another. Sometimes entire essays coexist in different versions as he reworked them towards a ‘finished’ version. The publishing process of the papers also partly accounts for this. A major bulk of the prose writings were first delivered as lectures in India, Europe, or the USA, then published as conference proceedings or in leading literary or cultural journals, sometimes republished in edited book volumes, and finally collected in the posthumous books.

Considering the heterogeneous nature of the material, the task of identifying and classifying published and unpublished scholarly prose pieces on the basis of the author’s aesthetic and poetics is a complex undertaking which also entails a novel approach to AKR’s prose work. Though it is far from being conceptual and abstract, AKR’s prose is dense in ideas, interdisciplinary in methodology, and usually multilayered in meaning. In the essays and papers it is, therefore, not always unproblematic to single out a particular theme. It was characteristic of AKR to explore themes simultaneously at several planes of argumentation and from various perspectives. He presented particular topics by posing multiple questions and engaging the reader in a dialogue of ideas, prose texts, poems, and other texts. In this manner, he probed into the particularities of literary texts as well as their shareholding with other literary works. His anthological essays, rather than reaching a conclusion, are presented as a process that aims to stimulate the imagination and evoke an intellectual (p.386) response through illustration and suggestion.10 Even in some of the monographic essays, AKR moves across a variety of material and takes deliberate sidesteps into contiguous topics.

Published Scholarly Prose

The Collected Essays (1999)

The Collected Essays of A.K. Ramanujan (or CE) was published in 1999 by Oxford University Press. Vinay Dharwadker,11 a former student and disciple of AKR at the University of Chicago, who also collaborated in the publication of the posthumous The Collected Poems of A.K. Ramanujan (1995), served as the general editor of CE published six years after AKR’s death. The time gap may be indicative of the difficulties involved in classifying and revising all the finished and unfinished essay pieces that AKR had left behind. Dharwadker undertook this commendable editorial task with great expertise and also coordinated the work of seven other AKR colleagues and friends who contributed in one way or another to this publication. According to Dharwadker, AKR had intended in his later years to arrange 35 essays into a possible volume of collected essays. From the notes in the AKR Papers, we can infer that the author had played with several possible titles for such a collection of miscellaneous essays. The posthumously published CE, allegedly put together on the basis of AKR’s notes, contains altogether 30 essays, ‘all the finished scholarly pieces … that he had contemplated including in such a volume’.12 It includes the last versions of 26 published essays and four previously unpublished lectures and drafts of essays.

The collection purposely leaves out the essays that appeared as afterwords or introductions in AKR’s five books of translations, his collections of folktales, and the co-edited works as well as papers and essays on technical linguistics, and the two prose pieces later published in the Uncollected Poems and Prose.13 However, the general editor does not account for the exclusion of a few other published and unpublished papers on Indian literature and culture, such as the seminal essay ‘Parables and Commonplaces’ (1983) as well as some early essays and articles that were not incorporated in any of the two posthumous collections. The 30 essays in CE are divided into four sections, ‘Literature and Culture’, Classical Literatures’, ‘Bhakti and Modern Poetry’, and ‘Folklore’, with introductions by Wendy (p.387) Doniger, Vinay Dharwadker, John B. Carman, and (jointly) Stuart Blackburn and Alan Dundes. The first three sections contain six essays each and the fourth on folklore altogether 12. These sections are preceded by the preface of the general editor and by two tributes, one by the late Milton B. Singer, and the other by Edward C. Dimock and AKR’s son Krishna. The essays have been carefully annotated with Dharwadker’s comments on the identity of the copy texts, and with the original notes and references by AKR in uniform format at the end of the volume. An additional ‘Chronology of Select Books and Essays’ compiled by the editor traces the dates of presentation of papers and lectures, and the publication of essays, which helps the reader in following the evolution and recurrence of certain themes in AKR’s work, while it also indicates his habit of revising and reutilizing material.14

Uncollected Poems And Prose (2001)

The slender volume titled Uncollected Poems and Prose: A.K. Ramanujan, published by Oxford University Press in 2001 under the joint editorship of Molly Daniels-Ramanujan and poet Keith Harrison, brought to light for the first time two prose pieces, ‘The Ring of Memory: Remembering and Forgetting in Indian Literature’, probably the last essay AKR drafted, and the short eulogy ‘For Barbara Miller’, which he wrote two months before his death. The essay on ‘memory’ in this sparse collection of miscellaneous material had to wait eight years for three other posthumous AKR books to be published first.15 Unlike the two posthumous collections (The Collected Poems and CE) introduced and prefaced by Vinay Dharwadker, this volume unfortunately does not offer an introductory commentary by the editors describing the selection of the material, its arrangement, and the process behind its inclusion in the book, which would have been a valuable addition for students and researchers of AKR’s work. For unaccounted reasons, only his late writings (prose and poetry) of the 1990s were considered fit for publication in this volume of uncollected material.16 Nevertheless, ‘The Ring of Memory’, an unfinished essay or lecture text on the role of ‘memory’ in Kalidasa’s classical play Sakuntala (fifth century AD) and in other Indian narrative and poetic traditions, is an insightful paper that touches on important issues pertaining to aesthetic perception and experience.17

(p.388) Other Uncollected Published Essays and Articles

Half a dozen miscellaneous essays and articles on classical Indian poetry, Indian and American contemporary poetry, and Indian studies in the USA, published between 1955 and 2001, were omitted in the two posthumous collections.18 For editorial reasons, they may have been excluded from The Collected Essays since most of these uncollected pieces are not as continuous (in topic matter, style, tone, and discipline) with his other scholarly prose as could have been desired for a compact edition of collected essays. But some of this material could surely have found a place in a volume of ‘uncollected prose’ such as Uncollected Poems and Prose. Besides these scholarly essays and articles, there is among the uncollected published prose a unique short piece titled ‘A.K. Ramanujan Writes …’,19 published by the Poetry Book Society in London in 1966 after his collection of poetry, The Striders, received the society’s recommendation. This article contains interesting comments on the poetic traditions that influenced AKR at that time, and reveals interesting clues about his first collection of poems. The colloquial style and content of this write-up in fact bring it closer to the interviews than to the scholarly prose classified here.

Three uncollected essays—‘Notes on Walt Whitman’, ‘Indian Poetics’, and ‘On Contemporary Indian Poetry’—are of particular significance to our study for they cover poets and poetic traditions that are not discussed at length in the collected essays, that is, the American poet Walt Whitman, classical Sanskrit poetics, and contemporary Indian poetry. ‘Notes on Walt Whitman’ (1955),20 AKR’s first essay published in India, exposes his early interest in a poet he had read avidly as a student and later taught at Indian colleges as a lecturer of English literature in the 1950s. On the other hand, the essay ‘Indian Poetics’ (1974), co-authored with the American Sanskrit scholar Edwin Gerow, is AKR’s only published piece on classical Sanskrit poetics.21 This interesting essay explains a number of seminal concepts from Sanskrit aesthetics and poetics that caught AKR’s critical attention, and brings up parallel examples from Western linguistics and drama (de Saussure, Shakespeare, Stanislavski, and others). AKR wrote only the ‘Overview’ of this essay and a section titled ‘Dramatic Criticism’, altogether six pages in a twenty-eight-page essay, but the piece stands out as his only published commentary on classical Sanskrit literary theory. Elsewhere in his prose work, AKR did only tangentially deal (p.389) with Sanskrit poetics for contrastive purposes with other Indian traditions. The prose by AKR in this introductory essay on Indian poetics is drawn from a longer unpublished paper, which was drafted by the author in 1964 as a lecture titled ‘Sanskrit Poetics’.22

‘On Contemporary Indian Poetry’ (1983) is a little known published article that was originally commissioned by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and appeared also as a newspaper article titled ‘Is Poetry Dead?: A Critical Look at the Indian Scene’.23 Since AKR could not complete a planned essay for the co-edited Oxford Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry published posthumously in 1994, this is one of his very few published writings that describes the network of traditions operating in contemporary Indian poets.24 Another noteworthy piece among the uncollected essays is the already cited ‘Parables and Commonplaces’, which was published in 1982 in London and not in the USA or India as was the case with most of his papers. For this reason, the essay may have been overlooked by the editors of CE. Unlike the other three uncollected prose writings mentioned earlier, this is an interdisciplinary piece in typical AKR style. It moves analogically from linguistic and cultural encounters to literary dialogue, and provides samples of transactions and differences that take place in the societies and poetics of both India and the West and are mirrored in their literatures. The essay is thus closely linked to some of the issues explored in section I of CE, ‘General Essays on Literature and Culture’. It also contains some comments on his own intercultural predicament as a poet, translator, and India-watcher in America.

A rather different uncollected paper is ‘Indian Literatures in the US 1957–1987’,25 written for a conference in 1986, but published posthumously in India in 2001. Besides surveying the history of Indian literary studies in the USA, this piece also gives some recommendations on how Indian literature should be read and experienced as an art form. As to AKR’s published grammars and linguistics papers, which draw on sociolinguistics, Jacobson’s structuralism, Chomsky’s generativism, and other linguistic schools, they are almost entirely applied to Dravidian languages and dialects.26 In these technical writings, AKR displays his peculiar skill at combining abstract linguistic concepts with meticulous scientific detail, and at observing linguistic features and typologies in a variety of social, cultural, and intra-linguistic contexts. As an interdisciplinary scholar, he was particularly interested in the way (p.390) social patterns and changes affect language, and vice versa, how language, in all its functions, can relate to non-linguistic models. AKR does not discuss poetics or the language of poetry in these linguistics papers, but some of his early unpublished papers include technical writings on linguistics applied to the study of poetry. His intense involvement with linguistics as a student, scholar, and teacher in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, and the range of his theoretical and applied research in linguistics, merit, however, closer attention, as AKR’s linguistic training permeated his other disciplines as well as his poetry writing and equipped him with a very useful scientific ‘toolbox’.

Forewords, Introductions, Notes, and Afterwords to the Collections of Translations and Folktales

AKR’s most widely read essays before the publication of CE are the well-known introductions and afterwords to his books of translations and folktale collections, which were intentionally excluded from CE by the general editor. These are not only valuable reading aids meant to contextualize or ‘translate’ the reader of his translations and folktale collections, but they also help in placing the author as a translator, poet, and poetic theorist. They are all the more precious primary sources since none of his collections of poetry in English included prose comments. The ideas in these path-breaking essays on classical Sangam, medieval bhakti poetry, and related topics overlap with the observations in the other papers on these traditions in CE. In chronological order of publication, these prose writings appeared in the five translation volumes of poetry published in 1967, 1973, 1981, and 1985, and in the collection of folktales that came out in 1991.27

The landmark book of poetry translation, The Interior Landscape, which includes 76 translations of one of the earliest surviving Tamil anthologies (the Kuruntokai of the Akam or ‘love’ genre), made classical Tamil Sangam poetry, a poetic tradition that was little known outside the Tamil-speaking area, accessible to the English-speaking reader. Speaking of Siva, a selection of free-verse lyrics in medieval Kannada, composed by four of the major Virasaiva bhakti saints of the tenth to twelfth century AD, eventually became a bestseller among publications of Indian literature translations, and managed to spawn the creativity (p.391) of artists, dancers, writers, musicians, and Indian feminists alike. Even British poet Ted Hughes is said to have been inspired by the Kannada vachanas and commented on the translated poems with great admiration.28 It took the author 10 more years to bring out another volume of translations, Hymns for the Drowning (1983), which contains poems by the Tamil saint Nammalvar (ninth to tenth century AD), the celebrated saint-poet of an earlier bhakti tradition, the Vaisnavite Alvars (sixth to ninth century AD) of the Tamil-speaking region. Hymns for the Drowning proved to be a valuable companion volume to his two earlier books and also served as a bridge work, linking the poetics of the south-Indian bhakti movement to its Tamil sources, including classical Sangam poetry. Poems of Love and War, published a little later in 1985, expands his work of translations from Tamil Sangam poetry, taken up in the early 1960s, to include other classical Tamil anthologies of both the Akam and Puram genres. The afterword of this book is without doubt the author’s most complete essay on classical Tamil Sangam poetics and its inherent eco-aesthetic cosmology.

Apart from the essays in the books of poetry translation, we also have to consider the scholarly prose in Folktales from India (1991).29 The last book published by AKR during his lifetime, this folktale collection is much more than a storehouse of entertaining stories. In the preface and introduction, AKR places India’s oral traditions within the wider network of Indian literatures and also manifests his understanding of oral tales as poetic texts. His views on texts and contexts in Indian literature laid out in the introduction go beyond the scope of oral narrative and inform us about his intertextual thinking and aesthetic perception of oral texts.

