Monday, July 27, 2009


Friday, July 17, 2009



Wednesday, July 15, 2009


This is a picture NASA took with the hubble telescope.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.
(also used by Nelson Mandela in his inauguration speech)

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Daily Haiku Selection
July 8, 2009

Her fingers push

the roots into the earth --



R. K. Singh (Dhanbad, India)

(Mainichi Japan) July 8, 2009


Tuesday, July 07, 2009


R. K. Singh’s first collection of poems My Silence was published in 1985. Since then he has published eleven more books of poems. His latest is Sexless Solitude and Other Poems published from Bareilly in 2009. This means one collection every two years. The River Returns (Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2009) is a collection of Tanka and Haiku. It would be relevant here to write briefly about these two forms in which Singh usually writes.

The Art of Tanka Composition

Born in Japan, Tanka is as old as 1300 years. From Japan it traveled to the West and has many lovers in English speaking countries. Tanka is much older than Haiku but younger to Waka. It was first practised in feudal Japan (Heian period) where it was a prerequisite for every courtier to write and appreciate aesthetically beautiful poems. Thus classical tanka reflected the refined tone of Japan’s courts and its courtesans. The traditional classical tanka was used to exchange love notes between the lovers. The courtly lover, after spending a night with his lady love, sent a “thank you” note to her in the form of a tanka. The feeling and experience of the previous night was artistically written on a fan or on a stem of a blossom. A messenger delivered these love messages. While this “go between” waited, a tanka, in reply to the love note received, was composed and sent back. The tanka, sent as a relply, was not easy to be composed but the Japanese courtesans had learnt this art to please their lovers. The messages were written in a language which could be understood and appreciated only by the lover.

These morning love note became so famous that contests were held for reading and writing of the tanka, and Japanese emperors ordered the collection of these short love notes.

This traditional expression of passion has undergone great change in the present times. What has not changed is its number of syllables. In Japan it is still written in 31 syllabic units, 5-7-5-7-7. Tanka written in English does not follow this syllabic pattern and often uses less than 31 syllables. As far as the subject matter of modern tanka, specially the tanka written in English, is concerned, it can now be any human emotion expressed in simple language. Images are used to express human emotion. In his article “ From Haiku to Tanka : Reversing Poetical History” Gerald St. Maur writes :

"In going beyond the experience of the moment, the tanka
takes us from delight to fulfillment, from insight to
comprehension, and psycho-organism to love; in general,
from the spontaneous to the measured. To achieve this
requires a fundamental shift in emphasis : from glimpse
to gaze , from first sight to exploration, … from
awareness to perspective… to compose a tanka is to
articulate reflectively… it takes us from the simple to the
complex. More pointedly, it moves us from the poetry of the
noun to the poetry of the verb; in weaving terms, from the
thread to the tapestry; in botanical terms, from seed to
plant, in chemical terms, from element to compound ; in
painting terms, from sketch to picture; and in musical terms
from chord to melody."1

Tanka, as a lyrical form, uses figurative language and is autobiographical in tone. It creates a balance between the self and the outside world. The outward phenomenon is used as a backdrop to express the inner world. Tanka is not rhymed, its one is elevated and it never becomes vulgar in themes.

Contents and Structure of Haiku

Haiku, in its present form, is only 300 years old but Hokku, the original form, is as old as the Mahayana Buddhism. Buddhism accepts the limitations of language owing to its human origin. Nagarjuna believed that language can refer only to those objects that are mortal. It fails to reach the truth of things. This conviction that metaphysical assertions cannot be made through ordinary language is accepted by Ch‘an Buddhism. It was for this reason that Ch’an tradition invented new ways to use language that could help the seeker in his search for liberation.

One of the Ch’an masters Yun-men wen-yen(862-949) was known for his one word answers to questions. These short answers revealed his spontaneous reactions to questions, rather than well thought out, premeditated answers. In spite of their limitations, words are not completely useless. Language becomes transmuted by the attainment of realization. Dogen calls such enlightened words “dotoku”. Yet another important thing in Ch’an Buddhism was the way they looked at nature. Dogen believed that mountains and rivers are ’sutras’ or texts.2 The entire world is a sacred text and nonsentient objects of nature can act as preachers of these sacred texts. This wordless preaching of nature cannot be heard with one’s ears but with one’s eyes.

