Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Article on R K Singh's Haiku & Tanka


Dr. Rajni Singh
Assistant Professor
Indian School of Mines University

Today Japanese poetry has transcended the barriers of regions and augmented as a vivid poetic form. It is being translated, imitated and even integrated into different cultures. Many poets writing regular poems at one time or another have experimented with haiku or haiku-related genres. Perhaps, it would not be wrong to say that the present time witnesses the flowering of English- language haiku worldwide with some Indian poets as active contributors, namely Mujib Yar Jung , Angelee Deodhar, K.Ramesh, Kala Ramesh, R.K.Singh, Mohd. Farhruddin, D.H.Kabadi, I.H.Rizvi, Narayana Rao, Maria Netto, Urmila Kaul, Radhey Shyam, D.C. Chambial, Kanwar Dinesh Singh and others. One notices more and more poets have been exploring haiku and haiku related arts such as haibun and linked verse forms.
R.K.Singh is one such Indian English haikuist who began his poetic career with writing long poems followed by short verses-- haiku and tanka—and further went on to experiment with haiku and tanka sequences. Singh’s Every Stone Drop Pebble (jointly with Catherine Mair and Patricia Prime,1999) and Peddling Dreams (in English and Italian trilogy, Pacem in Terris,2003) and more recently The River Returns (a tanka and haiku collection,2006) are the three volumes of haiku and tanka that confirm Singh’s dominating presence in English language haiku scene. Singh’s haiku and tanka have appeared in such prestigious journals as Lynx, Simply Haiku, Maimichi Daily News,Modern English Tanka, The Asahi Shimbun, Ko-, The Tanka Journal, Ginyu, Haiku Spirit, Presence, Winterspin, Mirror, At Last, Moonset, Frogpond, Tinywords etc. and his reputation as a haikuist continues to grow. Probably, the shift in poetic form, from long poems to haiku and tanka, must have happened to the poet naturally because even in his long poems the poet “articulates his feelings and thoughts in measured syllables, eschewing unnecessary flamboyance of language or flights of fancy.” It is this poetic talent which makes R.K.Singh a prolific writer of haiku and tanka. Singh’s recent dabbling at haiku sequences is another feather in his cap. The poet takes delight in haiku and tanka sequences and has composed quite a number of sequences, some of which have appeared in India Saijiki (July 2006) and Lynx (vol. XIX: 2, vol.XXII:1, vol.XX:3, Vol.XVIII:3, etc).
Singh composes his sequences by gathering and threading the haiku pieces thematically. In fact, the poet adopts the same style of composition for his longer poems as well. I.K. Sharma, too, has pointed out this distinct feature of R.K. Singh’s poetry in his “Introduction” to New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative Voice: “His art of making poem is not to make a poem but to make beads for a poem, which he later on would string together.”
Singh’s haiku sequence “Love-making” is threaded with eight haiku pieces. It is a sensual vignette about the beauty and freedom in a single moment of intimacy between lovers:

Love making
he melts into her
time stands still

Love making

the sound of orgasm:

Lao Tzu

[ “ A great sound is audible , and a great image is formless,” said Lao Tzu.]

Making love
she tastes the salt upon
his shoulder

Candling in vein
leaves marks of teeth on her neck
utters holiness

the white night:
lips meeting lips

Writes with strands of
watery hair on her bare back
a love haiku

After the tumble
buried between the sheets
left over passion

She departs
leaving behind her clothes
over mine

The sequence captures the essence of physical contact. Each string appears a delicate bundle of joy and captures within it an emotion and a moment of utmost bliss. The carnal yearnings of the lovers are presented in such a way that they exhilarate all the senses. The poet focuses one moment in time and that time seems suspended leaving the reader to only imagine the before and after.
The next haiku sequence, ‘Winter’, is a loosely liked haiku sequence. But the verses have the sensory depth, often visual and auditory vividness of the genre:

Wintry winds
bangs the window tonight
my thoughts agitate

absent whispers
from her room

The sun shines
on the winter blooms:
our first rose

Morning sun
in the dewy lawn
blue roses

Meeting again
the fragrance of night queen
in our bedroom

Naphthalene smell
oozes from the sweater--
fourth December

Noisy parrots
returning to the tree:
sun set early

Each haiku of the sequence is terse, dynamic and complete poetry and focuses the ‘momentness’ of a moment: “what is happening” at a particular moment with all its freshness and truth. For the poet Nature becomes a tool to probe into human nature. The depiction of the inner turmoil through the turbulent winds in the first haiku is remarkable.
Singh’s haiku is notable for rich and resilient images. The succinctness, objectiveness, concreteness, directness and simplicity of his short verses captivate the reader’s heart and mind.
Like the haiku sequences, singh’s tanka sequences, too, hold the interest of the reader throughout, moving along smoothly. Tanka traditionally embodies the delights and tragedies of love. Singh’s tanka retain most of the traditional elements such as the syllabic pattern of 5-7-5-7-7, kake kotoba, i.e., pivot words, engo, i.e., puns and seasonal or cultural allusions. The following tanka sequence bespeaks love:


His message to meet
at moonrise among flowers
sparkles a secret
on her smiling face passion
glows with charming fervor

She is no moon yet
she drifts like the moon takes care
of him from the sky--
meets him for a short, waxing
leaves him for a long, waning

Before going to bed
she looks too sad to have
any sweet dream:
the lonely lamp glints no love
and no star peeps through the curtains

Yearning to meet him
she turns a silk-worm spinning
love- silk in cold night--
stands in a shade melting tears
like a candle , drop by drop

Stains of dried dewy
tears on the eyelids tell of
the load on her mind:
clothed in spring the willow twigs
reveal the changed relation

‘Love: Tanka Sequence’ is a string of five tanka which envisages the joys and pangs in separation and union. In the first tanka the beloved’s yearning to meet her lover is expressed covertly. The immediacy with which the bereaved soul transforms into a passionate flower is again striking.
The next tanka starts with a straight declarative statement ‘she is no moon’. The antithetical statement is quick enough to capture the attention of the reader and to behold her/him.
The tanka is entwined in rhythmical pattern- ‘drifts’, ‘meets’, ‘leaves’, ‘short’, ‘long’, ‘waxing’, and ‘waning’. The passionately stumbling movement of the damsel which is compared with the waxing and waning of the moon has a ‘clicking’ effect.
The next three tanka, resonate a deep melancholic strain. They weave the story of a wronged forlorn woman who cannot endure the pangs of separation and betrayal. The tragedies of love are well reflected in the following lines: ‘… the lonely lamp glints no love/and no star peeps through the curtain’; ‘…she turns a silk-worm spinning/love-silk in cold night--/stands in a shade melting tears/ like a candle , drop by drop’; ‘…clothed in spring the willow twigs/reveal the changed relation’. The poet presents the paradoxes of human relationship in a mature manner. He skillfully constructs the emotional dynamics of the lovers. The cry of the agonized soul reverberates beyond the lines.
The tanka sequence is a good sequence as each poem is fitted in its exact place with a beginning, middle and end. Each poem holds a precise place in the sequence and yet stands alone as a unitary, aesthetic whole-- a complete poem. The haiku pieces function as pieces of a collage and play a vital role in moving the story forward. It is through the exact positioning of the verses that each poem gains meaning from its connection to the poem preceding and following it. The sequence is also remarkable for its economy of words in delineating the feelings of the beloved. Every word counts for maximum impact and import as the poet takes utmost care to give full weight and measure to each sparsely worded reflection.
Writing poetry is not just the practice of a technique it is something more than that. In Cid Corman’s words, “it is life… and if one worked at one’s life, the poem would come of its own.” And in Basho’s words, “To make a poem about the pine, study the pine, Become the pine.” Singh’s poetry is never a churned out machine work, it emerges right from his soul. His haiku and tanka have the lucid gleam of the morning dew and liquid clearness of the limpid stream that runs glittering in open sunshine. His sequences are remarkable for their clarity, chiseled beauty and inevitable afflatus.

1. Catherine Mair, Patricia Prime, R.K.Singh. Every Stone Drop Pebble , New Delhi: Bahri Publications, 1999.
2. Charles Trumbell, “The American Haiku Movement Part I: Haiku in English,” Modern Haiku Vol. 36.3 Autumn 2005.
3. I.K.Sharma, “Introduction” New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative Voice, Edited by I.K. Sharma, Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2004, p.11.
4. John Marton, “The Way of Poetry: Part I of II- for Jeremy Seligson” in Moonset, The Newspaper, vol3. Issue2. Autumn/ winter 2007 Oregon: New York USA, p.16
5. R.K.Singh. Book Review. Deuce: Haiku Poems (New Delhi: K.K. Publishers and Distributors, 2001) in Indian Book Chronicle, Vol.28, No.4 April 2003, p.5.
6. R.S.Tiwary “ “Secret of the First Menstrual Flow”:R.K.Singh’s Commitment to Fleshly Reality”’ New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative Voice, Edited by I.K. Sharma, Jaipur: Book Enclave, 2004, p.89.
7. Werner Reichhold, “Some Developments in the House of Tanka” in Lynx Vol.XIV: No.2
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Published in Research , Vol. 8, No.2, Autumn 2008, pp.109-116.


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