S. Joseph (born 1965) is a Malayalam poet with four acclaimed poetry collections to his credit. He received the Kanaka Sree Award from the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. His second and third books were on the shortlist of the best Malayalam books of the year in noted journals and his most recent volume, Uppante Kooval Varakkunnu, won the Thiruvananthapuram Book Fair award for one of the ten best books of the year 2009. He works as a lecturer in Malayalam at Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam.
And yet, it doesn’t take long to find out that this is no sylvan paradise. Joseph’s poetic universe is very much a fallen world of simmering injustice and violence, of hypocrisy and thwarted dream. It is a world of loans and “cut-throat moneylenders” (‘My Sister’s Bible’), a world where love seldom triumphs over caste identity (‘Identity Card’), where literature has to be wrested from the monopolistic upper castes who have ‘locked’ up poetry in ‘stanzas and metres’ (see ‘A Letter to Malayalam Poetry’).
But the remarkable quality of this poetry is the fact that it is not a simplistic poetry of protest and denunciation. Despite its direct, ‘ordinary’ and seemingly unadorned surface, Joseph’s poetry is like the deceptively limpid streams in his village, layered and shadowed, mysterious with hidden worlds and subtle undertones. It is a world where an image from childhood – the body of a drowned fishmonger – may suddenly lurch into view from the hidden and mossy depths of memory; a world of silences and violent deletions, where much lies unsaid but never unimplied between red scribbles on college ID cards and intensely charged lines of verse.
“Someone said something is missing in my poems,” says the poet in one of his poems. In a moment of distilled insight (which reminds one all over again why poetry when it works triumphs over more elaborate prose routes to discovery), he arrives at the reason. The reason is wilful blindness, the deliberate obliteration of all that makes the human being a vibrant, inconsistent asymmetrical blaze of life.
Joseph’s poems – with their taut lines and moments of sudden wordlessness – do not allow you to forget the implications of those losses, the magnitude of those erasures.
Uppante Kooval Varakkunnu, D C Books, Kottayam, 2009,
Karutha Kallu, D C Books, Kottayam, 2000, ISBN 81-264-0205-9
Meenkaran, D C Books, Kottayam,2003, ISBN 81-264-0616-X
Identity Card, D C Books, Kottayam,2005, ISBN 81-264-1125-2
Pulariyile Moonu Thengukal, Rainbow Books, Thiruvananthapuram, 2006, ISBN 8189716522
Pratilipi: A poem by S. Joseph