Unpublished Scholarly Prose from the A.K. Ramanujan Papers

The AKR Papers hold a large stack of drafts of essays, papers, and lecture texts, as well as numerous files with notecards and lecture material that AKR used in his classes. The drafts include early versions of published essays as well as unpublished pieces. Only hitherto unpublished and unidentified scholarly prose has been classified under this section. Prose writings that have already been identified in CE as early versions of published essays have not been taken into account.

(p.392) Unpublished Drafts of Essays, Papers, and Lectures

The AKR Papers contain about 24 unpublished drafts of typed and handwritten lectures in English that have never been cited in any previous study of AKR’s work. Some drafts are incomplete or survive only as schematic prose outlines of interconnected ideas which AKR build into his lectures and combined with poetry readings. The body of unpublished drafts of papers and lectures that are relevant to the present study can be thematically divided into nine groups: papers or lectures on poetry and the arts in general, Sanskrit aesthetics, classical Tamil poetry and poetics, bhakti poetry, contemporary Indian poetry, comparative literary studies, folklore, general studies on Indian literature and culture, and linguistics papers. Some of these drafts of essays and lectures are unique in their scope and in the way they treat aspects of culture, aesthetics, and poetry that are only randomly mentioned in his published work. Other unpublished writings reinforce or complement the principal points of AKR’s poetic and aesthetic concerns formulated in the published essays.

  1. 1. Poetry and the Arts in General: No other text discusses art and poetry as forms of knowledge as openly and extensively as a handwritten lecture draft titled ‘Can We Talk about Poetry Now?’ (1993). AKR wrote this rough draft for a scientific Seminar on the Brain which he wanted to attend in March 1993 on a planned visit to India that he never undertook.30 This undelivered lecture is probably one of his last pieces of formal prose that discusses poetry. The peculiarity of this handwritten lecture text lies in the untypical abstract manner in which the poet-scholar writes about concepts such as consciousness and knowledge in connection with science, the imagination, poetry, and poetic tropes like metaphor and metonymy.

  2. 2. Sanskrit Aesthetics and Poetics: AKR was not a Sanskritist. He is known as a major south-Indian scholar, poet, and translator whose work contributed enormously to introduce Dravidian language and literature studies to a larger readership in India and the West. His pioneering effort in the field of south-Indian studies began in 1961 as a teacher of Tamil at the University of Chicago. However, as a poet and scholar in Indian literature, he was also interested in Sanskrit aesthetics and rhetoric, and in 1964 delivered a lecture on ‘Sanskrit Poetics’ at the School of Letters, Indiana University. A partly typed (p.393) and handwritten draft of this paper still survives. Rather than merely describing Sanskrit poetic devices, the lecture employs a comparative approach, making cross-references to Western poetics, critics, and poets. For technical Sanskrit terminology, AKR relied on fellow University of Chicago teacher and colleague Edwin Gerow, who had obtained his PhD in 1962 in Chicago, with a dissertation on Indian poetical terms.31

  3. 3. Classical Tamil Poetics and Bhakti Poetry: A number of other drafts of lectures are interesting sources as they complement or expand the themes of AKR’s well-known published essays on classical Tamil poetics and bhakti poetry. These unpublished papers include a handwritten piece titled ‘The Relevance of Tamil Classical Poetry’, delivered as the Sir Ponnambalam Memorial Lecture at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 1983; a typed draft of ‘Karma in Bhakti’, presented at the Third ACLS/SSRC Workshop on Karma, Pendle Hill, Pennsylvania in 1980; and ‘The Vacanas of Mahadeviyakka’, an early typed paper drafted around 1960 on the medieval Kannada bhakti poet-saint, which contains early versions of translated poems published much later in Speaking of Siva.

  4. 4. Contemporary Poetry: As has already been mentioned, AKR did not write extensively on contemporary poetry, though he was an avid translator of contemporary Indian poets into English. In 1979, he prepared a handwritten draft of a translator’s note for a planned anthology of English translations of contemporary Kannada poetry which never went into print. This short introduction to twentieth-century Kannada poetry is AKR’s only critical prose commentary in English on the modern Kannada poetry scene, of which he was a vital exponent in his own right.32

  5. 5. Comparative Literary Studies: Two comparative essays, which bear the distinct AKR trait, are also to be highlighted among the unpublished papers. The more prominent of the two papers is ‘Love and Death in Mysore and Venice’, a typed draft completed in 1981 as a lecture for the Second Workshop on the Person in South Asia (Chicago).33 This finished piece is a contrastive study of the cultural forms inherent in two literary works, the 1976 novel Samskara34 by U.R. Ananthamurthy and Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. As a comparativist essay, it examines the relation between art and culture by means of textual examples from the two works. In an earlier paper, ‘Murder in the Cathedral and Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy’, an incomplete draft he typed around 1960 as a (p.394) PhD student at Indiana University Bloomington, AKR had already explored the concept of art as a form of perceiving and expressing culture, and pointed to the specificity of a work of art and its shareholding with other literary art works.

  6. 6. Folklore and Oral Traditions: AKR’s oldest project was a collection of Kannada folktales in English that he had worked on since the 1950s and which was published posthumously in book form in 1997.35 In an incomplete handwritten draft of an essay drafted in 1988 and intended as the afterword to this Kannada folktale collection, the author compares the communication diagram of the folktale with that of a poem. Another relevant paper on folklore, poetry, and riddles is a handwritten rough draft of a lecture presented at the seminar ‘Enigmatic Modes of Culture, with Special Reference to India’ held at the University of Jerusalem in 1989. Titled ‘When Is a Riddle Not a Riddle?’ it describes the similarities and differences in the way riddles, myths, dreams, and poems are experienced and decoded, and thus discloses some of the poet’s ideas on how poems work.

  7. 7. General Studies on Indian Literature and Culture: ‘Nature and Culture in Indian Poetry’36 is an incomplete handwritten piece that takes up the notion of a nature-culture continuum in Indian culture and poetry, as expounded in the collected essay ‘Towards an Anthology of City Images’ (1971).37 Drafted around 1971 and delivered as a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1973, this attempts to contrast different approaches to the nature/culture paradigm in language, literature, and aesthetics. Another paper which survives as a handwritten lecture text is ‘Translation and Culture’.38 Presented at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, in 1980, this draft resembles the uncollected published essay ‘Parables and Commonplaces’ (1982) in its emphasis on the mediating role of the translator, the poet, and poetry in cross-cultural and cross-linguistic studies. Also dealing with cross-cultural comparison and mythology is a lecture delivered at the University of Rochester in 1987 titled ‘Creation in Hindu Myth and Poetry’. This typed unpublished draft shares part of its content with the collected essay ‘Some Thoughts on Non-Western Classics’ (1994). AKR often commented on his multilingual upbringing and the relevance of his childhood education to his work as a bilingual poet and trilingual translator. In a handwritten lecture text titled ‘Sanskrit and the Mother Tongue’, presented at the Association (p.395) for Sanskrit Studies in 1987, he describes the complex ‘love-and-hate’ relationship between Sanskrit and the south-Indian regional languages in his early Mysore environment, and points out the aesthetic and social effects of Sanskrit on Dravidian languages, poetic traditions, and contemporary culture. Likewise, the typed lecture ‘On the “Unity” and “Diversity” of Indian Literatures’, delivered a year earlier in 1986 as the keynote address of the Indian Writers’ Symposium at the 38th Frankfurt Book Fair, highlights the presence and conflict of three traditions in contemporary India—Western or international, national or father tongue, and regional or mother tongue, and their impact on modernity and poetry in India.

  8. 8. Linguistics Papers Applied to the Study of Poetry: Linguistics was AKR’s principal academic discipline from 1958 till the late 1960s. During his years as a doctoral researcher at Indiana University Bloomington (1959–62), where he obtained a PhD in linguistics in 1963 for ‘A Generative Grammar of Kannada’, he received training in several linguistic theories and adjacent disciplines that were in vogue at the time, such as anthropological linguistics, generative grammar, poetics, stylistics, and semiotics. ‘Linguistics and the Study of Poetry’ (also titled ‘On Poetry and Linguistics’), a typed essay drafted around 1960, remains his only technical paper dealing exclusively with the relationship between poetry and linguistics. Written at the crucial time of AKR’s early moulding in the USA as a poet and linguist, it reveals, at least in part, the theories the scholar-poet was attracted to in the late 1950s and around 1960, and is, therefore, a fundamental source for the study of his theoretical poetics. Nonetheless, this early prose piece needs to be placed within the context of his early linguistics papers and incipient academic career in the USA, which was influenced by the crucial developments that took place during those years in literary and linguistic studies. True to the postulates of the famous linguist Roman Jakobson, who is cited several times, the essay discusses linguistics as a powerful tool for the analysis of poetry, and bears witness to AKR’s early imbibing of, in particular, Russian Formalism, the Prague School linguistic theories, and structuralist poetics. On the other hand, in 1964 AKR typed a five-page project for a planned 300–350-page-long book on ‘Literature as Language’. The sections he had sketched out for the book and the source material (by poets, critics, and linguists) he intended to draw from (p.396) give us additional clues about his literary and critical leanings in the early 1960s.

Unpublished Lecture Notes

The AKR Papers contain thousands of handwritten notecards, now filed chronologically, which cover over 30 years of research and scholarship. Most of these are kept in card files which AKR had himself organized to some extent systematically and according to topic matter, but largely without following a strict chronological identification. Many of the writings are undated, but can be placed in an approximate timeframe going by the publications cited, the handwriting style or the typeface used. The notes deal with all the subjects he taught and lectured on in the USA from the early 1960s till the 1990s. These include general linguistics, Dravidian linguistics, applied linguistics, Indian literatures, English and American literature, comparative literature and theory, translation theory, and other miscellaneous topics. AKR’s lecture notes, in fact, illustrate the links between his work as a teacher, lecturer, and essayist. Many of his essays were first delivered as lectures at conferences and to academic audiences, and the notes and course material used in his classes provided the raw material for these lectures and essays. Some of the notes can be identified without much difficulty as fragments of early rough drafts for his public talks, readings, formal lectures, and conference papers.

The countless comments, outlines, sketches, lists, diagrams, quotes, aphorisms, and references contained in the notes, on the one side, prove how vast AKR’s reading and spheres of interest were, and, on the other, yield valuable information on the manner in which he ordered and structured his ideas. The notes are mostly schematic, unorganized, but interconnected, and disclose how the scholar had the habit of working on several projects at a time and in more than one language. Despite this ‘miscellaneous criss-crossing’, a continuous search for order pervades his notecards. Within the countless charts, classifications, taxonomies, lists of motifs, and combinations of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations, one can infer a persistent search for ‘variable structures’ which at times became an obsession. The tentative schemes served as provisional route maps with which the scholar-poet could carry out his manifold cultural and linguistic transactions. AKR characteristically followed a (p.397) comparativist approach in his search for a system. He was constantly crossing boundaries in this material as he zigzagged through cultures, disciplines, genres, periods, and languages, sometimes even diluting the division between scientific description and autobiography, and between public and private domains. From a thematic point of view, the main characteristic that comes to the fore in his scholarly prose is the recurrence of ideas. Questions and answers circulate in several avatars throughout his career, and are posed from different angles and within several disciplines. The relation between culture, nature, language, and poetry is one of such major preoccupations.

