Bard to the basics

In the mid-1970s, poets such as Adil Jussawalla, Gieve Patel, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Arun Kolatkar came together to form a poetry publishing group called Clearing House. This was created in response to their disenchantment with the mainstream publishing industry of those times. Clearing House went on to revolutionise Indian writing in English and within a decade they published eight books on poetry, which are still remembered for their unique design and content.

The book jackets that sport iconic square format designs by Arun Kolatkar

Poet’s corner
To retrace Clearing House’s literary legacy, the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), Prithvi Theatre, Mohile Parikh Centre, Project 88 and ArtIndia have organised Open House with Clearing House. The event, which is part of a cultural series, will have journalist, author and poet Jerry Pinto, poet Gieve Patel and Abhay Sardesai, editor of ArtIndia, discuss the importance of Clearing House, share anecdotes and recite poetry.
Pinto’s connection with Clearing House comes from the fact that he received an IFA grant to examine the archives of poet Adil Jussawala, which contain letters exchanged between the poets in the collective.

Speaking about the background of the collective, Pinto says, “In the 1970s, things were dire in Indian publishing as no one was publishing poetry. So, four poets got together to form their own publishing cooperative. They named it Clearing House because they wanted to clear manuscripts.” He observes that most of the eight books that were published were in an iconic square format devised by Arun Kolatkar and have acquired canonical status in Indian poetry.

Second innings
“After the first four books were released, the second set included works by Dilip Chitre, Jayanta Mahapatra and HO Nazareth. Nazareth stopped writing poetry after this but he worked at getting the books some publicity in England. The rest went on to become major Indian poets and this makes Clearing House one of the most important movements in the history of post-Independence Indian literature,” adds Pinto.

Pinto became involved with documenting Clearing House thanks to Adil Jussawala (the first publisher of Clearing House). “A couple of years ago, Adil Jussawalla pointed to a bag containing ‘all the correspondence concerning Clearing House’. It was a bag that contained letters he had sent and received. It also included cheque books and the deposit book stubs. This was, he said, because he saw it as a cooperative, and also a business that dealt with money. It was a magnificent archive and offered a great opportunity to study it.”

Pinto applied for an IFA grant for documenting the project, and it was accepted. “This is the first time I have been supported in my work by someone else. It feels good,” he reveals. So far, he has read the archive and done a few interviews. He will be sharing some of these findings at the Open House.

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