Thursday, June 12, 2008


THE Poetics of R. K. Singh

Jindagi Kumari

M. Phil (English)

Dr. Rajni Singh

Assistant Professor

Indian School of Mines University


The best poetry

is a woman

concrete, personal, delightful

greater than all

(My Silence, p.139)

R. K .Singh considers best poetry as a woman. ‘Woman’ is a metaphor that the poet has used for poetry. His concept of poetry and woman is so merged that poetry seems to be dissolved in woman, and woman appears as poetry personified, concrete, personal and delightful.

Both poetry and woman, for the poet, are most treasured entities because they are real. Both can be experienced by the senses; both incite passion, both are intimate; and, above all, both have the power to delight and elevate. Poetry and woman are, thus, conceived as accessories to the higher levels of consciousness. The greatness of poetry, therefore, lies in its power to transcend the physical through physical. For example:

Woman is the flesh

and spirit of poetry

eternal love thirst

growing younger as

one grows older day by day

perfecting the body

(Flight of Phoenix, p.70)

Perfecting the body of poetry and woman is the crux of the argument of the poem. The same idea is reiterated in the following lines:

A woman

in poet’s vision

howsoever strange

is ever new;

pierce like diamond

or thread like pearl

to weld in her depth

her nudity

I love for

all her mystery

perfect poetry

beyond the sky

(Above the Earth’s Green, p.72)

Again, in poem number 57 of the same collection, the poet says that woman is “the measure/of all things: body, truth/love, spirit, God, society, peace /and man” (Above the Earth’s Green, p.69).

The poet’s basic ideology of art and poetry is expounded in his idea of woman who is all encompassing and constitutes the major content of his poetry. The other significant themes such as love and sex are but different facets of his core ideology with different manifestations. In one of his interviews given to Kanwar Dinesh Singh in New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative Voice, the poet says: “Woman in my poetry…is a universal woman, the invisible part of the primordial pairs we know as Purush – Prakriti, or Yin-Yang, unchanging over time and culture”.

In the above statement the poet relates ‘woman’ with the basic principle of life and creation. The following poem is an expression of the universal principle of creation:

The split in cypress

is vulva I know the roots

purush – prakriti

call it Yin and Yang

our basic sex, lingam and

yoni harmonise

like lotus rising

from the depths of lake through mud

crossing existence

(My Silence, p.71)

When the poet mentions purush and prakriti in harmony or as one, he emphasizes the presence of maleness and femaleness in each individual. Each person is naturally endowed with both male and female energy or quality and this needs to be harmoniously nurtured to make unadulterated expression of life, celebration and delight, or to feel innocent joy, or to be perfect or whole. Creation is not possible in the absence of feminine principle or prakriti. Therefore, for creation masculine and feminine principles need to be harmonized into a single whole.The
same idea is illustrated in the following lines:

The fig of life with
roots above and branches below

man and woman one

(Flight of Phoenix, p.71)

The poet appreciates that with their pragmatism and ability to cope with reality, women are earth bound: man leans towards the sky and woman is rooted in the earth; the deeper the roots of a tree go the higher the branches rise. The poet stands for man and woman in deep synchronicity: woman provides the roots and man provides the flowers. The harmony between the two is basic to physical, emotional, sexual and social existence. Here, the idea is akin to what one finds in verse 20 of the Brihadaranyank Upanisad: “Then he embraces her, (saying), ‘I am the vital breath and you are the speech; you are speech and I am the vital breath: I am the Saman and you are the Rg, I am heaven and you are the earth. Come let us strive together….”

This verse signifies the union of man and woman in the act of creation. For life and existence, the union of the two elements of feminine and masculine, prakriti- purush or yoni and lingam is essential:

Love is my prison

and freedom both

in her presence

my wish her wish

to be everything

her shiva and

shakti a dual- single

me and she, one

(Flight of Phoenix, p.54)

Similarly, the reference to Shiva and Shakti as ‘dual- single’ in the poem again links the poet’s inspiration to the Classical Hindu Mythology. Mitali De Sarkar, too, in her article, “Harmony in Duality: Indianess in R.K.Singh’s Poetry”, avers : “According to the Svetasvatara Upanisad, Iswar and Sakti are regarded as the parents of the universe: “only when united with Shakti has Siva power to manifest; but without her the god cannot stir.

This principle of harmony of the two opposite elements in fact evinces the poet’s craving for union in all the spheres of life. Since most of the problems originate due to discordance of ideas, modern world is full of elements of disintegration and destruction threatening existence of humanity as well as of creativity.