Chronological Classification of the Scholarly Prose

A chronological classification of the essays, papers, and other scholarly prose described earlier in this Appendix enables us to seek connections and parallelisms between published essays and unpublished material. Whereas most of the private prose writings can be dated with accuracy—for journal entries and letters usually carry a date—the scholarly prose, lecture drafts, essays, and lecture notes pose a number of problems in this respect. Of the lecture notes and notecards AKR used for his regular classes and talks, only a few are dated, so they can only be said to belong to an approximate time period after assessing a number of variables, such as the style of the handwriting or typeface, format (notecards, for instance, were used after 1970), content (if the topic related to a particular published essay), and contextual factors (if the text was placed next to other dated material). Further methodological difficulties arise when it comes to dating the academic papers and essays. AKR often took many years to publish material he had drafted or delivered in public as papers at conferences, guest lectures, presentations, or informal papers. His essays typically went through several different drafts and versions until they were printed, and he often revised, changed, and grafted older material into newer pieces. In order to follow criteria that can yield a reliable textual history of the identified scholarly prose, both the earliest known draft and the first publication date of the published papers had to be identified wherever possible.39 In some cases only a tentative year can be given for a first draft of a paper. The Chronology of Select Books and Essays40 compiled by Dharwadker in The Collected Essays, though incomplete, is a useful aid, and it includes the dates for some first drafts that I could not trace in the AKR Papers. (p.398)

Chronological List of the Scholarly Prose41


(p. 1955)

‘Notes on Walt Whitman’

(p. 1956, 1999)

‘The Clay Mother-in-Law: A South Indian Folktale’

(p. 1956, 1999)

‘Some Folktales from India’


(d. 1960)

Murder in the Cathedral and Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy’

(d. about 1960)

‘Linguistics and the Study of Poetry’; also drafted as ‘On Poetry and Linguistics’

(d. about 1960)

‘The Vacanas of Mahadeviyakka’

(d. 1964)

‘Sanskrit Poetics’

(p. 1966)

‘A.K. Ramanujan Writes …’

(p. 1967, 1999)

‘Varieties of Bhakti

(p. 1967, 1970, 1975,

‘Translator’s Note’, ‘Afterword’, The

1994, 2004)

Interior Landscape

(d. 1968, p. 1971, 1999)

‘Form in Classical Tamil Poetry’

(d. 1968, p. 1991, 1999)

‘Repetition in the Mahabharata

(p. 1968, 1999)

‘Language and Social Change: The Tamil Example’

(d. 1968, p. 1989, 1999, 2004)

‘On Translating a Tamil Poem’


Lecture notes and other academic prose


(p. 1970, 1999)

‘Towards an Anthology of City Images’

(d. 1970, p. 1971, 1983, 1999)

‘The Indian Oedipus’

(p. 1973, 1979, 1985, 1994, 2004)

‘Translator’s Note’, ‘Introduction’, ‘Appendix I’, ‘Notes to the Poems’, Speaking of Siva

(d. 1973)

‘Nature and Culture in Indian Poetry’42

(p. 1974)

‘Indian Poetics’ (with Edwin Gerow)

(d. 1976, p. 1999)

‘Men, Women and Saints’

(d. 1979, p. 1989, 1991, 1995, 1999)

‘Telling Tales’

(d. 1979)

‘Translator’s Note’, for a planned anthology of contemporary Kannada poetry


Lecture notes and other academic prose

(p.399) 1980

(d. 1980)

‘Karma in Bhakti: With Special Reference to Nammalvar and Basavanna’

(d. 1980, 1983)

‘Translation and Culture’. Also drafted as ‘Translation in Culture’

(d. 1980, 1981, p. 1989, 1990a, 1990b, 1999, 2001)

‘Is There an Indian Way of Thinking? An Informal Essay’

(p. 1981, 1993, 2004)

‘Introduction’, ‘Notes to the Poems’, ‘Afterword’, Hymns for the Drowning

(d. 1981a, 1981b)

‘Love and Death in Mysore and Venice’; also drafted as ‘Death in Venice and Samskara

(d. 1981, p. 1982, 1999)

‘Hanchi: A Kannada Cinderella’

(d. 1981, p. 1984, 1999)

‘The Myths of Bhakti: Images of Siva in Saiva Poetry’

(p. 1982)

‘Parables and Commonplaces’

(p. 1982, 1984, 1999)

‘On Women Saints’

(p. 1983, 1999)

‘From Classicism to Bhakti (with Norman Cutler)’

(p. 1983a, 1983b, 1983c)

‘On Contemporary Indian Poetry’

(d. 1983)

‘The Relevance of Tamil Classical Poetry’

(d. 1983–4, p. 1999)

‘On Bharati and His Prose Poems’

(d. 1984, 1985, 1988, p. 1992, 1999)

‘Food for Thought: Towards an Anthology of Hindu Food-Images’

(d. 1985, p. 1991, 1999)

‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation’

(p. 1985, 1996, 1999, 2004)

‘Translator’s Note’, ‘Afterword’, ‘Notes’, Poems of Love and War

(d. 1985, 1988, p. 1989, 1999)

‘Where Mirrors Are Windows: Towards an Anthology of Reflections’

(d. 1986)

‘On the “Unity” and “Diversity” of Indian Literatures’

(p. 1986, 1999)

‘The Prince Who Married His Own Left Half’

(p. 1986, 1999)

‘Two Realms of Kannada Folklore’

(d. 1987)

‘Creation in Hindu Myth and Poetry’

(d. 1987)

‘Sanskrit and the Mother Tongue’

(d. 1988, p. 2001)

‘Indian Literatures in the U.S. 1957–1987’

(p. 1988, 1999)

‘Classics Lost and Found’

(d. 1988)

Essay intended to be published as an afterword to a Kannada folktale collection

(p.400) (d. 1988, p. 1990, 1994, 1999)

‘Who Needs Folklore?’

(d. 1989)

‘When Is a Riddle Not a Riddle?’


Lecture notes and other academic prose


(p. 1990, 1991, 1999)

‘Towards a Counter-System: Women’s Tales’

(d. 1991, p. 1994, 1999)

‘Some Thoughts on “Non-Western” Classics: With Indian Examples’

(d. 1991, p. 1997, 1999)

‘A Flowering Tree: A Woman’s Tale’

(p. 1991, 1993, 1994, 2009)

‘Preface’, ‘Introduction’, ‘Notes’, Folktales from India

(p. 1992, 1999)

‘Tell It to the Walls: On Folktales in Indian Culture’

(d. 1993)

‘Can We Talk about Poetry Now?’

(d. 1993, p. 1999)

‘Why an Allama Poem Is Not a Riddle: An Anthological Essay’

(d. 1993, p. 2001)

‘The Ring of Memory: Remembering and Forgetting in Indian Literature’

(p. 1993, 1999)

‘On Folk Mythologies and Folk Puranas’


Lecture notes and other academic prose

Altogether, the scholarly prose comprises notes, lectures, rough papers, and essays written over almost 40 years, from 1955 until a few months before AKR passed away in July 1993. Going by publication dates, the earliest one is the article on Walt Whitman from 1955, and the latest is the essay published posthumously in Uncollected Poems and Prose in 2001, ‘The Ring of Memory: Remembering and Forgetting in Indian Literature’. Among the published sources there are the introductions and afterwords to the five translation volumes first published between 1967 and 1985, the introduction to the folktale collection released in 1991, and the collected and uncollected academic essays and papers, seven of which were published only posthumously between 1994 and 2001. The unpublished scholarly prose also includes 15 lectures and rough papers drafted approximately between 1960 and 1993. It is important to note that this survey does not account for the non-fiction in Kannada, which was to a large extent collected posthumously in A.K. Ramanujan Samagra (2011). In the 1950s, AKR had already published several prose articles in Kannada. He first started writing prose as well as radio plays in Kannada when he joined Maharaja College in 1944 at the age of 15. And he published his first (p.401) Kannada article as early as 1946, nine years before his first article in English ‘Notes on Whitman’ (1955) came out, in the Literary Criterion journal, which had just been founded by the renowned scholar from Mysore, C.D. Narasimhaiah, one of AKR’s college teachers.

Unpublished Private Prose from the A.K. Ramanujan Papers

Any research work on a poet and his/her poetics would be incomplete without an analysis of his/her private reflections on poetry, inspiration, and writing. It is a special privilege when such type of material becomes available to the researcher for first-hand scrutiny. Private prose in the AKR Papers offers that rare opportunity to enter into the inner domains of the poet’s thoughts and preoccupations. When brought to light for the first time in an academic study, it is the responsibility of the researcher to present the material in a systematic arrangement. The present classification offers therefore a first-time description of the poet’s private prose. These writings are placed within the context of the entire body of available primary sources (the referential contexts) and also set against the biographical backdrop (the situational contexts) outside these texts. Under the label ‘Private Prose’, we shall classify all non-scholarly, non-academic prose material in the Papers that was never published or intended for public use or for publication as such. However, certain aspects of AKR’s private life made it into his scholarly essays. As we saw in Chapter 2, AKR often brought into academic discussion his family milieu and trilingual upbringing as a sample case and object of study. The private prose material that is listed here consists of unpublished journals and diaries, draft copies of letters, and other miscellaneous personal notes.

Journals and Diaries

AKR kept dairies and journals throughout his life from the time he was a teenager in Mysore, though he sometimes discontinued this practice for extended periods. Around the year 1970 he started to use loose card files for this purpose, and made it a habit to scribble, mostly in English, on small paper slips he carried with him wherever he went. He also kept what he called a ‘dream book’ and a ‘commonplace book’. In these improvised notebooks he put down his reflections, impressions, feelings, and observations gathered from his travels and meetings, and social and academic events. These included incidents, (p.402) conversations, reading excerpts, quotes, stories, and dreams (his own and those of others), and occasionally reflections on writing, writers, art, and poetry. In an interview conducted in India a few months before he passed away, AKR revealed: ‘I keep a journal, not regularly, but I do keep a dream-book and have, for many years. I keep notebooks—small lined notebooks—into which everything goes. I write fairly often. For months, I write every day…. I also go back to them. They have little bits of poems and stories in them and observations.’43

AKR distinguished between journal, diary, commonplace book, and dream notebook, though their formats were quite similar. In fact, they cannot always be identified as one or the other. Some of the handwritten journal excerpts and diary entries are intermingled with drafts of poems, lecture notes, and reading notes. The available entries in the Papers extend from 1949 to 1992 and cover the years 1949, 1957, 1959–60, 1967–85, and 1987–92, offering among other things a unique overview of the evolution of AKR’s thoughts on poetry and poetics. AKR wrote in varying styles and formats, first in diaries and letter pads, and after 1970 on slips of paper and notecards. The notecards were kept in card files for storage purposes and to allow the author to revise and re-read his notes from time to time in a continuous dialogue with himself, as the following diary entry shows:

March 5, 1980.

Bought a bigger cardfile for all my diaries yesterday—rearranged them by year this morning, and felt nice…. Gave me some perspective that I’ve been struggling for—just glancing through my turmoil…. Making entries as Progoff44 suggests has been also toward giving me some time-depth. I’ve also older diaries—found one for Madurai 1952; one for 60, both a few pages. Writing on these slips has been portable, and easy to file. That’s why I’ve orderly files since ’70.45

We also learn from the journals that AKR was several times tempted to publish parts of his journal. He flirted with the idea of publishing ‘A Journal’ at least during 1976 and 1979, but his plans never materialized. In the autumn of 1976, he seemed to have made up his mind to publish a journal (see the section ‘Quarrelling Relations: Towards an Appropriate Metalanguage’ in Chapter 2), but three years later his plan still lingered on, as we can read in another diary entry that underlines the benefits of keeping a disciplined journal:


Nov 9, 1979.

Fame, fortune, creative vitality in new areas seems missed, coveted, easy for others. Must change one’s view of this, and one’s ways. A stricter diary would help. A better daily schedule, that includes some writing on ideas as they occur. Maybe publish a Journal of ideas, a writer’s notebook with no pretensions.46

AKR had always wanted to publish fiction (a novel and short stories) in English. His diaries and journals are full of stories, anecdotes, and incidents that occurred to him or were told to him by others, and they also served as a means to gather material for his writing of fiction and poetry. Yet he succeeded in publishing autobiographical fiction only in his mother tongue Kannada, in which he wrote short stories and one novella.47 It is probable that the fear of direct exposure to the public world that is repeatedly expressed in his diaries, and a lifelong preference for understatement and suggestion, prevented AKR from publishing a journal in English, the language of his public domain. Also, to venture into a new, autobiographical genre in English could have undermined his poetry in English, through which the poet spoke obliquely of his private life and self. Hence, apart from the folktales AKR translated into English, his journals remain his only non-scholarly prose written in English. As an anthropologist and professional collector of oral material, AKR applied his fieldwork expertise not only to folklore in India but also to routine life. His journals, besides containing autobiographical material, are full of ‘real’ stories, jokes, aphorisms, and quotes he heard or read. There is, in effect, an interesting correlation between the journals in English and the Kannada novella. The novella deals with family relatives and the author’s complex personality while it retains a half-protective literary mask, as AKR himself comments:

July 26, 1978

Just finished my Kannada novella, half-playful, half-serious, ambiguous work. Splits me into a younger amateurish historian of the self, and an older ridiculous R. who writes poetry and advises the younger about writing. Have used a lot of stories about my father’s relatives etc. told about my mother.48

We can infer, thus, that the journals are not purely self-reflexive exercises, and that his pretensions to publish them were not quite ‘innocent’ or far-fetched. Indeed, much of the private prose in the (p.404) journals (now, at last, part of a ‘larger discussion’) is not fully unaware of the potential reader. Even though AKR was his only reader in the diaries, one eye seems to wink at the other. The journals and diary entries include, among all the primary sources available, his most personal testimonies on art, poetry, inspiration and craft, the process of writing, and the notion of being a poet.