Hokku retains both there features – the spirituality and deep understanding of nature. It focuses on the essence of an object or an event in nature without the intrusion of the poet that would distort the reality. The perception in hokku is an intuitive one and not an ‘I’/‘other’, subject/object kind of process. Being rooted in Zen, Hokku is nonintellectual, has no faith in reason and words. It emphasizes all that is natural and concrete, It is also a pure experience of enlightenment (Satori).

From Hokku lto Haiku has been a long journey. The early translators of haiku into English were R.H. Blyth and Harold G. Henderson. Blyth’s four volumes of haiku were published in 1949 and Henderson’s in 1959. Both these translators differ in their views about haiku. While Blyth believed that Zen is at the center of haiku, Henderson stated :

"Primarily, it (haiku) is a poem; and being a poem it
is intended to express and to evoke emotion … it
may be noted in passing that the use of ‘ki’(season)
is probably at the base of a charge that has been
advanced that haiku are more concerned with nature
than with human affairs. Such a statement is ridiculous.
Haiku are more concerned with human emotions than
with human acts, and natural phenomena are used
to reflect human emotions…" 3

While Henderson believes that subjective human emotions are the most important part of a haiku, Blyth rules out subjectivity. In contemporary haiku even technology is accepted as a form of nature. Thus the meaning of nature is completely changed. While Blyth believes in the spiritual effect of nature, Pizzarelli plays with the word ‘nature’ and completely disassociates it from the outward phenomenon :

"To say that nature is all and all is nature,
that the substance of this planet, the universe is of
one nature is also to conclude that nothing is unnatural
or artificial."4

Apart from their contradictory views about the content of a haiku, the modern practitioners of this form differ in their use of punctuation also. While some use minimal punctuation, others, imitating Ezra Pound and Company, use no punctuation at all. Thus each practitioner of haiku has become the arbiter of content and structure of his verse. There is no prescriptive critic now who can say this is/not a haiku because it does not use/uses spirituality, has / has not nature, does not use/ uses punctuation.

R. K. Singh’s Sensuous Tanka

In the light of this discussion of traditional and contemporary tanka and haiku, we can study R. K. Singh’s collection of poems The River Returns. The title of the collection is taken from his haiku No. 347 – “Dancing/ a few muddied crocs:/the river returns”. In his preface Singh confesses that he seeks to be “visual or sensuous” and has tried to express :

"natural concrete action or object or
experiences from one’s whole being , and
does not’fake’ poetic feelings or render
fictitious or imaginative experience …
I have tried to evoke the essence of the
moment in its sensory details as selflessly
as possible. Even as I appear to speak
directly, the subjective and the objective
tend to mix up."5

The first section of the collection consists of 144 tanka. This section begins with spring season and ends with summer and dust storms. The poet is left “awaiting the wave/that will wash away empty hours/and endless longing.” With spring comes love. Love (kama) is predominantly associated with the renewal of the world, the spring. The voluptuous spring time brings in the biological rite of the amorous play. Love is presented in its dual aspect – separation and union. The anonymous woman of the first few pages is seen waiting for the love tryst. Each of these early tanka is a visual of her different emotions. Her yearning for the lover is augmented by the song of the Koel (the basic emotion of love is aroused in tanka 1) . The promise of a love tryst makes her face glow with passion. ( The basic emotion changes into passion in tanka 2 ). Tanka 3 presents her as a teasing wanton waxing and waning like the moon ( the pleasure of feeling). From tanka 4 to tanka 10 her loneliness and sadness ( the basic emotion of grief in separation) is depicted. The season of spring is simultaneously a source of misery and delight. Separated from her lover, the woman is presented as a conventional “Virahini” . She is delpressed, she weeps, she is afraid of going to bed alone and wants to die. In tanka 10 her loneliness is presented through an apt visual :

At the river
she folds her arms and legs
resting her head
upon the knees and sits
as an island

This love in separation ends by the 12th tanka. From tanka 15 love in union is presented in all its boldness. Singh revisits his favourite trope.

In tanka 13 we move from separation to union, “after three decades love waves/tense the flesh and rock the night”. Singh surpasses others in the description of fragmented female anatomy. The reader is brought to the key hole to peep at the “erect nipples” (tanka 15 ), “foamy water… sting her vulva/a jelly fish passed/ through the crotch making her shy”, ( tanka 16 ), “nude dance…/ to match upstanding/ nipples under the blouse” ( tanka 18 ).

