Monday, March 16, 2009

Poet-in-Residence writes ...

Sunday, 15 March 2009
R K Singh and The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets
Here's the Bloodaxe catalogue blurb for this Jeet Thayil edited anthology launched in September 2008. For reasons which will soon become obvious it comes complete with Poet-in-Residence bold italic type.
- Jeet Thayil's definitive selection covers 55 years of Indian poetry in English. It is the first anthology to represent not just the major poets of the last half-century - the canonical writers who have dominated Indian poetry and publishing since the 1950s - but also different kinds of poetry written by an extraordinary range of younger poets living in many different countries as well as India. It is a ground-breaking global anthology of over 70 poets writing in a common language responding to shared traditions, different cultures and contrasting lives in the changing modern world.

One Indian poet not included in this ground-breaking global anthology is an Indian poet actually living and breathing in India. He is Professor Ram Krishna Singh. So what are Singh's credentials? And why does Poet-in-Residence bemoan the fact that R K Singh is not included in this definitive collection of Indian poetry?

Singh is a university professor who has authored over 150 academic articles and written 36 books including 11 books of poems. His poems, written in English, have appeared in some 140 publications and have been translated into nearly 20 languages. Dr Singh's recent works include English Language Teaching: Some Aspects Recollected, Teaching English for Specific Purposes: An Evolving Experience, and English: Grammar and Composition. In addition he has been actively involved with national and international journals. He is Professor of English & Head of the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences at the Indian School of Mines in Dhanbad.

This man is clearly a candidate for inclusion in any book claiming to represent the major poets of India one would have thought. So what's the reason that R K Singh is conspicuously absent from Jeet Thayil's Bloodaxe book? Perhaps Singh's poetry is not good enough? Well, let's take a look at it. His latest book is Sexless Solitude and Other Poems.

What do the critics and reviewers say about R K Singh's Sexless Solitude and Other Poems? Here's a small selection of their quotable quotes:
An essential work speaking out for love, sensuality and the meaning of life (Patricia Prime)
A daring experimenter (Dr Y S Rajan)
Attacks worn-out traditions and corruption (Dr Stephen Gill)
I almost drool in anticpation of reading his work (Lena Reppert)
A collection written with honest intentions and insight that would sit well amongst one's favoured treasures (Francisco Toscano)
The poet uses the technique of the internal monologue and other sensational devices to arouse the jaded consciousness of contemporary man (Rajni Singh)
The poet lifts the so-called unclean words of the street and gives them a new dignity. In the history of Indian English poetry, I guess, it has been attempted for the first time on such a scale (I K Sharma)

Perhaps Poet-in-Residence is wrong. It could be. Perhaps these critics and reviewers are wrong. It could be. Perhaps Bloodaxe and Jeet Thayil are right. It could be. Or they could be wrong.

Here you may now read a couple of R K Singh's 99 poems from his new book and judge for yourselves. First up, there's the title poem SEXLESS SOLITUDE. It's followed here by the poem CONCLUSION which in R K Singh's book is on the facing page. With R K Singh we needn't bother to hunt through the book for a good or passable poem. We can open at any page and we'll find the gems there -


I don't seek the stone bowl
Buddha used while here:
she dwells on moonbeams

I can see her smiling
with wind-chiselled breast
in sexless solitude

her light is not priced
but gifted to enlighten
the silver-linings


I wish I could clean the cobwebs of legends
that veil the vision, moralizing future
with doubtful glories urge us to move backward:

echoes of the dead reverberate; no use
setting the alarm to go off 2010

stashed away in empty slogans life's seconds
periodically exhumed is a travesty
of obsolescence of the sun ever clouded

Gateway of India or Delhi's Circus
suffer midnight lust with rites of consummation
like the conclusion of a tragic poem


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