The AKR Papers contain unpublished letters dated between 1956 and 1993. The correspondence comprises mostly letters written to AKR, but there is also a substantial number of typed carbon copies and drafts of letters written by the author. These include official and academic letters, publication correspondence with his editors, and private letters. Very few of his letters carry comments on poetry, art, or his own poems, though some correspondence addressed to him (and thus not included here as primary sources), contains critical commentaries on poems he sent to friends, fellow poets, or colleagues, requesting their feedback.49 One of the literary friends with whom AKR shared poems and translations was poet and translator Leonard Nathan at the University of California, Berkeley, who sometimes wrote to AKR with detailed critical comments. In the correspondence, AKR maintained with fellow Indian poets writing in English, such as Nissim Ezekiel, P. Lal, Adil Jussawalla, K.N. Daruwalla, and Gieve Patel, the topic focuses on publications, as many of these poets were also editors at some point or another, and Indian poets writing in English often helped other fellow poets in getting their work published in journals and anthologies (see Chapter 1). Among these, Ezekiel stands out in importance and in the number of letters exchanged, particularly in the years between 1964 and 1969, when both poets collaborated to find publishable material for the short-lived but highly praised landmark journal Poetry India, edited by Ezekiel from Bombay between 1966 and 1967.

AKR rarely discusses poetry or single poems in his correspondence. The letters, however, have a value mainly as historical records. A unique exception is a long letter written to Vrinda Nabar in 1978 in which AKR talks about himself and his poetry. It was drafted in response to a questionnaire Nabar had sent to seven poets as part of her PhD research work, so it is more in the format of a written interview than a letter.50 On the other (p.405) hand, the correspondence with his editors at Oxford University Press in London dated between 1964 and 1970 provides important clues on the publication history of his first two volumes of poetry in English—The Striders and Relations. These formal letters reveal to some extent the process behind the selection of poems, and the poetic criteria applied to include or exclude poems and groups of poems in the final collections that were published. AKR also makes key remarks on the personal and poetic significance of the titles he had chosen for the two books of poems.

Poems on Art and Poetry or Meta-Poetry

Now we come to the second type of primary source: AKR’s poems on art and poetry. As has been shown in the section ‘The Poetic Act or the Art of Composition’ in Chapter 6, there are a large number of meta-compositions in AKR’s work, which testifies to his experimental, and often self-reflexive, view of the artistic and poetic process. Many of these compositions were not published or intended to be published, and some were made public only posthumously. As opposed to academic prose, poetry follows both a linguistic and a literary code and is essentially ‘deviated’ or ‘oblique’ language, according to formalist as well as Sanskrit poeticians. Therefore any thematic classification of a particular poem or interpretation of its meaning is a tricky affair. The poetic text tends to be multilayered and open to more than one reading, which makes its message more dependent on the receiver (the reader or listener) and on contextual factors than is the case with scholarly prose. That is, poems usually have several interpretative levels yet they may not all reach out to the reader, nor does a particular reading of a poem have to coincide with that of another reader (nor with the intention of the poet). It is, in any case, presumptive that the poetic output of an author contains his/her ideas on poetics and the art of composition.

One may consider AKR’s entire poetic work as a primary source for an assessment of his poetics, or one can choose to attempt a tentative selection of poems that appear to capture a particular idea that is expressive of the poetic act. Of value to such a study are those poems that explicitly allude to art and aesthetics, to poetry and the process of making poems, and other interrelated subjects. Many of AKR’s compositions combine reflexive and self-reflexive elements (see the section ‘Quarrelling Relations: Towards an Appropriate Metalanguage (p.406) in Chapter 2) and can be described as meta-poetic exercises. The unpublished drafts and poetic experiments, and the published poetry of the early and late periods in particular, often addresses the intricate relationships between art, poetry, and life, or between the mind, the maker, the making, and the poem as a work of art. In exploring the artistic process, a number of meta-poems interrogate both the means and ends of poetry. In some cases, they turn into codified re-enactments or descriptions of the poetic event. This meta-poetic concern can be traced to various contextual factors in line with the artistic and professional evolution of the poet-scholar. The precise motives behind the poet’s obsession with the internal and external dynamics of the act of composing, and his questioning of the autonomy of the poem and the role of the poet in this process, are analysed in the sections ‘Aesthetic Journeys: Experiences from AKR’s Journals and Diaries’ in Chapter 4 and ‘The Poetic Act or the Art of Composition’ in Chapter 6.

Except for a few poems that are cited by the poet himself as illustrating aspects of his poetic belief, and for those poems which are given away by their title (provisional or final),51 the significance of a poetic text for the study of the author’s poetic theory and practice can also be derived from a careful reading and from its intertextuality with other poems. Whichever method one follows, the delimitation and identification of meta-poems is, in any case, open-ended and non-exclusive. The present selection includes a provisional list of drafts and poems about art, aesthetics, poetry, and related themes that can be recognized for closer analysis. As is the case with the primary sources in prose, the poems can be classified as published or unpublished and in chronological order. All unpublished drafts and poems belong to the AKR Papers. The published poems are, additionally, identified as collected or uncollected poems. Poems from posthumous collections are also specified separately.

Published Poems

AKR published three collections of poetry in English during his lifetime: The Striders, Relations, and Second Sight. In addition, there are two posthumous publications of late poems: The Black Hen, a collection of poems that was included in The Collected Poems alongside the three previous volumes of poetry, and another set of late poems that had purposely been left out of the 1995 collection and was finally (p.407) published in Uncollected Poems and Prose (2001). The Collected Poems and the poems from Uncollected Poems and Prose were re-published in 2004 together with AKR’s four translation volumes (published in 1967, 1973, 1981, and 1985) in The Oxford India Ramanujan edited by Molly Daniels-Ramanujan. All collections of AKR’s poetry in English, but not all of his translation volumes, were originally published by Oxford University Press. The Striders was printed in London and the other two volumes simultaneously in New York and Delhi. Apart from these collections, there are also uncollected early poems which were published mainly in Indian journals during the late 1950s and in poetry anthologies of the 1960s.

Poems from The Striders (1966)

The only published poems that AKR recognizes elsewhere in his prose as being about poetry or the act of writing belong to his first collection. They are ‘The Striders’, ‘Which Reminds Me’, and ‘Still Another View of Grace’.52 ‘The Striders’, the key poem to AKR’s poetic oeuvre, was first published in Poetry (Chicago) in 1961 with an additional first line that was later deleted: ‘Put away, put away this dream’ (see the section ‘The Poetic Act or the Art of Composition’ in Chapter 6). It is mentioned as a poem about poetry in a letter sent on 16 May 1965 to Jon Stallworthy, the then editor of Oxford University Press in London. Stallworthy wanted an attractive title for AKR’s first collection of poems and suggested ‘A Poem on Particulars’ (the title of the last poem in the collection), as he was ‘not entirely happy’ with the title ‘The Striders’ chosen by the poet. AKR had to make his case for ‘The Striders’, the opening poem, and remarked in his response letter: ‘The poem itself is about poetry and so I thought it might be appropriate for the title of the book.’53 Another clue to this cryptic poem is offered by a published source the year the collection was released. In the Poetry Society Bulletin announcing the 1966 spring recommendations, which included The Striders, the author gives a brief interpretation of the poem and reveals the poetic preferences he had at that time (see the section ‘The Poetic Act or the Art of Composition’ in Chapter 6). Furthermore, the author refers to ‘The Striders’ and the poems ‘Still Another View of Grace’ and ‘Which Reminds Me’ in a journal piece dated 30 October 1976, in which he muses over the topics of grace, inspiration, and the art of writing poems (see the section ‘The Poetic Act or the Art of Composition (p.408) in Chapter 6). In the letter responding to Vrinda Nabar’s research questionnaire, and an interview conducted in 1990 by T.N. Shankaranarayanan and S.A. Krishnaiah,54 AKR again cites the poem ‘Which Reminds Me’ as speaking for his notion of grace in life and poetry and his concept of poet. In addition to these poems mentioned overtly by the author, we may identify several other poems in The Striders that tell us something about poets, poems, and poetry: for example, the oft-cited poems ‘A River’ and ‘A Poem on Particulars’, the closing poem of the collection.

Poems from Relations (1971)

AKR’s second collection of poetry in English contains a number of poems drafted in the 1950s and early 1960s which did not make it into The Striders, and a group of poems written in the late 1960s at the request of Oxford University Press. After the critical success of The Striders, Amen House, the Oxford University Press headquarters in London, wanted a new collection of poems, and AKR submitted a manuscript which included some reworked older poems. To this category belongs the poem ‘Time to Stop’, which is a revised version of a short draft of 1961 significantly titled ‘Art and Life’. A later poem from Relations titled ‘Any Cows Horn Can Do It’ and drafted in the late 1960s also speculates on the multiple ways in which memories and poetry may affect life and life may get into poems.

Poems from Second Sight (1986)

Second Sight is a work of maturity and AKR’s most carefully construed as well as experimental poetry collection. It took the poet 15 long years to come up with a format of poems that satisfied him enough to be taken into print. By the early 1980s he had a body of poems ready, but which acquired its final shape only in June 1984. As was AKR’s usual habit, this third collection incorporated reworked versions of older uncollected or unpublished poems as well as a new set of compositions. Unlike the previous two volumes, however, the bulk of this work had undergone a long process of transformation, reflection, and experimentation, with forms, themes, and concepts drawing heavily on cultural and literary theory and Indian philosophy.

(p.409) Three poems drafted in 1984, ‘Elements of Composition’, ‘Drafts’, and ‘Connect!’ which were parts of a long piece titled ‘Composition’ in 1982, reflect on the all-encompassing process of creating and writing (see the section ‘Transacting with the Past: Tradition and Writing’ in Chapter 8 and Appendix 2). Composing and decomposing are key concepts in this collection, which yields multiple readings from the perspective of literary theory, philosophy, and poetics. ‘On the Death of a Poem’, as the title suggests, is another poem on the process of writing poetry. Drafted as early as 1961, it was originally intended for the series of short poems in ‘Images’ published in The Striders. Another poem from Second Sight titled ‘He Too Was a Light Sleeper Once’ speaks of the condition of the poet as he loses his creative impetus. The poem contrasts the ‘light’ side of creativity in innocent youth (the ‘once’ of the poet), with the unproductive, bitter present (the ‘now’ of the poet) after having gone through adverse experiences. This composition is, in fact, a version of the earlier poem ‘On a Poet Now Silent’ drafted in the late 1960s for Relations. The drafts in the AKR Papers indicate that the last five lines were composed as early as November 1959 during the poet’s first autumn in the USA. This poem did not eventually make it into AKR’s second poetry volume Relations, but was published in an anthology of Indian poetry in English in 1970.55

Poems from The Black Hen in The Collected Poems (Posthumous, 1995)

The Black Hen, published in The Collected Poems, contains 60 poems written between 1989 and 1993, which were selected from the 148 poems that the author left behind on computer discs at the time of his death.56 The poems were chosen by a team of eight editors and led by Molly Daniels-Ramanujan. Eleven of the poems had previously been published in reputed journals, which was probably an additional reason for including them in a volume of ‘collected poems’. The editors picked for the title of this posthumous collection the ‘The Black Hen’, a short poem that had already been published in Poetry Review in 1993. In this collection of late poems that look simple on the surface, but conceal deep metaphysical concerns, the creative act and its uncontrollable effects become almost an obsession. Poetry is part of an existential struggle, as both the author’s life (increasingly under physical pain) and (p.410) his work seem to turn to the darker side of existence. Creation (birth) and destruction (death) serve as the axis of a number of poems. In ‘The Black Hen’, the title poem that opens the collection, the maker is both fascinated and horrified by the work of art. Several other poems in this posthumous collection deal with imagination, the dreamworld, and artistic inspiration, and explore the various ways in which the artistic object or the poem may relate to the life of its maker. We could single out the poems ‘It’, ‘Love 6: Winter’, ‘Difficulty’, ‘Poetry and Our City’, ‘No Fifth Man’, ‘Bulls’, ‘Museum’, ‘Pain’ in ‘Images’, and ‘From Where?’

