Tamil being a classical language , with a two - thousand - year - old tradition of prosody and strict grammar for written verse , it is having a heavy baggage of literary history on it’s back . But for the English and French education , introduced by the colonial rulers of India , it would have been very difficult for the Tamil poetry to get relieved from the one-way-push of the past. The tiring feeling that the poetic excellence was already achieved by the scores of master poets of Sangam period like Tiruvalluvar and Ilango and later poets like Kamban who created Tamil version of Ramayan was haunting the Tamil poets until Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi
( 1822- 1921) entered the poetic scene of Tamil world. When Subramanya Bharathi , made a bold attempt in verse-libre , it started serving as a spring-board for a latter poet Na.Pichamurthi ( 1900-1976) to introduce first in Tamil , the “free verse”.
When Na.Pitchamurthy, the father of New poetry in Tamil ,tried a new genre Tamil poetry , the literary scene in other Indian languages was very much favorable to experimentation with various literary forms and symbols. Many legendry poets like B.S.Mardhekar in Marathi, Gopala Krishna Adiga in Kannada , and Gajanan Madhav Mukthibodh in Hindi , Ayyappa Paniker in Mlayalam had brought in radical changes in the poetic sensibility and style of expression in their own languages. If we take Tamil language, in thirties, Na.Pitchamurthy, Ku.Pa.Rajagopalan, Pudhumaipithan and Ka.Na. Subramaniam sought to break with the Tamil poetry tradition (Marapu ) of the past , through experimentation with various literary forms and symbols. But strictly speaking , they were not able to break away totally with the past , because the rhythmic beauty of the traditional Tamil verse - making was still lingering on in their poems .
It is interesting to note here that in between , Subramanya Bharathi and Na.Pichamurthy , there was a major poet called Bharathidasan (1891-1964) , a disciple of Bharathy, who was an advocate of the Dravidian political movement. He had many followers and there was a strong popular mass poetry movement for him. So , the New poetry movement in Tamil struggled a lot in establishing itself as a major trend in Tamil literature.
In order to win over the popular mass poetry movement , a group of modernist poets and critics like Ka.Na.Subramanyam and C.S.Chellappa who militantly advocated for “Pudhukavithai” , severely criticized the traditional verse-making as well as the non-modernist academicians . On the other hand , many fine poets like Dharmu Sivaram otherwise known as Premil, Nakulan , Pasuviah, and C.Mani were strengthening the New poetry movement with their poems of rare kind.
At one point of time, an array of poets like Abdul Rahman, Meera, Sirpi, Mu.Mehtha and Tamilanban who were all considered to be the champions of traditional verse-making , with complete knowledge of Tamil traditional prosody , started writing New poetry by relinquishing their “marapu” poetry. By intentionally resorting to free verse , they all tried to achieve a democratic character and contemporary sensibility in their poetry. Among these poets , Abi has written poems standing out for their rare kind of aesthetics of ambivelance.
In 1970s , a band of poets called “vanambadi” , comprising of poets like Sirpi, Puviyarasu, Gnanai, Agniputhran , who described themselves as “ the skylarks singing in praise of humanity” , had started operating actively with free verse style of poetry. Because of the recognition given by the academicians themselves to New poetry -- which was popularly known as “Pudhu kavithai”--it became the dominant mode of poetry of the day.
In 60s and 70s , as it was in other Indian languages like Bengali, Marathi, Hindi , Malayalam and Guajarati , the Little Magazine and Small Press movement emerged in Tamil language as well. Many little magazines like “Ezuthu”, “Nadai” “Vanambadi”, “Ka Cha Da Tha Pa Ra”, “Kanayazhi”, “zha” etc were defining and re-defining the modernity and cultural nationalism structured by the earlier generation of poets . Although there was no well established pan-Indian literary modernism except in Indo – Anglian writings , the radical and experimental changes in other regional languages of sixties somehow influenced Tamil regional poetry through many translations . Poets like Atmanam and Gnanakoothan were writing many poems with a keen sense of modernity and parody .