Poetry, like a woman, conceals beauty in its form, which provides emotional pleasure and spiritual calm, leading to creativity. This creativity is the result of the amalgamation of the two poetic elements: the form and the content that unite to make an inseparable whole. This view is beautifully brought out by the poet in the following lines:

A poem is

like life


and silence


and stillness


and wholeness



like Shiva

and Shakti


and mud

(Music Must Sound, p.100)

More importantly, the ideology of union as professed by R.K.Singh, is not something alien, rather it is essentially rooted in Indian tradition and culture, as clear from his use of ‘Shiva and Shakti’, ‘dual- single’ and ‘purush- prakriti’.

In addition, R.S. Tiwary in his scholarly article, ‘“Secret of the First Menstrual Flow”: R.K.Singh’s Commitment to Fleshly Reality’ in New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative Voice, opines that the poet frequently alludes to purush-prakriti -- the celebrated formulation of Sankhya Philosophy. Purusha is the counterpart of the Brahman of the Advaita darshana that remains inactive but when he comes in contact with prakriti,that is, the feminine principle, he gets agitated and their union eventually leads to creation. To quote R.S. Tiwary: “This integration of twin principles of Masculinity and Femininity has its roots in the Vedic provision that the ‘Paramatman’ the Supreme being, divided himself into two, man and woman, to enjoy himself, becoming bored by solitariness.”

Reference to “Avibhiktam Vibhakteshu”, too, is made to present the philosophy of the Bhagvat Gita in a nutshell by the poet. The idea is interpreted in the Bhagvat Gita as “Even when it is fragment, even in that fragment the whole world resides.” Thus, it can be understood that the poet’s ideology is developed around some of the fundamentals of the Vedic philosophy.

Woman: The Source of Love

Love is the guiding of emotion that leads to unity as well as harmony. This love springs from charm and beauty. R.K.Singh’s concept of love facilitates the exploration of various related aspects of his ideology. The poet advocates physical love and glorifies it without any reticence, as a reinforcer of emotional and spiritual bond. Physical love, for the poet, is in no way demeaning, because it is a fact of life. Inhibition or hideousness in the matter, therefore, underlies hypocrisy. It is in this form that sex becomes instrumental in exposing the pretensions imbued in all walks of modern life.

Elaborating the poet’s ideal of love one finds that it is connected with his ideal of beauty and pleasure. Since woman and poetry are considered as the chief sources possessing eternal beauty and eternal pleasure, intimacy with them leads to physical as well as spiritual comfort, as in the poem:

She is the tree

green and wide

abundantly dressed


spreading her sleeves

blesses all

in her cool shade…

I feel

nearer God

(My Silence, p.137)

Here, the tree imagery used for woman indicates her physical glories, as she is “abundantly dressed”. This bodily charm and all-encompassing love make her a source of enduring comfort and the speaker feels “nearer God” in her company. She is so overpowering that her presence cannot be resisted. In the following poem the speaker helplessly submits to her original charms and cherishes a dream to reach “the pavilion of eternity” with her assistance:


I see her beauty


I hear her melody


I partake of her knowledge


I share her wealth

in - drawn

her vision reigns my heart

(My Silence, p.139)

In another poem the speaker is found looking forward to his progress in the movement of woman:

I seek new strides

in each of your moves

new dreams in your eyes and thighs

nude lyrics in lips

shape the night’s sway

set my heart afire

I seek the lingering fragrance

the rhythm that frenzies the soul

the timeless joy you conceal

I seek the hues that blaze being

and shade the nest I rest in:

your chains renew my freedom

each time I look at you

I see natural woman

the fount of poetry.

(Some Recent Poems, p.33)

The poem represents an analogy between woman and poetry. Moreover, the idea suggested in the poem gets illustration when we examine the poet’s statement from an interview given to K.D.Singh: “I see woman (and her nudity) as the mainspring of our being (and art) as “ the major incident in man’s life,” shaping the psyche and constituting the sensory experience. She is eternal and there is no poetry possible without her.” R.S.Tiwary’s remark also seems apt when he says; “Woman is the chief source of his (R.K.Singh’s) creative afflatus; woman not as an imaginary angel but woman in her all corporeal riches....” It is on this account that Tiwary studies the poet’s frequent references to sexual imagery and symbols like “eyes”, “thighs” and “breast”, as part of the influence of ancient Indian erotic poetry.