Poems from The Uncollected Prose and Poetry (Posthumous, 2001)

The editors of The Collected Poems decided to keep a set of poems from AKR’s computer discs for a later volume of uncollected material comprising poetry and prose. This resulted in the publication of Uncollected Poems and Prose edited by Molly Daniels-Ramanujan and the poet Keith Harrison, who included in this volume 32 of the late poems that were deemed finished poems. Only one of the poems in Uncollected Poems and Prose, ‘Invisible Bodies’, had been published before in 1994.57 Some of the poetic texts are, actually, versions of incomplete or fragmented poems published in The Black Hen in The Collected Poems. Whether this was done intentionally, since several versions of the poem were available, or whether it was due to editorial slips remains unclear. A detailed scrutiny of the computer printouts in the Papers suggests that the poems and fragments may not have been properly ordered by the editors of The Collected Poems and Uncollected Poems and Prose. Other compositions from the computer disc were considered by the editors to be writing exercises and remain unpublished in the AKR Papers.58 Written largely in the same vein as the poems from The Black Hen, a handful of poems from Uncollected Poems and Prose speak about the unexpected causes and effects that connect the artist to his work and the created object to ordinary life. The poems that deal with meta-poetic and aesthetic issues include ‘He to Me or Me to Him’, ‘Dances Remember Dancers’, the latest dated published poem, and a four-stanza version of ‘Museum’ which was published as a one-stanza poem in The Collected Poems. Besides these, the poems ‘Figures of Disfigurement’, ‘Children, Dreams, Theorems’, ‘Daily Drivel: A Monologue’, and ‘Love 10’ make interesting observations on the process of creation and on the art of writing poetry as happening parallel to routine life.

(p.411) Uncollected Early Published Poems

Not all of AKR’s published poems found a place in his poetry books, nor do the posthumous collections comprise his entire published work of poetry in English. Most published poems that remain uncollected are early poems that appeared in Indian periodicals, American journals, and anthologies between 1956 and 1970.59 AKR published his first poems in English in the Indian magazines and journals Illustrated Weekly, Thought, and Quest between 1956 and 1958. Most of these poems were later discarded and only a handful was revised for publication in The Striders. About 20 of these early compositions are still uncollected, though a number of them were reprinted in the numerous anthologies that saw the light in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when IPE and Commonwealth poetry in English were beginning to gain critical attention in India and around the world. Some early versions of poems published in Second Sight can, for instance, be found in anthologies published in 1970. As to the uncollected early poems in the American journals, it is to be noted that after moving to the USA in 1959 AKR published his first poems in these journals encouraged by Samuel Yellen, his professor in ‘creative writing’ at Indiana University Bloomington from 1959 to 1961. Some drafts of published poems in the AKR Papers carry notes with observations by Yellen. Throughout his life AKR continued to publish poems in American periodicals, most of which appeared later in his poetry collections. Only a few of the early poems published in American journals (Folio, New England Review, and Chicago Review) in 1959 and the 1960s are uncollected pieces. The acknowledgements in The Collected Poems supply a complete list of journals and anthologies in which some of the collected poems were first published. An exception is the late poem ‘Stranger’, which came out in Poetry Review in 1990, but, strangely enough, was not taken into account by the editors of The Collected Poems (1995) and Uncollected Poems and Prose (2001).

Of particular relevance in studying AKR’s poetics are his few early poems on art and life, inspiration and writing that were published in Indian journals and magazines from 1956 to 1958. Some of these poems give contrasting views of art and aesthetics, or deal with the creative process of turning imagination into words and poems. Among these early poems are ‘The World Is a Flower’ and ‘Transition’ published in Illustrated Weekly; ‘The Whip’ and ‘Carpe Diem’ which (p.412) appeared in Thought; and three poems printed in Quest, ‘Madura: Two Movements’, ‘A Poem on Logic’, and ‘No Dream, No Symbol’. ‘On a Poet Now Silent’, mentioned earlier as an early version of ‘He Too Was a Light Sleeper Once’ from The Striders, came out in the 1970 anthology edited by the poet Shiv Kumar. Finally, we should also list here the uncollected poem ‘I Listened’ printed in P. Lal’s controversial anthology Modern Indian Poetry in English (see the section ‘A Chronology of Writings on A.K. Ramanujan’s Poetry’ in Chapter 1).60

Unpublished Poems and Drafts of Poems from the A.K. Ramanujan Papers

The last category of poems on art and poetry to be identified is the bulk of unpublished poems and drafts from the AKR Papers at the library of the University of Chicago, where the location of individual poems is not specified in the specific inventory or Guide. The numerous poems and drafts on art and poetry found in the Papers provide fascinating glimpses into AKR’s poetics. The amount of meta-poems may seem surprisingly high to anyone acquainted only with the author’s published poetry, but a prominent feature of this unpublished poetry is precisely its self-reflexive, often playful, quality. In the poet’s routine writing exercises the self-conscious elements, in from and/or content, often emerge as meta-poetry. This may also explain why there are substantially more meta-poems in the posthumous collections, which had not been planned in their existing form by the poet, than in his carefully designed lifetime collections. The fact that AKR had saved most of his drafts throughout the years (which is why they survive in his Papers) is in itself significant. We can infer from his notes that he valued the drafts as a reflection of himself, of his life-and-work history, so he continued revising and classifying old material up to the time of his death. A detailed analysis of the drafts and poems, therefore, opens up a new avenue in the critical study of AKR’s poetic legacy. The unpublished poems and drafts have never been acknowledged or cited before in any published source or scholarly dissertation. The only mention of unpublished poems is made in Uncollected Poems and Prose by Molly Daniels, who clarifies in a note at the end of this posthumous volume that the batch of poems not considered for publication (out of the 148 in the computer discs) was ‘in safekeeping’ at the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago.61 The poems referred to were composed between 1989 and 1993 and represent but (p.413) a fraction of the unpublished poetic material that can be scrutinized in the Papers.

Nonetheless, one should not uncritically compare the early drafts and unfinished pieces with the well-polished poems that went into the three poetry books AKR conceived and published in 1966, 1971, and 1986. The finished poems have been revised dozens, even hundreds, of times by the poet. The drafts, on the other hand, reveal the writing process and are of varied types. Some were ‘valid’ versions of poems whereas others were not intended as poetic end products, nor should they be analysed as such. They are in any case part of the poet’s creative writing habits and now documents of his artistic biography. As drafts, we may understand early versions of published poems as well as unpublished poems. Among the unpublished poems, it is not always possible to determine which pieces were ‘finished’ poems and which were still rough drafts, for even typed or printed poems were sometimes completely rewritten, as we shall see ahead. The fastidiousness with language and the perception of poetry as craftsmanship were among AKR’s known trademarks. Only poems that had been chiselled well enough over time were deemed fit for publication by the poet. For this reason, much of the unpublished poetry material in the Papers can be labelled as ‘work-in-progress’ and is of relative aesthetic value. As Daniels-Ramanujan’s remarks in Uncollected Poems and Prose, some of the drafts read as ‘surface verse’ or ‘writing exercises’.62

The AKR Papers contain hundreds of drafts and unpublished poems in typed manuscripts and handwritten format, dated from 1947 to 1993. Only a selection of drafts and poems that reveal aspects of AKR’s ideas on art and poetry are listed here. Several criteria (thematic and chronological, among others) may be applied to classify such miscellaneous poetic material. A key question concerns the artistic process and the ‘maturity’ of a particular text. As mentioned, there are in AKR’s files fragments of compositions that never went beyond the handwritten rough draft and as such can be thought of as mere exercises. Other pieces are revised drafts, but still read as unfinished poems. This can also be said of some of the poems that were published in the posthumous collections. As other cautious critics have commented in their reviews of The Black Hen, one gets the impression after several readings that the posthumous poetry collections do not entirely yield the kind of balanced, finished work that was AKR’s forte.63 Another category of compositions are (p.414) the reworked drafts and finished poems that were proposed for publication, but were eventually either rejected by the publishers or abandoned at some stage as alternative versions of a poem. That is, there are certainly pieces among the unpublished poetry that can stand as ‘finished’ AKR poems in their own right. One may conclude that each written draft or poem has a history of its own, however brief or long. Or, as AKR laconically put it, quoting ‘once for all’ French poet Paul Valéry, ‘no poem is ever finished, only abandoned’.64

The most functional criterion of classification is the chronological one, for a majority of the drafts were either dated by the author or can be given an approximate date by contrasting the typeface or handwriting of the text with that of other dated poems. The list of selected unpublished compositions on art and poetry given ahead is divided into four chronological periods in relation to key landmarks in AKR’s poetic career: the place of living (India until 1959 and the USA after 1959) and the crucial years 1971 and 1986, which correspond to the dates of publication of the second and third books of poems, Relations and Second Sight. Poems written in the period between his arrival in the USA in 1959 and the publication of the first collection, The Striders (1966), have not been classified separately for the reason that there is an evident continuity in the poetry of the 1960s. The year 1966 does not mark a new chronological phase in AKR’s poetry. Drafts from the early 1960s that did not make it into this first poetry collection were simply filed and revised by the poet for his second book, Relations. In its initial stage this second collection was to be titled ‘Among Other Things’, and this is the title that identifies most of the folders in the AKR Papers containing poems of the 1960s. Apart from the dates of the drafts or poems, the place (if stated), the type of manuscript, and the version (if applicable) are also detailed in brackets in the list.

Select List of Unpublished Compositions on Art and Poetry65

1950 to mid-1959: Compositions Drafted in India

  • ‘Bharata Natyam’ (d. c. 1950). Handwritten.

  • ‘The Dance’ (d. c. 1952). Handwritten, version of ‘Bharata Natyam’.

  • ‘These Fairies’ (d. mid-1950s). Typed, Belgaum.

  • ‘Bharathanatyam’ (d. c. 1956). Typed, version of ‘Bharata Natyam’, Belgaum.

  • ‘Two Poems on Poetry’ (d. 16–17 April 1956). Typed.

  • (p.415) ‘Prayer before Suicide’ (d. 19 November 1956). Typed; early version of ‘Prayer before Suicide’ (d. 14 February 1961).

  • ‘Another Apologie for Poetry’ (d. 22 August 1957). Typed, also titled ‘A Letter to an Editor or The Incubus’.

  • ‘Sonnet’ (d. 25 November 1957). Typed.

  • ‘On a Word’ (d. c. 1958). Typed, Pune.

  • ‘A Grammarians Song’ (d. 1958–9). Typed.

  • ‘In Madurai I Saw a Quite-Human Hand’ (d. late 1950s). Typed; early version of ‘Madura: Two Movements’ (p. 1957–8); some lines incorporated in ‘Elements of Composition’ (p. 1986).

Mid-1959 to 1971: First Period in the USA till the Publication of Relations

  • ‘Ballet for Prepositions and Others’ (d. 2 November 1959). Typed.

  • ‘I, Even I Was a Light Sleeper Once’ (d. 23 November 1959). Typed; early version of ‘On a Poet Now Silent’ (p. 1970) and ‘He Too Was a Light Sleeper Once’ (p. 1986).

  • ‘A Poem for Jazz’ (d. 1960). Typed.

  • ‘Towards a Poem with Footnotes’ (d. 1960). Typed; early version of ‘A Poem on Particulars’ (coll. 1966).

  • ‘Prayer before Suicide’ (d. 14 February 1961). Typed; version of ‘Prayer before Suicide’, (d. 19 November 1956).

  • ‘Metre’ (d. 1961). Typed; deleted part of ‘Excerpts from a Father’s Wisdom’ (coll. 1966).

  • ‘Art and Life’ (d. 1961). Typed; deleted part of ‘Images’ (coll. 1966).

  • ‘Metaphysician’ (d. 1961). Typed.

  • ‘Some More Advice to the Young Poet, This Time from a Rabid Vedantin’ (d. about 1961). Typed.

  • ‘A Song’ (d. 11 November 1963). Typed; also titled ‘A Song and the Monkey’s Lung’; early version of ‘Why Songs Don’t Get Written’ (d. c. 1970).

  • ‘Truants’ (d. early 1960s). Typed; rejected by Oxford University Press for The Striders.

  • ‘On Getting the Last Line of a Poem First and Other Such Forms of Grace’ (d. 20 February 1961). Typed; also titled ‘On a Last Line Which Has Nothing Else and Other Such Forms of Grace’.

  • ‘Sample Entries in a Catalogue of Middle-Class Fears’ part IV (d. early 1960s). Typed; early version of ‘Entries for a Catalogue of Fears’ (coll. 1971).

  • (p.416) ‘The Fable of the Printer and the Moth, Chinese style, or the Dangers of Rushing into Print’ (d. early 1960s). Typed.

  • ‘Dancers’ (d. about 1967). Typed; rejected by Oxford University Press for Relations; version of ‘Bharata Natyam’ (d. c. 1950).

  • ‘Yet, When Some Dancers Dance’ (d. late 1960s). Typed; first draft; version of ‘Bharata Natyam’ (d. about 1950).

  • ‘I Still Think It’s Hard to Reach Some Words in Poems’ (d. 1967). Typed; early version of ‘Any Cow’s Horn Can Do It’ (coll. 1971).

  • ‘Why Songs Don’t Get Written (d. about 1970). Typed; dropped from the final manuscript of Second Sight; version of ‘A Song’ (d. 11 November 1963).