As in conventional love-in-union, Singh’s woman, too, is bashful :

When I wanted to change
seats my friend said she can
only if the door is locked
the light out and her mom
in another city ( tanka 20 )

She is also presented as a wanton who takes delight in the love play and the
amatory art. In tanka 102 she “loves the etching on skin/to enhance nudity”.
The traditional tanka expressed the emotions of the lovers, specially their grief resulting from their separation, their desire for reunion, sadness caused by old age, unhappy present and absence of the lover. Singh’s collection of tanka too presents this basic contrariety between pleasure and grief. Intense love fills the lover with fear. First, there is fear of rejection:

Roses await
sun and wind to clear
the baleful fog :
I fear she’ll say no
to my love again ( tanka 72 )

A number of tanka depict night and nightmare. Darkness and light are archetypal symbols and denote the duality of flesh and spirit, female and male, unconscious and conscious, evil and good, tamas and rajas etc. In Singh there is only one tanka ( No. 15 ) which shows the lovers together at night- “You and I alive/in cold winter night feeling/ warmth of your body…” In the rest of these short poems, night is the backdrop of fear, grief, loneliness, physical pain etc. In tanka 39 it is night that turns his dreams “to nightmare/again fear grips my soul/ I sense her presence around”. In tanka 49 the lover’s loneliness during night is vividly described. Thus :

My hand held out
in the dark remained empty:
no one reached it
to give joy of
the meeting hands

In the absence of the loved one, the lover is haunted by her memories. Each object of nature, specially the flowers and their fragrance, brings back her memories. In tanka 69 it is the “little petals to the ground/ echoing our first embrace”. In tanka 138 “ her letter smells/ the lotus she wore each time/meeting in the dark”. The lotus image here is brought from Indian erotics where it was a representative of the force and energy inherent in the waters. Water was also regarded as a female substance and the lotus was associated with similar creative female principle. The lotus image in Singh does not have a tensive quality. It suggests only the erotic and sensuous and hence the smell of lotus causes the separated lover to grieve. Memories of the past (happy days) rise like ghosts and turn the heart into stone :

Ghosts rise to mate
in moonlight tear the tombs
frighten with fingers
rhino horns rock the center
granite sensation ( tanka 39 )

This reminds us of Shelley’s lines :

Forget the dead, the past
Oh yet there are ghosts,
the memories that make
the heart a tomb.

Besides this grief and pain that result from separation, we also find sadness in Singh on account of old age, asthma and insomnia. Tanka 58 shows him as “ an insomniac/ weak with desires” while in No. 89 “wrinkles on the skin” remind him “ of time’s passage”. In No 108 “ asthmatic bouts haunt” him. In 119 he is again “ down with stroke”. Tanka 120 presents him as an old man thinking of death

Aging he thinks of
the ashes and the long trip
ahead in spirit
feels the earth he would
become celebrating life

“Allergic asthma” recurs in No. 134. In No. 142 “dust storm and rain shatter/all hopes hanging by snapped wire”.

Amid this scenario of separation and union of lovers hyphenated by hope for reunion and depression at separation, a few visuals of conjugal love come as a jarring note. The lover, who was heard singing the “body’s song”(54), finds his voice “brown like autumn/crushed in noisesI can’t /understand…” (95 ). There is no love between them and they sleep with their “backs to each other” (87). In spite of being together, there is no understanding between them :

One thousand miles
travelling together
in tense silence
he and she contemplate
the next round of duel (tanka 111 )

To escape the boredom of these scenes, one can come to such intense sensuous visuals as :

A cloud - eagle
curves to the haze
in the west
skimming the sail
on soundless sea (tanka 45 )

Singh is capable of creating pure poetry where nature is left to itself but observed from a close angle. It is not a glance but a gaze.

R. K. Singh’s Haiku for All seasons

The second section of The River Returns consists of 372 haiku. The collection begins with a dash of bright colours -- hibiscus, oleanders, rose, chrysanthemum, and ends with three visuals of rainbow. Here Singh gives us sequences and each sequence is related to a season. It is reminiscent of Bhojpuri cycles of seasons called “ Barahmasa”, the traditional folk poetry from eastern India that celebrates seasonal changes and diverse moods of nature. In Singh’s haiku too this cycle begins with spring. In the vernal symbol there is a translucence of primary principles. Hibiscus, in the very first haiku, becomes a description of the male element : “ Love tickles/with erect pistil/hibiscus,” while oleander stands for the female element. This vernal union of male and female elements at the natural level reconciles union at human level. This depiction of flora also gives life to an interior landscape – there is a whole gamut of human emotions.