In 1982 “Meetchi” , a literary quarterly edited by Brammarajan , an important poet in Tamil , introduced many western concepts of poetry like “Anti-poetry” and the magazine created a platform for many wonderful poets like Sukumaran, Padhasari and Vikramadithyan.
In 1983 the Srilankan Tamil ethinic riots started and the Tamil poetry assumed an important responsibility of recording the tragedies and new challenges of the Tamil population in Srilanka. In 1984 a new anthology of Srilankan Tamil poetry titled as “ Maranathul vazhvom “ ( We live amidst death) , compiled by M.A.Nuhman, Cheran and Jesurajah was published by CreA, a publishing house based in Chennai. Srilankan poets Cheran and V.I.S Jayapalan with their authentic voices influenced the diction and style of Tamil poetry produced in Tamilnadu.
In 1982 when Indran released his “Araikul vandha Africa Vanam” (The African sky that came inside my room ) , a translation of African and Afro-American poetry and prose it influenced the style of Tamil poetry of eighties . The poetry of American poets Langston Hughs, Arna Bontemps, the Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka, French poet Leopold Sedar Senghor inspired Tamil poets to try out new diction and style in their poetic expression.
The book was one of the main sources of inspiration for the emergence of the Tamil Dalit poetry movement. During the birth centenary celeberation of Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1991 Dalit Tamil poetry reached new heights and many compilations of Tamil Dalit poetry started appearing in English . “ The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit writing” ( 2012) edited by Ravikumar and R.Azhagarasan and “ No Alphabet in sight” ( Penguin Books- 2011) edited by K.Satyanarayana& Susie Tharu were released.
In 1982 , to celeberate the birth centenary of Subramanya Bharathy, Annam publication of poet Meera brought out a series of new poetry in the name of “Navakavithai” . Many important Tamil poets like Vikramadityan, Kalyanji, Vannanilavan , Ko.Rajaram and Indran were introduced in this series of Navakavitha poetry.
Another important development in 80s is the emergence of a new generation of Tamil women poets who started writing with Feminist overtones. Malathy Maithrey, Kutti Revathi, Sugirtharani, Salma, Leena Manimekalai and Puthiya Madhavi are the poets whose poetry analyze gender in it’s relation to power, class, social and family relationships. There are another set of women poets like Ilambirai, Thamizhatchi Thangapandian, Thenmozhi Dass, Uma Maheswari and Brindha who deal with motherly love, appreciation of nature, rural life experiences etc.
In 90s , the earlier trend of contextualizing the private experience with the socio-political issues started dissipating slowly and an aesthetics of ambivalence was coming and settling over most of the Tamil poems. Manushya puthiran is an important voice in the new generation of Tamil poets who got Sanskriti National award in 2002 for his poetic contribution as a young writer.
New voices like Yuvan Chndrashekar, Ramesh-Prem, Sankara Ramasubramanian, N.D.Rajkumar and Yavanika Sriram are successfully retaining a place of their own amidst the crowd of attention-grabbing fiction and non-fiction.
A very interesting feature of the Tamil poetry today is the emergence of a global Tamil poetry.
When the Tamils from India migrate as highly skilled professionals to United States, Canada, Europe and South East Asia , they developed a sort of hybrid aesthetics in their Tamil poems.
Similarly because of the Srilankan civil war , many Tamil refugees went out of Srilanka to various European countries and settled in without losing their Tamil cultural identities. Their Tamil poems are getting published in countless Tamil little magazines published from these countries. Many important Tamil poets -- Cheran from Canada, V.I.S.Jeyapalan from Norway, Ki.Pi.Aravindhan from France – are contributing considerably to Tamil poetry today. In these Tamil poems , apart from their nostalgic vociferations about their lost homes and villages , many poetic observations about their life in their new home countries also find a place of prime importance.
As a result of this , in todays in Tamil poetry , we find new symbols and images, new expressions with western nuances, new landscapes and geography wherein we can find descriptions about pine trees in the place of neem trees and palm trees , and new birds and animals in the place of peacocks and parrots .
Today a new era of Tamil poetry is waiting in the horizon with crimson hues to spell out many promising news about the future.