  • ‘Occupational Habits’ (d. about 1970). Typed; part of ‘Ethnographic Notes on a Potter Caste, after Thurston’.

1971–86: Second Period in the US till the Publication of Second Sight

  • ‘Greedy for a Year of Poems …’ (d. August 1971). Untitled; handwritten in a journal.

  • ‘A Stab at a Poem’ (d. 16 November 1972–27 October 1973). Typed.

  • ‘Yet, When Some Dancers Dance’ (d. 1972–3). Typed; second draft; version of ‘Bharata Natyam’ (d. c. 1950).

  • ‘Yet Siva Is Sometimes Soma …’ (d. c. 1979). Untitled; typed.

  • ‘Soma, I Said Is No Visnu …’ (d. c. 1979). Untitled; typed.

  • ‘Jazz Poem for Soma’ (d. c. 1979). Typed; contains the drafts ‘Yet Siva Is Sometimes Soma …’ and ‘Soma, I Said Is No Visnu …’.

  • ‘On Discovering That Soma Is a Mushroom’ (d. 1979). Typed.

  • ‘I Can’t Get Close to a Poem …’ (d. c. 1979). Untitled; handwritten.

  • ‘When Soma Is Abroad …’ (d. c. 1979). Untitled; typed.

  • ‘Soma’ (d. c. 1979). Handwritten.

  • ‘Poetry’ (d. 31 July 1983). Handwritten.

  • ‘Fruit of Nothingness …’ (d. 31 July 1983). Untitled; handwritten.

  • ‘Composition’, part 11 (d. 1982 to 14 May 1984). Typed; last version of ‘Bharata Natyam’ (d. c. 1950).

1986–93: Third Period in the USA after the Publication of Second Sight

  • ‘Translations’, part V (d. 25 October–1 November 1988). Computer printout; tr. from the Kannada by the poet.

  • (p.417) ‘Here and Now’ (d. November 1989). Computer printout; tr. from the Kannada by the poet.

  • ‘Waking Up in Ann Arbor’ (d. 28 November–1 December 1988). Computer printout.

  • ‘A Meditation’ (d. 30 August 1989). Computer printout; tr. from the Kannada by the poet; early version of ‘A Mediation’ (coll. 1995); incorporates some lines translated from a medieval Kannada bhakti poem.

  • ‘Haiku’ (d. c. 1989). Computer printout.

  • ‘The Condition of Music’ (d. 18 January 1990). Computer printout.

  • ‘Silly Couplets’ (d. c. 1992). Computer printout.

The years of the undated compositions have been estimated after reading hundreds of drafts written from the late 1940s to 1993, and cross-checking manuscripts in a variety of typefaces and handwriting styles with dated poems in the same group. Even so, it is not always possible to settle for a precise year, and in some cases only approximate dates are given. Most of the texts that have been selected here are either typewritten or computer printouts and had already been copied from first handwritten drafts, as was the poet’s habit. There are also six handwritten versions that are either first drafts of a poem, or compositions that were not deemed worth typing. It can be assumed in principle that not all handwritten drafts were kept by the poet and that even some typed poems may have been lost despite his archival care. Among the unpublished poems in this list are three drafts (dated 1988–9) that were marked by AKR as ‘translations’ into English of his own Kannada poems: ‘Translations’, part V, ‘A Meditation’, and ‘Here and Now’. They belong to a group of poems originally written in Kannada, which AKR intended to include in a book he had planned of collected poems in English. A revised, shorter version of ‘A Meditation’ was published posthumously in The Black Hen and in Poems and a Novella, which contains AKR’s Kannada poetry translated by others. The translators and editors of this last posthumous collection do not acknowledge that the poem ‘A Meditation’ in the volume is AKR’s own translation of his Kannada poem, and not the work of the translators N.K. Raju and Shouri (Molly) Daniels-Ramanujan. In fact, it had already been published posthumously as an original poem in English with the same title, ‘A Meditation’, in The Collected Poems.66

As to different variants or versions of a poem, we can cite several cases among the identified drafts in which poems were redrafted over (p.418) a period of time, resulting in several ‘finished’ versions with almost the same content, but significant formal changes. AKR conceived such versions as ‘related poems, poems of the same family’.67 There are, for instance, two different versions of the poem ‘Prayer before Suicide’, which was first drafted on 19 November 1956 and rewritten on 14 February 1961, and is related to AKR’s famous poem ‘Prayer to Lord Murugan’ published in Relations. Another remarkable case that speaks for the author’s unrelenting search for metaphors of artistic creation is the poem ‘Bharata Natyam’ (see the section ‘Sanskrit Aesthetics and Classical Indian Philosophy’ in Chapter 5).68 About a dozen different version of this poem on dance written over a period of 35 years can be found in the Papers. The poem was never published though it is known to his friends who attended his poetry readings in the 1950s. The last available version of the poem was written in May 1984 as part II of ‘Composition’, the long piece that had 26 sections at one point. But months later the lines on the dancer were dropped from this long poem, which was eventually transformed into a set of individual poems published in Second Sight (see Appendix 2). It is illustrative of AKR’s redrafting practice to list here the available dated versions of ‘Bharata Natyam’, which still remains as an unpublished dance poem with a long career of artistic failures:69

Date of Draft

Title of Draft

(d. c. 1950)

‘Bharata Natyam’

(d. c. 1956)


(d. c. 1952)

‘The Dance

(d. c. 1967)


(d. late 1960s)

‘Yet, When Some Dancers Dance’ (first version)

(d. 1972–3)

‘Yet, When Some Dancers Dance’ (second version)

(d. 14 May 1984)

‘Composition’, part II

Landmark Phases in the Published and Unpublished Meta-Poetry

The published and unpublished poems and drafts that have been provisionally selected among the primary sources to study AKR’s ideas on poetry span 43 years from 1950 to 1993, covering almost every year during this period. These meta-poetic compositions can be divided into four chronological periods according to landmark events in the poet’s life: the year that the poet left for the USA (1959) and the publication dates of the second and third poetry collections, Relations (1971) and (p.419) Second Sight (1986). Consequently, we can recognize in AKR’s poetic career a first period in India that goes from 1950 to 1959, followed by three distinguishable periods in the USA: 1959–71, 1971–86, and 1986–93. In addition, we can identify several short phases in his life which yield a comparatively large number of such meta-poems:

  1. 1. The years from 1956 to 1959, which the poet spent as a lecturer of English in Belgaum and Baroda, and as a student of general linguistics in Pune.

  2. 2. The period from mid-1959 to the early 1960s, corresponding to AKR’s first years in the USA as a PhD researcher in linguistics.

  3. 3. The years from 1979 to 1984, during which the author strived to put together a new collection of poems after a fairly long period of barrenness.

  4. 4. The last five years in AKR’s life from 1988 to 1993.

It is interesting to observe how, in these meta-poetic phases, AKR’s biographical contexts converge with salient stylistic features and major preoccupations in his poetry:70

  1. 1. The author’s self-reflexive musings on ‘being a poet’ in his youth and his half-intended imitative play with the theories and writings of other poets he studied and taught during the 1950s in India.

  2. 2. The self-conscious concern with the language of poetry during the 1960s, which coincides with AKR’s career in linguistics.

  3. 3. An explicit and playful experimentation with philosophical concepts in the 1970s and early 1980s, which corresponds to a period of inner search.

  4. 4. A more mature exploration of metaphysical issues in the late 1980s and in the poetry of the 1990s, which were years of psychological and physical distress.

Interviews and Recordings71

The last category of material to be identified and classified for the present analysis comprises the dozen and a half interviews that have been published in various formats in India and the USA since 1969, and the miscellaneous audio and video recordings that are available in private and public archives. Though it can be argued that printed interviews are not a very reliable source, as there is usually (p.420) no guarantee (unless the original recordings are available) that the content of the published text conforms to the actual words expressed by the interviewed, most of the interviews are valid sources and some are exceptionally valuable to assess AKR’s thoughts on a variety of subjects.


It has already been stated that AKR, unlike other Indian poets writing in English, did not publish specific prose pieces expressing his views on art and poetry as a contemporary poet, nor did he write critical articles voicing his opinions on other contemporary Indian poets. Hence, for the general reader and critic acquainted with AKR’s work, the interviews are the main sources of information on the author’s personal ideas about poetry. The format of the interviews is, of course, not comparable with that of AKR’s writings, but unedited or only slightly edited interviews have the additional advantage of providing conversational, colloquial, and untailored primary content. As a rule, it is possible to verify the originality of an idea, comment, or remark in printed interviews by cross-checking the content with other published interviews, and by contrasting ideas with the notes and journals in the private prose. In some cases, however, the interviewer or editor may have shifted the bias on certain issues by leaving out material, or what is worse, may have manipulated or misinterpreted the content. A notorious case of misquotation is an interview conducted by M.N. Upadhyay in 1975, published in 1976 by The Illustrated Weekly of India.72 This interview was strongly repudiated by AKR. In a letter to the then editor of The Illustrated Weekly, the noted writer Khushwant Singh, AKR worded his discomfort thus:

I have just seen M.N. Upadhyay’s interview published three months ago (Weekly, July 18, 1976), and I am appalled by it….

Several months ago I had sent Mr. Upadhyay a telegram asking him not to publish his article without my corrections.

I am grateful to you and Mr. Nissim Ezekiel for printing some of my poems which speak for themselves.73

The letter includes a detailed enumeration of all the specific items in the interview that he denied to be of his own. Indeed, a close reading of this interview and comparison with other AKR interviews (p.421) and texts on similar issues soon makes any discernible reader aware of its oddities. Therefore, we can go along with AKR and invalidate the content of Upadhyay’s interview. As to the other interviews identified ahead, they have been considered as original sources after thorough comparison and evaluation. For the most part, the ideas and style of expression attributed to AKR in all of these interviews are quite uniform, and reflect the tone and the treatment given to the same topics in the private prose.

I have been able to trace in total 19 publications in English which can be classified as interviews.74 Eight of these publications (by M.N. Upadhyay, Chirantan Kulshrestha, Chidananda Das Gupta, Girish Shahane, Sangita P. Advani, Carlos Monteiro, Uma Mahadevan, and Jamie Kalven) were written in article form. In these articles, particular comments by AKR are either quoted or built into the text in the form of reported speech. The other 11 interviews (by T.K. Doraiswamy, V.M. Cherian, Chirantan Kulshrestha, Rama Jha, Murali Venkatesh, Vaiju Mahindroo [Naravane], Ayyappa Paniker, Purabi Banerjee, A.L. Becker and Keith Taylor, T.N. Shankaranarayanan and S.A. Krishnaiah, and Ayesha Kagal) follow the typical question–answer pattern of a live interview. Most of the interviewers are Indian journalists and literary critics who interviewed AKR when he visited India, where his fame had grown considerably after publishing in 1967 his first collection of translations from classical Tamil. Among the interviewers are also Western scholars and writers (Jamie Kalven, A.L. Becker and Keith Taylor), two folklorists (T.N. Shankaranarayanan and S.A. Krishnaiah), and two south-Indian poets (T.K. Doraiswamy and Ayyappa Paniker).75 Chirantan Kulshrestha, a literary critic who first befriended AKR in Chicago during his research work on American novelist Saul Bellow, interviewed AKR twice in 10 years.