The poet himself admits this association when he says in an interview defending his interpretation of physical love in his poetry: “Our ancient erotic manuals, Kamsutra, Kokashastra, and Ratirahasya treat love as a matter of giving and receiving pleasure. The aesthetics of erotica, the sexual metaphor makes it possible to convey what it feels like to be filled with desire; such a state, in our classics, has been valued highly, as sexual love is seen as a means of access to the realm where human and divine meet.”

It is perceived that the poet’s treatment of love reinforces his fundamental idea related to unity. This unity, however, is not limited to bodily union but touches one’s consciousness. It results in the evolution of a harmonious society. The following poem hints at the poet’s effort to preserve the humanity within man by means of poetry:

I make myself man

each time I create

setting, character, tone

in a poem

create poetic sense

disclose my natural being

playing five senses

my distortions and inversions

evolve in history and society

to save the man in me

through poetry of self

(Flight of Phoenix,p.53)

Here, poetry is conceived as a play with dramatic elements like setting, character, tone and poetic sense and may present a sensuous drama involving five senses but its purpose ultimately lies in safeguarding values and humanity. Thus, poetry is a platform for the poet to expose the distortions and deformities of self and society. The following poem also contains an identical thought, but the attention, here, can be transferred to the technical part of poetry:

A poem is madness

unique fascination

liberating language

re-creates, re-symbolises

disfiguring the known

secured norms

inverting the safe


(Flight of Phoenix, p.53)

A poem is, hence, a camouflage, because it means something different from what it appears to be suggesting. This multiplicity fascinates and is equated to madness. The logic behind the liberation of language is to “re-create”, “re-symbolise” and “disfigure” the conventional norms to refresh them and ensure safe existence.

Commenting on Singh’s manipulation of the medium, R.S.Tiwary opines: “Language is exceedingly malleable in his hands. Like Keats, he takes delight in coining phrases, such as, ‘fractured faith’, ‘drugged sleep’, ‘rituals of flesh’, ‘dark combats’, ‘that icy sun’ etc. Although there are few purple patches in his poetry, yet the similes and metaphors employed by him are always delightful, carrying a pregnancy of meanings.”

For the poet, poetry is not “…just functional/ like brief-case” (Memories Unmemoried), it is an extension of his self. R.K.Singh advocates subjectivity in poetry. He approves personal poetry because it can serve as an instrument of self- exploration. In the following statement he stresses the same idea:“I think, I often talk about myself, withdrawn into my personal world, to me, perhaps, it is a means of defying the disgusting socio-political world outside…By writing brief personal lyrics...I make my life a work of art or enlarge myself to the universal sameness of human feeling.” The following lines sum up the poet’s thought:

Poetry is prayer

in life’s vicissitude:

a saving grace against

manipulated or

unmanifested odds

overwhelming without

warrant or patterning

(Above the Earth’s Green, p.13)

Some poems by the poet give clue to his sources of inspiration which lie mainly in his past experiences and memories, as the construct of the given poems suggests: What I write shows/my past….” (Memories Unmemoried) and “Oasis in memories/of desert rhythm of wilderness/ sound is the poetry” (Memories Unmemoried).

The word ‘memory’ has been used as a metaphor, which stands for creative process, or imagination where past experiences get synthesized and work as awareness for the present. Also, the poet, names one of his poetic collection as Memories Unmemoried. Memory, therefore, is a vision device to collect a timeless frame to express the consciousness. It is free and can make illusion of a truth as well as truth of an illusion. What is being unmemoried is the expression, which is the visible aspect of awareness.

Thus, by expressing the memories, the poet relives them and soothes the agitated mind undergoing the conflict of sweet bitter impressions. The poet’s consciousness guides him towards the realization and acceptance of differences and thus manifests his broad and unconventional outlook, as in the following poem:

A poem

elusive like a butterfly

is the dynamics

of a culture

a process of exchange

a cultural artifact




reader and creator

it incorporates


of modern man

fluid, mobile



matrix of tongues

and patterns of languages

into a stable whole

of self awareness

(My Silence, p.169)

The poet advocates brevity of expression. His belief in precision is proved by his own poems, which are mostly brief in structure. As he articulates in one of his poems: “moon is the poem in sky/silence sounds in brevity” (Above the Earth’s Green).He compares poetry to the moon, which occupies a small space in the vast sky, but its smallness becomes significant with the effect it casts. The poet practices brevity by following the imagistic and symbolic patterns.

