Little-known writer from Kerala takes poetry world by storm

MV Fabiyas
MV Fabiyas
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Ten years after picking up the pen, and some 200 poems later, MV Fabiyas, an English teacher from Kerala's Thrissur district, has been nominated for not one but two prestigious prizes in poetry – the Pushcart Prize and the Griffin Prize.

Fabiyas' poem 'Language of Liquor' was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by an American publisher PoetryNook after it bagged the top place in their weekly competition last year. Fabiyas, a regular winner of these competitions, was one of the five poets nominated by the publisher.

Only magazines and small book press editors are invited to submit nominations for the prize, now in its 44th year. Last year, his poem 'The Tomb' too was one among several nominations.

His collection 'Monsoon Turbulence' has also been nominated for the 2020 Griffin Prize, one of Canada's most generous poetry prize. Published by PoetryNook in 2019, 'Monsoon Turbulence' is one of Fabiyas' largest collections so far, exceeding over 100 pages.

With separate categories for Canadian and International poets, Griffin Prize awards Rs 30 lakh to each winning work. The shortlist will be announced on April 7, 2020.

MV Fabiyas' many works
MV Fabiyas' many works

Fabiyas' first poetry collection 'Moonlight and Solitude' was published by Raspberry Books, Kozhikode, in 2012. His poems have since been published extensively in anthologies, magazines and journals in the US, UK, Australia and Canada among others.

However, Fabiyas' most endearing work still remains 'Kanoli Kaleidoscope', published in 2017. In this collection, Fabiyas recounts lives – his and others – as lived on the banks of Conolly Canal, a waterway built by the British in the 18th century, through a 'poetic kaleidoscope'.

“My time living on the banks of the canal remains still a big inspiration for me”, Fabiyas told Onmanorama. “I can still recall the many sights I saw then very vividly, feel the little tug at my heart with the same impatience.”

MV Fabiyas
MV Fabiyas

There are two kinds of poems, Fabiyas explains. Born poems and made poems. Born poems are those inspired by something – a sight, a conversation overheard on the bus. They are easier to write. They are also the ones most enjoyed by the reader.

“Poetry, after all, is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotions recollected in tranquillity,” Fabiyas quoted his favourite poet William Wordsworth.

Made poems are those the author manifests in order to convey a message. The deliberate nature of the latter means that they are taxing to write. Yet, both may hold the same literary value if done well.

A poem from Kanoli Kaleidoscope, 'An Illiterate Mother', was published in Westerly Magazine by Western Australia University. It was also published in Writers Resist, a journal born on the cusp of the 2016 US presidential election exploring creative expressions of resistance.

'Eternal Fragments', that came out the same year, was published by erbacce-press, UK, after Fabiyas was shortlisted for the 2017 erbacce-prize out of 8,000 contestants.

His latest collection, 'Shelter with the Peanut Shells', was published by Red Cherry publications, Kozhikode. It has already garnered rave reviews from across the world. 'Language of Liquor' is one of the many poems in this collection.

“The constant of Fabiyas' poetry is the ugly face of reality and its uncompromising truths. Fabiyas peruses the soiled world of people’s vices and the consequences of their actions. He clinically watches a parade of younger or older people going through the grinding wheels of their existence. Fabiyas invites to reflection and meditation. He opens gates and shuts down illusions. Nothing is wrapped in pinky hues, but everything is shredded to the bare bones of mankind’s features,” writes Roxana Nastase, author of A Church Going Woman and Editor-in-Chief, Scarlet Leaf Review, Canada.

Frank Watson, the editor of PoetryNook, says “Fabiyas displays a unique insight into the human condition, often told through stories of the afflicted or forgotten. His perspective opens the reader’s eyes to deeper ways of looking at the world.”

Fabiyas' works have won many international accolades, including, Merseyside at War Poetry Award from Liverpool University; PoetrySoup International Award, and the Animal Poetry Prize 2012 from Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelties against Animals. He was also the finalist for Global Poetry Prize 2015 by the United Poets Laureate International.

Fabiyas' poems are not only widely read, they are also celebrated abroad. However, the market and readership in India is grim. Fabiyas is not disheartened.

MV Fabiyas
MV Fabiyas

“The reason could be cultural. Those in the UK and the US are more innate readers of poetry. They tend to enjoy it more – especially when the poems are about life and realities here in India. Poems, for them, open a window to the world, an opportunity to ponder.

Besides, I like the submission process of foreign journals. It is very straight-forward and many of them, if not all, are punctual with their word, unlike a few experiences that I've had with Indian publishers.”

To the question whether the decline of reading as a habit had any part to play in this, he says “No, I don't think so. Everyone read. Only the platform has changed. Everything is digital now.”

It was Malayala Manorama's coverage in 2015 that brought Fabiyas to the limelight. Since then he has been hailed in Thrissur as the local poet, a regular guest for discussions and workshops. He also has the Malayala Manorama clippings safely filed away in his drawer.

“My biggest inspiration is my father, MV Alikutty. He was a well-known writer in Malayalm with over 200 novels, travelogues and memoirs to his name. He instilled the passion for writing in me.

My father was also a social worker as was his brother, freedom fighter and AICC member MV Aboobacker Sahib. Politics is not in my blood. I wage my good fights with the pen.” Fabiyas' forthcoming title 'Stringless Lives' will be out late 2020.

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