Chronology and Publication of the Interviews

Before examining the content of the interviews and the main topics that are discussed, we should ascertain which chronological phase of AKR’s poetic career the interviews belong to. Not all interviews were published immediately after they took place. It is thus worthwhile to look at the publication history of interviews and their chronological distribution. Following is a list of all published interviews following the chronological order of the year the interview was conducted.76 (p.422)





T.K. Doraiswamy

Thought (29 November 1969)


V.M. Cherian

Span (August 1970)


Chirantan Kulshrestha

Uncollected Poems and Prose (2001)


M.N. Upadhyay

The Illustrated Weekly (8 July 1976)


Rama Jha

Times of India (20 January 1980) The Humanities Review (January–June 1981)


Murali Venkatesh

Deccan Herald, Bangalore (17 August 1980)


Chirantan Kulshrestha

Journal of South Asian Literature (Summer–Fall 1981)


Vaiju Mahindroo

UNESCO Features (1982)


Ayyappa Paniker

Journal of Literature and Aesthetics (January–June 2002)


Purabi Banerjee

Hindustan Times, Delhi (17 April 1983)


Chidananda Das Gupta

Span (November 1983)


A.L. Becker and Keith Taylor

Uncollected Poems and Prose (2001)


Girish Shahane

The Independent, Bombay (28 July 1990)


Sangita P. Advani

Times of India, Bombay (29 July 1990)


Carlos Monteiro

Midday, Bombay (31 July 1990)


T.N. Shankaranarayanan and S.A. Krishnaiah

Indian Poetry in English: Critical Perspectives (2000)


Uma Mahadevan

Economic Times, Bangalore (1992)


Jamie Kalven

University of Chicago Magazine (June 1992) Span (1993)


Ayesha Kagal

Economic Times, Bangalore (8 August 1993)

The interviews were conducted between 1969 and 1992, cover 23 years of AKR’s life, and were published between 1969 and 2002. The first three interviews took place after the publication of The Striders and The Interior Landscape, the author’s first books in English, which established him as a poet and translator, respectively. The subsequent eight interviews came out after Relations and the book of translations, Speaking of Siva, were published. Seven interviews fall into the period between 1980–3, an intense creative phase during which AKR (p.423) published the translations of Hymns for the Drowning and prepared another book of translations, Poems of Love and War, and a collection of his own poems which eventually became Second Sight. Another eight items belong to the last four years of his life (1989–93). It is striking that almost no interview came out in the 1970s. A majority of interviews came out in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals shortly after they had been conducted. Four interviews were published posthumously long after they had taken place: one in an edited collection of articles and essays titled Indian English Poetry: Critical Perspectives, two in Uncollected Poems and Prose, and the latest in Journal of Literature and Aesthetics.77 All but two talks (in Journal of South Asian Literature, Michigan, and UNESCO Features, Paris) were published in India, and three appeared both in India and the USA (in University of Chicago Magazine and Uncollected Poems and Prose). The two interviews brought out posthumously by Oxford University Press in Uncollected Poems and Prose (in New Delhi, London, and New York) are the only ones that reached a wide international readership. The other interviews, published in newspapers and journals (Thought, Journal of South Asian Literature, Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, and three in Span), had a more limited circulation.

Further comments need to be added on the posthumous publications. On 26 June 1990 AKR was interviewed by folklorists T.N. Shankaranarayanan and S.A. Krishnaiah in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, while attending an international workshop on folklore. The interview, poorly edited, was published in the year 2000 in a collection of articles on IPE, although it deals mainly with the study of folklore in south India. On the other hand, the editors of Uncollected Poems and Prose, Keith Harrison and Molly Daniels-Ramanujan, decided to include in the collection of previously uncollected material two unpublished interviews conducted in 1970 and 1989. In 1970, Indian literary critic Chirantan Kulshrestha, who was then a young Fulbright Scholar in the USA, interviewed AKR at the University of Chicago. He did not publish this talk then, but kept up a literary friendship with AKR, as can be traced from the correspondence. On his second visit to Chicago about 10 years later, as a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, Kulshrestha undertook another interview, which came out in the Journal of South Asian Literature (Michigan State University) in 1981. The other interview in Uncollected Poems and Prose, by Keith Taylor and A.L. Becker, both of whom also knew AKR personally, took place years later during AKR’s stint as a visiting (p.424) professor at the University of Michigan (1989–90). Taylor transcribed the talk, edited it slightly, and sent a typescript to AKR, asking him to edit it so it could be sent to a magazine, but it had to wait over 10 years to be published in Uncollected Poems and Prose.78 Though he did not get the chance to edit it thoroughly, AKR did some work on the text, and a copy of the interview with his handwritten changes and corrections is kept in the AKR Papers. However, the editors of Uncollected Poems and Prose seemed to have overlooked or ignored the corrected text, for the final published version is almost identical to the one in Taylor’s typescript, except for very minor corrections which do not coincide with AKR’s amendments.79 The last published AKR interview was printed in the Journal of Literature and Aesthetics in 2002. Renowned scholar and poet Ayyappa Paniker recorded a conversation with AKR at the University of Chicago in 1982. Since then, the audiotape was kept in Paniker’s residence in Trivandrum. Almost 20 years later, I was entrusted by Paniker the task of transcribing and editing this conversation for publication. Except for very few inaudible phrases and minor editing, the entire interview was published in its original conversational form in the Journal of Literature and Aesthetics from Kollam in Kerala. The interview is highlighted by J.O. Perry in his review article of the Oxford India Ramanujan in the following terms: ‘[A]n enormously revealing interview…. There is much more of AKR’s unaffectedly self-aware and self-critical “way of thinking” (and being) in this interview to ponder….’ In 2009, the then editor of the Sahitya Akademi journal Indian Literature, K. Satchidanandan, republished the conversation without crediting the earlier publication and editorial work (see also the section ‘Evolution of the Critical Scene’ in Chapter 1).80

Contextual Aspects of the Interviews

AKR was not fond of interviews and was rather reluctant to expose any kind of personal opinion about his work in public. He was particularly careful when it came to discussing his own poetry in English and the poetry of other Indian poets writing in English: ‘Opinions are only a small expression of one’s attitudes. They are an uncertain, often rigid expression. One is more, and often less, than one’s opinions. And they don’t often match other things in oneself. So please read them as gestures.’81 At times, the author chose to shift the topic to issues he felt more comfortable with. He usually asked interviewers (p.425) to send him the typescript of the talk so that he could edit it before publication, which he rarely accomplished in time, as he himself concedes in a diary entry written in 1982:

4 Aug. 1982, Northfield, Minnesota

I’m terrified of interviews—so I cover up my nervousness with courtesy and cliché, hoping to rework it all in editing which I never get a chance to do. The interviewer can’t wait. He sends me his transcript, which I dare not even read for months—and I’m appalled at my own inarticulate gibberish when I read it, I’m too busy to do anything about it quickly.82

In some instances, AKR declined to discuss his own poetic work to the extent that it was possible without offending the interviewer or compromising the interview. In an untitled article in the Indian newspaper National Herald published in 1983, he is even quoted by the journalist as saying: ‘Don’t ask me about my poems. It’s for others to say something about them.’83 Other interviewers were quick to realize AKR’s diffidence in their articles. Uma Mahadevan, for example, writes: ‘He pauses for he is not comfortable talking about the “how” of his poetry.’84 Furthermore, Girish Shahane, who titled his piece on AKR ‘Working Out the Contradictions’, almost complains about this coyness: ‘He is reluctant to introspect about his poetry, and the new directions it has taken over the years. He believes that it might amount to “making claims” about his poems, which he wants to avoid.’85 AKR preferred to let his poems speak for themselves. He was already adamant to comment on his poetry and IPE in the late 1960s, when he replied to a questionnaire that P. Lal had sent to Indian poets writing in English: ‘I do not know how to reply to your questions because I have really no strong opinions on Indians writing in English.’86 But there were rare occasions when the interviewer managed to engage the poet in thought-provoking and elucidative conversation on his poetry, including the poetic technique and artistic process. In such cases, he worded his statements very carefully and usually took pains to qualify questions, concepts, and assumptions that were either too general or which left him unprepared. Large issues hurled at him by the interviewer were frequently toned down to specifics that he deemed relevant to his own experience. Often, he had ready-made replies for questions that he anticipated, as the same issues used to come up during different conversations, thus many of his statements in the various interviews ‘sound’ like repeated versions of the same idea.

(p.426) Thus, there are contextual factors pertaining both to the author and interviewers that affected the style and the content of the interviews. AKR displayed a cautious attitude and self-conscious fastidiousness during interviews in which he nevertheless appeared to be courteous, casual, and relaxed. The concern for precision and nuance, and the need to be ‘in control’ of a situation during a conversation are traits which some people acquainted with him have also repeatedly remarked. The interviews, conducted by Chirantan Kulshrestha, Rama Jha, Ayyappa Paniker, and A.L. Becker and Keith Taylor in 1969, 1980, 1982, and 1989, respectively, stand out among the rest for their perceptiveness and in-depth treatment of issues that are highly relevant to AKR’s poetics. Becker and Taylor taught at the University of Michigan and were familiar with AKR’s work as a translator and poet. The three Indian interviewers, on the other hand, are scholars with publications on Indian writing in English. Chirantan Kulshrestha authored several articles on AKR and edited an influential collection of essays on IPE. Ayyappa Paniker published extensively on Indian writing in English and served as the editor of a Sahitya Akademi anthology of Modern Indian Poetry in English. And Rama Jha has written a study on Indian English novelists.87 Their background partly explains why their interviews probe into issues that were central not only to AKR’s thinking as a poet, but also to the critical scene of Indian poets writing in English and in regional languages. These interviews also subtly deal with the issue of being a multilingual Indian poet in America and bring up the questions of poetic art and technique in a discerning and sensitive manner. They carefully seek out critical opinions from the author on the creative aspect of his work as a poet, the processes behind it, influences, and traditions, as well as comments on other writers and literary movements.


In addition to the recorded interviews, there are a number of audio and video recordings of AKR’s talks and readings of poetry. The modulation of the voice as well as the tone, stress, and accent in these readings provide additional clues to appraise AKR’s notions on prosodic aspects of poetry. This material, therefore, complements the observations made by AKR on such subjects in the prose writings and interviews. The audio recordings include raw material from (p.427) interviews and readings recorded in private gatherings, as well edited material from public lectures and readings kept in public libraries. There are also some video recordings of television appearances and footage of poetry readings for documentaries, some of which are archived with the AKR Papers.88


(1.) See the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography for a list of unpublished lecture texts and essay drafts, and a complete inventory of AKR’s published writings in English and Kannada, including edited and co-edited works.

(2.) For full references of these works, see the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography.

(3.) This refers to first publications and does not include later editions of published texts, nor works translated by others from Kannada.

(4.) Ramanujan, ‘On Contemporary Indian Poetry’, pp. 51–63. None of the critical works on AKR mention this short essay. See ahead in this appendix and also Chapters 2 and 7. Though most of the published writings by AKR that are described here have already been cited in the chapters of the book, I may indicate the bibliographical references of works that are not part of the well-known posthumous publications.

(5.) Ramanujan, ‘On Bharati and His Prose Poems’, draft (1983–4), in CE, pp. 332–43.

(6.) See ‘Guide to the A.K. Ramanujan Papers 1944–1995’, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library (2010), https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.RAMANUJANAK. The University of Chicago indicates 1944–95 as dates for the collection, but, in fact, some documents in the Papers date from 1943.

(7.) AKR’s collected Kannada works were published in 2011 in Ramakant Joshi and S. Divakar (eds), A.K. Ramanujan Samagra (Dharwar: Manohar Granthamala, 2011). Apart from the published Kannada poetry, plays, short stories, and novella, this collection also includes scholarly prose from early Mysore college publications and other magazines and periodicals, as well as some previously unpublished material. See the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography for a list of AKR’s main works in Kannada.

(8.) I am not considering here, under prose, the tales that AKR collected in Folktales from India (1991) and in the posthumous A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India (1997), or the fictional prose in Kannada that was translated by others. See the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography for references of all posthumous publications.

(9.) ‘Folklore’ was a term the author did not fully approve of, as he preferred to speak of ‘oral traditions’, but both expressions are variably used in his prose.

(p.428) (10.) In several essays, AKR highlights his anthological search in the title. See, for example, ‘Towards an Anthology of City Images’, ‘Food for Thought’, and ‘Where Mirrors Are Windows: Towards an Anthology of Reflections’, in CE.

(11.) Vinay Dharwadker obtained his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1989, where he also collaborated with AKR on the translation of modern Indian poetry during the 1980s, a project that resulted in the publication of the pioneering Oxford Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry co-edited with AKR in 1994.

(12.) Dharwadker, ‘Preface’, in CE, pp. vii–viii.

(13.) Ramanujan, ‘The Ring of Memory: Remembering and Forgetting in Indian Literature’ and ‘For Barbara Miller’ (eulogy), in UPP, pp. 83–100, 101–3. See further in this appendix.

(14.) In the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography, I have incorporated Dharwadker’s bibliographical information from CE in the lists ‘Earlier Publications of Collected Essays’ and ‘Early drafts of published essays and papers cited in The Collected Essays’.

(15.) The three preceding posthumous publications were The Collected Poems (1995), A Flowering Tree (1997), and The Collected Essays (1999).

(16.) The poems from Uncollected Poems and Prose are discussed in the section on poetry of this appendix and the two interviews, conducted in 1970 and 1989, have been classified in the section on interviews.

(17.) See Dharwadker, in CE, pp. viii, 127, and the footnotes by Daniels-Ramanujan and Keith Harrison in UPP, pp. 83, 85 for the only data on this text provided by the editors of the posthumous collections.