Irony is another remarkable feature of R.K.Singh’s poetic style. He employs subtle irony in his poems by means of symbols and images. For example: “A monkey turned the coat/to let off snakes/hidden in velvet lining” (Music Must Sound)

Another important aspect of R.K.Singh’s poetics is that he does not give titles to his poems nor does he use punctuation marks; thereby he individualizes his style availing himself of poetic freedom. Moreover, the poet has not used a period in the first four collections, viz. My Silence (1985), Memories Unmemoried (1988), Music Must Sound (1990), Flight of Phoenix (1990), but one can find semicolon, colon and dashes in some of his poems. The same style appears in Above the Earth’s Green, Cover to Cover, and The River Returns. By not using punctuation, such as a comma at the end of the line or a period at the end of the sentence,the poet frequently ends up using enjambment. As a result, the meaning flows as the lines progress. The reader has the freedom to understand one or more meanings from the poem. The instances of this kind of verse can be found in e.e.cummings who created enjambment combined with the use of punctuation as an art form.

Regarding the poems without titles I.K.Sharma’s remark calls for one’s attention when he says “To a common reader a title is a big help that makes a poem accessible.” Obviously, a common reader cannot be assumed an expert of the nuances of poetic language. So, there remain chances of misinterpretation. This even increases when the content of poetry is as unconventional as sex. However, the poet believes that poems without titles and punctuation marks allow greater freedom to the reader to imagine and interpret the meaning. Even if “titles tell too much”, as R.K.Singh believes, they limit the meaning and lessen the effect of the poem.

The poet also evinces interest in alliterative device as a means to generate musical effect in his verses. For example:

Love leads to beauty

and vision with perfection

pillar of dust or

fleeting shadow can

turn into light revelling

pure songs wrought out of

the clay blending joys

in naked passion seek signs

of self- discovery

roving with delight

and perfume of fellowship

in valley of peace

(Flight of Phoenix, p.55)

Formal Features

R.K.Singh adopts Japanese form of three-line seventeen syllables haiku and uses it as stanza unit in many of his poems. Although he does not always conform to the traditional pattern of haiku (5-7-5 syllable) and tanka (5-7-5-7-7), he has uses three- line stanza pattern that appear haiku-like and thus seems to nativize the foreign form in his style. In addition, one finds two- line, four- line, five- line stanza patterns but they have an occasional occurrence. Haiku in different beats, 3-5-3, 4-6-4, 5-7-5 or in free form, are individually composed by the poet in his haiku collections as well as in stanza form in his longer poems. His poems are without rhyme but there is always some or the other sort of rhythm that the poet creatively develops.

R.K.Singh does not believe in conforming to the conventional or the outmoded but wishes to ‘shatter’ them by creating, what he calls ‘rebel rays’ in plain unadorned language. He also discards the high sounding or philosophical issues and rejoices giving vent to the ordinary or personal impressions because these are true to one’s experiences:

Philosophy frightens me

confounds obscurity

with profundity:

…I don’t reflect time and space

or probe metaphysics

to construct Everest

I love to climb the peak and

search the best route without

high minded debate

that affronts simplicity

symmetry, nudity

a poet’s beauty

(Above the Earth’s Green, p.89)

The poetics of R.K.Singh echoes what Wordsworth talks about a perfect woman:

She was a phantom of delight

A perfect woman, nobly planned,

To warn, to comfort, and command;

And yet a spirit still, and bright

With something of angelic light.

(‘Perfect Woman’)

R.K.Singh’s poetics,thus, signifies the new momentum Indian English Poetry has now gained. He not only sings love lyrics and glorifies human body but also talks about existential issues and ecological and social environment. His verses with the use of enjambment add richness of meaning to the images and metaphors that he uses in typical Indian contexts. The chief aim of his poetry is to: essence of beauty

spring a move toward self harmony

perfection and peace, prelude to nude

enlightenment to carve life in full

(Above the Earth’s Green, p.14)

To sum up, R.K. Singh’s poetic belief is oriented towards Beauty, Self- Harmony, and Peace, with its base in Indian thought and culture which considers search for beauty or truth as the chief aim of life.


1. Singh, R.K. My silence and Other Selected Poems. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot,


2. Singh, R.K. Above the Earth’s Green. Calcutta: Writer’s workshop, 1997.

3. Sharma, I.K. ed. New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative voice. Jaipur: Book enclave,

2004, p.277.

4. Radhakrishnan, S.ed. The Principal Upanisads, New York: Harper & Brother

Publishers, 1953.

5. Hayden, John O.ed. William Wordsworth: The Poems, Vol.I, Penguin Books,1990.

Copyright: Jindagi Kumari & Dr Rajni Singh