POEMS THAT DEFY 'ESTABLISHMENT' INDIFFERENCE
Book Review by Rajni Singh
Many critics and reviewers, under the influence of the prominent poets of the 1960s and 70s have come to believe that the genre of Indian English poetry has now come to a standstill. With their myopic vision they believe that no worthwhile poetry has been written since a couple of Nissim Ezekeils, Ramanujans and R.Parthasarthys.
Recently Bhaskar Ghose in his article “Tragic Irrelevance” in the Frontline (13 February 2009) declares that “a number of people have been writing garbage and passing it off as poetry.”(p.89) He laments that “a great deal of depth, richness of expression and awareness is now confined to the circle of poets who read one another’s poems, and to a small number of lovers of poetry.”(p.89)
If poetry appears irrelevant, it is not because good poets have ceased to appear. It is because publishers do not find much money in the business of poetry. There are several good new poets who have published their volumes either themselves or from small press, and for want of proper distribution they have not been able to reach out to appreciating audience, connoisseurs, academic critics and reviewers in magazines and newspapers.
As a student, researcher and teacher, I am convinced that relevant and aesthetically sound poetry is being written by many less known or new poets. But if a publishing house like Oxford, Penguin or Sahitya Academy does not notice them or finds no sense in investing money in publicizing their poetry, the fault lies with the system which creates and sustains a situation which is least conducive to poetry reading, writing or publishing in India.
It is also disappointing to see that anthologies such as 60 Indian Poets (ed. Jeet Thayil, Penguin, 2008) highlight only those few poets that appear in the west or do not live in India. It is unfortunate again that the critics and reviewers take note of only those poets who are supported by foreign press. The genre of Indian English Poetry cannot grow or survive with such a negative attitude.
However, there are critics and poets who have taken stand against such stances of enlightened readers like Bhaskar Ghose, critics like M.K.Naik or Bruce King and anthologists like Jeet Thayil, and worked hard to promote quality poetry in English.
It is high time they took note of a relatively less known poet, R.K.Singh, whose 13th collection of poems, Sexless Solitude and Other Poems has a very competent foreword by another poet- professor- critic, I.K.Sharma. Sharma seems to have kept in mind the love- hate attitude of the media and academia when he writes, “In contrast to many poets who peddle poor prose cut into lines of poetry, Dr Singh’s poems are sober, mature and disciplined. Though written in free verse they are yet compact. Neither the words nor emotions go astray. No cliché exists there. Only the power of plain words on display.”
The hazy sketch of a meditative mind on the cover page well- defines the title as well as the poems in the volume.
A marked feature of Singh’s poetry is that the poet puts before his readers, his perceptions and experiences in a very unconventional manner. His frequent use of sex expressions in his poetry is one such example of Singh’s unconventionality:
I secrete poetry like semen
…I’m different; I live in my poems
dressing or undressing like sexact
long or short, in bed or kitchen ( ‘I’m Different’, p.53)
Sex expression is a trade-mark of Singh’s poetry but in the present volume he has scarcely used it.
The other distinct quality noticed is the way Singh maneuvers language to make his readers think along with him. The poet never becomes tedious as there is no use of stock words; in fact, new words are brought in to refresh the language. Like a purely post- modernist poet, Singh weaves in words from sciences, media/ journalism and technology in a way to bring newness in his poetic diction and to relate with his present day readers.
Throughout the volume we find the poetic mind is engaged in peeling off the layers of abstraction, illusion and theoretical truths that reign the society. As he says-
…at the day’s end can’t reflect
something positive to take
pride in myself justifying
the age or hours just prolong
the animal existence
prove worse than animals with
smallness of mind and concerns
forgotten like news flashed in
media without vision (‘Ignite Minds With Flickers’, p.13)
Living among the sick
and the sickening what else
shall I carry except
germs and allergens
… I want to sleep without pills
Drinks ‘zines or sex
thoughtless prayerless in peace. (‘I Want to Sleep’, p. 16)
Sexless Solitude and Other Poems is the tension of inwardness, patterned in a kaleidoscopic way where every slide mirrors an introspective mind that examines the authenticity of the ‘self’ and the society. The poet skillfully employs the first person narrative to handle the rhythms of consciousness of the meditative mind. It is this state of mind where the body lets off trishna (cravings), dvesha (hatred) and avidya(ignorance) and fully accepts imperfection, impermanence and interconnectedness. Through interior monologue and the technique of split characterization and multiple consciousnesses, R.K.Singh presents the doubts and agony, sorrow and suffering of modern man.
Trapped in questions and “among the ungodly” the narrator tries to find his way from the directionless, destinationless pathways:
I want to rest now burying
ambitions and achievements
that ache the soul and make
empty sounds in the hollow
of a hallowed pond long doomed
for marrying self-indulgent
elites and idiots
sucking generations (‘Leeches’, p.69)
After its purification and purgation, the narrator’s soul feels His healing touch that gives him the courage to “…bear without regret/the burdens of the world/ loss of love, or even hope/to live like a lotus leaf.” (p.21) The desire to live like a lotus leaf is a desire to elevate the self, to attain sublimity, despite being in a morbid and decayed society.
Singh’s poems are not such poems whose meaning leap to the eye at the first reading; here is a brief extract:
I stand on the edge
of earth’s physicality
waiting on the brink (‘Eyeless Jagannath’, p.9)
In another poem we see the speaker confessing/ admitting the trauma and suffering that he undergoes to understand the self:
It doesn’t end even if I abandon desire:
non-suffering is no key to nirvana
…the itch and sensations, growing degeneration
of island existence in dimming light
life only freezes; the foul of stagnant pool-
yet the hope of lotus rises with sun. (‘Nirvana-II’, p.77)
It is, however, also true that many of the poems of R.K.Singh cannot be appreciated unless we look for the half- hidden meanings in them.
To conclude, the volume carries well painted internal scapes and ‘Sexless Solitude’ is a metaphor of going into the womb of consciousness(vijnana) in order to unravel “the mystery of the dark womb” (p.73) that stores bijas or seeds which are inborn, and result from our karmic history. It is these bijas that combine with the manas or ego-existence, and by stilling mind, store house consciousness becomes identical with tathagata, “suchnesss” or the Buddha mind that is sexless. As in the poem ‘Realisation’, the poet says:
the soul has no sex
the form, the body
and the name unreal
the cimax of eternity
denudes the mind (‘Realisation’, p.63)
Sexless Solitude and Other Poems is a collection written in high serious mode that demands a serious analysis. With this volume the poet could be rated much higher than the poets of the 60s or even of the present times.
1. Singh, R.K. Voices of the Present: Critical Essays on Some Indian English Poets. Jaipur:Book Enclave, 2006, pp.261-267.
2. Bhaskar Ghose. “Tragic Irrelevance” in Frontline Vol. 26, No.3, February 13, 2009, pp.88-89.
Dr. Rajni Singh, Assistant Professor of English, Dept. of HSS, Indian School of Mines University,
Published in Indian Book Chronicle, Vol. 34, No.4, April 2009, pp. 7-8.
Labels: Sexless solitude