(18.) I am not counting here AKR’s scholarly contributions to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1974), Encyclopedia of Oriental Literatures (1982), and The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993), or the essays in his books of translations and folktales, which are considered below. Encyclopedia Britannica (1974), pp. 131–208 (articles on Dravidian literature contributed to the section ‘Arts of South Asian Peoples’). See Encyclopedia of Oriental Literatures (1982), n.p. (15 articles on Kannada literature). Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan (ed.), The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 591–4 (articles on Tamil poetics and bhakti poetry in the section ‘Indian Poetics’). See also the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography.

(20.) See Ramanujan, ‘Notes on Walt Whitman’. This is also the only essay of literary criticism in which AKR explains the theoretic background of his critical approach.

(21.) Ramanujan and Gerow, ‘Indian Poetics’, in Ramanujan et al. (eds), The Literatures of India, pp. 115–43. Sections 115–18 and 128–9 are by AKR.

(22.) Lecture paper delivered at the School of Letters, Indian University, AKR Papers (1964).

(p.429) (23.) Ramanujan, ‘On Contemporary Indian Poetry’, also published as ‘Contemporary Indian Poetry’ in Financial Express, and as ‘Is Poetry Dead?’ in The Times of Deccan, Bangalore.

(24.) Among the collected essays, ‘On Bharati and His Prose Poems’ and ‘Classics Lost and Found’ are two rare published pieces dealing with contemporary poets and their relation to tradition.

(25.) Ramanujan, ‘Indian Literatures in the U.S. 1957–1987’, in Jacob (ed.), American Understanding of India. A typed manuscript is also available in the AKR Papers.

(26.) AKR’s linguistics papers are listed in the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography.

(27.) The preface and introduction to a posthumously published collection of Telugu poetry, co-edited with Velchuru Narayana Rao and David Shulman, is not included here. A.K. Ramanujan, V. Narayana Rao, and David Shulman (eds), When God Is a Customer: Telugu Courtesan Songs by Ksetrayya and Other Others (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994; and New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995).

(28.) As mentioned in Margaret Dicky Uroff, typed letter to AKR (with handwritten reply by AKR below), AKR Papers (21 April 1981).

(29.) Ramanujan, ‘Preface’, ‘Introduction’, and ‘Notes’, in Folktales from India, pp. xi–xii, xiii–xxxii, 323–46. For this introduction, AKR used material from his essays ‘Who Needs Folklore?’ and ‘Telling Tales’, in CE, pp. 448–62, 532–52. Not all stories published in this book were collected by AKR himself. On the other hand, the unfinished collection of Kannada tales, A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India published posthumously in 1997, does not carry an introduction by AKR, as it was left unfinished.

(30.) Girish Karnad confirmed that AKR did not attend this seminar as he was unable to travel to India due to his acute physical grievance. Personal interview (June 2003).

(31.) Edwin Gerow’s work on Sanskrit rhetoric was published as A Glossary of Indian Figures of Speech (The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1971). See also Gerow, Indian Poetics (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977). The material of the lecture on ‘Sanskrit Poetics’ was eventually incorporated into the essay ‘Indian Poetics’ (1974, with Gerow), which is AKR’s only published piece on Sanskrit poetics.

(32.) See the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography for AKR’s publications in Kannada.

(33.) A later version of ‘Love and Death in Mysore and Venice’ was presented as ‘Death in Venice and Samskara’ at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. The main thesis of these papers on comparative approaches in literary studies is related to the collected essay ‘Some Thoughts on “Non-Western” Classics: With Indian Examples’, in CE, pp. 115–23.

(34.) Samskara was translated into English by AKR. See Ananthamurthy, Samskara, pp. viii, 139–47, 149–58.

(p.430) (35.) See FT, cited earlier. The editors of the collection, Stuart Blackburn and Alan Dundes, acknowledge in the preface to this book the existence of an unfinished introduction to the tales that was not included in the final publication. Blackburn and Dundes, ‘Editor’s Preface’, in FT, p. ix.

(36.) This lecture is related to another paper titled ‘Conceptions of “Nature” in Indian and English Poetry (with Examples from Classical Tamil, Classical Sanskrit, and Seventeenth-Century English)’, lecture presented at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota (1981).

(37.) The dates given for essays that were collected in CE refer to the first publication.

(38.) A similarly titled lecture, ‘Translation in Culture’, was presented as the K. Kailasapathy Memorial Lecture in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1983.

(39.) In some cases, only a tentative year can be given for a first draft of a paper.

(40.) Dharwadker, in CE, pp. 597–600.

(41.) The items listed here are ordered chronologically by the first available drafts.

(42.) In PLW, this unpublished paper is cited as a lecture delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, in the year 1972, but in the AKR Papers the lecture is mentioned to have taken place in 1973. See Ramanujan, PLW, p. 313.

(43.) AKR quoted in Kagal, ‘A Poem Comes Out of Everything One Learns’, p. 12. Close friends of AKR such as S. Krishnan, Girish Karnad, and others have also pointed out his almost obsessive habit of recording every detail. Personal interviews (September 1999 and November 2000).

(44.) This is a reference to Jungian-trained psychologist Ira Progoff, who developed the intensive journal method.

(45.) Ramanujan, diary, AKR Papers (5 March 1980).

(46.) Ramanujan, diary, AKR Papers (9 November 1979).

(47.) During 1976, the year AKR recorded his desire to publish a journal, he wrote the first draft of his only novel, Matthobhana Atmacharitre, a largely autobiographical novella in Kannada published in 1978. He expressed in a diary entry of 17 August 1982 that he also wanted to write a novel in English. Matthobhana Atmacharitre has been published in English translation as Someone Else’s Autobiography in Poems and a Novella (pp. 214–323).

(48.) Ramanujan, diary, AKR Papers (26 July 1978).

(49.) For an alphabetical list of AKR’s professional correspondence (dating from 1958–3), see the ‘Guide to the A.K. Ramanujan Papers’ of the University of Chicago library.

(50.) Ramanujan, letter to Nabar.

(51.) Some of the early drafts or versions of published poems that had revealing titles at some point in time were eventually changed.

(52.) An early version of ‘Still Another View of Grace’, titled ‘A Poem on Logic’, was published in the Indian journal Quest. See Ramanujan, ‘A Poem on Logic’, Quest, vol. 3 (February 1958), n.p.

(p.431) (53.) Jon Stallworthy, typed letter to A.K. Ramanujan, AKR Papers (1 April 1965). Ramanujan, typed letter to Jon Stallworthy, AKR Papers (14 May 1965).

(54.) Shankaranarayanan and Krishnaiah, ‘Interview with Professor A.K. Ramanujan’, in Dodiya (ed.), Indian English Poetry, pp. 86–116. See the classification of interviews ahead in the appendix for more details.

(55.) Ramanujan, ‘On a Poet Now Silent’, in Shiv Kumar (ed.), Indian Verse in English 1970 (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1970), n.p. See also below under ‘Uncollected Early Poems’.

(56.) See Krittika Ramanujan, ‘Preface’, in CP, p. xv.

(57.) Ramanujan, ‘Invisible Bodies’, The New Yorker (1994).

(58.) See Molly Daniels-Ramanujan, ‘A Note on A.K. Ramanujan’s Uncollected Poems, in UPP, p. 104. Some of the rejected poems are classified ahead under ‘Unpublished Drafts of Poems’.

(59.) See ‘How We Learned about Grasshoppers and What’ (early version of ‘A Minor Sacrifice’, Second Sight), in Howard Sergeant (ed.), Pergamon Poets 9: Poetry from India (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1970). ‘On a Poet Now Silent’ (early version of ‘He Too Was a Light Sleeper Once’, Second Sight), in Shiv Kumar (ed.), Indian Verse in English 1970 (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1970), n.p. A comprehensive list of all the uncollected poems is provided in the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography.

(60.) Ramanujan, ‘The World Is a Flower’, ‘Transition’ (early version of ‘I Listened’), The Illustrated Weekly of India (October 1956–September 1957); ‘The Whip’, ‘Carpe Diem’, Thought (November 1957–December 1957); ‘Madura: Two Movements’, ‘A Poem on Logic’ (early version of ‘Still Another View of Grace’, The Striders), ‘No Dream, No Symbol’, Quest, vol. 3 (August 1957–February 1958); ‘I Listened’ (revised version of ‘Transition’), in P. Lal (ed.), Modern Indian Poetry in English: An Anthology and a Credo (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1969).

(63.) See, for instance, Bruce King, ‘Maturity: Moraes, Peeradina, Ramanujan, Patel, Shetty, Mehrotra, Daruwalla, de Souza, Alexander’, in Modern Indian Poetry in English (2001), p. 303.

(64.) AKR first quoted Valéry in this context in the Poetry Book Society Bulletin (1966). See also Ramanujan, ‘Translator’s Note’, in PLW, p. xv; and Kulshrestha, ‘A.K. Ramanujan’, p. 181, quoted in Chapter 6.

(65.) In the case of untitled poems, the first line is quoted.

(66.) See Ramanujan, ‘A Meditation’, in CP, pp. 239–40. Compare with ‘A Meditation’, in Poems and a Novella, pp. 163–4.

(67.) AKR quoted in Rodríguez (ed.), ‘Afterwords’, p. 150.

(68.) The poem starts with a description of a dancer. Bharatanatyam is a south-Indian classical dance form originating from a sacred Hindu temple (p.432) dance, sadir, which was revived in the twentieth century as a stage dance and became one of the prominent dance styles in India under the present name.

(69.) The poem from UPP, ‘Dances Remember Dancers’, is not connected with these versions.

(70.) Comprehensive biographical details and their relation to the poet’s aesthetics and poetics are analysed in Chapter 3 and the section ‘Biographical Factors and Poetic Creation’ in Chapter 6.

(71.) A list of interviews and audio and video material with references is provided in the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography.

(72.) M.N. Upadhyay, ‘A.K. Ramanujan’, The Illustrated Weekly of India (8 July 1976), pp. 21–3.

(73.) Ramanujan, letter to Khushwant Singh, editor, The Illustrated Weekly of India , AKR Papers (12 October 1976).

(74.) The interviews in Kannada have not been taken into account here. Apart from these interviews, there are also a number of other articles by journalists or critics, which include short quotes with comments by AKR. In the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography, interviews and articles come under separate categories.

(75.) T.K. Doraiswamy and Ayyappa Paniker are reputed poets in Tamil and Malayalam, respectively. Both scholar-poets were professors of English in Trivandrum, Kerala.

(76.) The date of the interviews is derived from the text, publication date, or other contextual factors. Some interviews came out in various publications and/or versions. Though listed here, the 1976 interview by M.N. Upadhyay is not treated as a valid primary source. Except for interviews that are quoted, complete references for all interviews are provided in the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography.

(77.) The Economic Times published an interview by Ayesha Kagal hardly a month after AKR had passed away in August 1993. Rama Jha’s interview appeared first as a short article in the Times of India (1980), and about a year later a longer version was edited for the Humanities Review (1981).

(78.) The posthumously published interviews here referred to are: Daniels-Ramanujan and Harrison (eds), ‘Chirantan Kulshrestha and AKR’ and ‘A.L. Becker, Keith Taylor, and AKR’, in UPP, pp. 41–51, 52–82; Kulshrestha, ‘A.K. Ramanujan’, pp. 181–4. Kulshrestha passed away in 1982 soon after his second visit to Chicago.

(79.) In the AKR Papers, there is a typed note by Taylor attached to the typescript of the interview which AKR edited.

(80.) Rodríguez (ed.), ‘Afterwords’, pp. 139–50. See also Indian Literature, vol. 254 (November–December 2009), pp. 171–87.

(81.) AKR quoted in Daniels-Ramanujan and Harrison (eds), ‘A.L. Becker, Keith Taylor and AKR’, in UPP, p. 42.

(82.) Ramanujan, diary, Northfield, Minnesota, AKR Papers (4 August 1982).

(p.433) (83.) AKR quoted in an anonymous article, National Herald (16 May 1983).

(84.) Uma Mahadevan, ‘Abstractions Are Escapist’, Economic Times, Bangalore (1992).

(85.) Shahane, ‘Working Out the Contradictions’.

(86.) Quoted from AKR’s published letter to P. Lal, which was a reply to the questionnaire (on whether and why Indians should write in English) that Lal had sent out to hundreds of poets writing in English. AKR’s comments were included in Lal’s 1969 anthology. A.K. Ramanujan, ‘Response to P. Lal’s Questionnaire’, in Modern Indian Poetry in English: An Anthology and a Credo (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1969), pp. 444–5.

(87.) For Kulshresta’s and Paniker’s articles on AKR, see the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography. On Paniker’s critical writings on IPE, see the section ‘Multicultural Contextualization’ in Chapter 2. See also Rama Jha, Gandhian Thought and Indo-Anglican Novelists (Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1983).

(88.) See the A.K. Ramanujan Bibliography for more details.