Even the winter season is not presented in its negative shade. We have a crystal pure visual of the snow covered hill :

Veiling her breasts
with the seasons first snows
the hill blushes

Singh tries to strike a balance between the personal and social concerns yet most of the times it is the personal that is privileged over the public. In this section also there is recurrence of old motifs – monotony of married life (49, 180, 181), shadow of old age (61), his loneliness and asthma ( 74, 90, 97, 114, 207, 208, 209). From haiku 150 to 200 there is love play and female body, sometimes covered :

Her shapely figure
in orange blouse and blue jeans
strained at the hips (22 )

and sometimes bare :

Rain-soaked sun
sheds its sultry light :
her bare back

In his Preface Singh clearly says that he does not make any difference between haiku and senryu, so we cannot criticize his miniature poems for the absence of the ‘satori’ state of consciousness.

As an old practitioner of haiku, Singh no longer adheres to the 5-7-5 syllabic structure and makes minimal use of punctuation.

All lovers of tanka and haiku would love to read this collection.


1. Maur. Gerald St. “From Haiku to Tanka : Reversing Poetical

History” , (TSA Newsletter, II : I , Spring 2001. )

2. Dogen Zenji, Shobagenzo (The Eye and Treasury of the True Law)

4 Vols. Trans. Kosen Nishiyama (Tokyo: Nakayama Shobo,1986),

Vol. I, p. 105.

3. Henderson, Harold G. An Introduction to Haiku (New York :

Doubleday, 1958), pp. 2, 5.

4. Pizzarelli, Alan. A Haiku Path (New York : Haiku Society of

America, 1994), p. 116.

5. Singh, R.K. The River Returns (Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2006), pp. 1 –2.

--Dr Asha Viswas, (Retd) Professor of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi 221005, India

The review essay first published in Indian Book Chronicle, Vol. XXXIV, No.6, June 2009, pp.3-6.

Also it can be viewed on:


Thursday, July 02, 2009


Sexless Solitude and Other Poems, R. K.Singh. 2009. 86pp. Prakash Book Depot, Bara Bazar, Berielly 243 003, India. ISBN 978-91-7977-307-9. Rs. 98.00

Reviewed b y Patricia Prime

R. K. Singh is one of India’s senior poets and critics. His poetry has been published in many national and international journals, in book form and on the internet. Sexless Solitude and Other Poems sifts a decade of his published work, and it is typical of the unassuming nature of the man that the title poem casts him wishing to be enlightened, for “her light is not priced
/ but gifted to enlighten / the silver-linings.” Not the man to take his art for granted.

This is Singh’s richest collection yet, as wry and witty as ever, but with a deeper tenderness and engagement. All ninety-nine poems in this volume testify to a lifetime of honest practice. Singh’s rigorous ethics, kindness, deep understanding of sexuality, solitude and sympathy are measured by having deep roots in place. There is a fascinating variety of subjects, and now and then language that catches the attention. One such poem which leapt out at me was “Eyeless Jagannath.” Its formality (triplet stanzas) and formality of speech allow the sparingly used images their full force – the kind of images one doesn’t often come across:

I can’t understand
their mystic heaven or thrills
housed in awareness

time’s intricacies
or sources of plastic mist
through mythical depths

the wings of my thought
are too short to climb God’s height
or blue deeps of peace

Another characteristic of Singh’s poetry is his deep thoughtfulness, too engaged with feeling to be described as philosophical. He is very good at the ineffable emotions that are contained in certain landscapes, certain weathers, or watching human beings in some special act or moment of chance, such as we see in “Awareness Matters”:

Each death has a passage
to surprise the dead
awareness matters

no solace the cow’s tail
in the river’s midst
heaven, far, too far

There is an elegiac note struck in many of these poems that lends a sense of powerful inevitability to the story he is telling. In “Liberation,” for instance, he writes:

Their freedom to choose
keeps them together for love
exchange discourse for lunghi
body for liberation
yoga and meditation

It makes one realize the power of sexuality and the occasional use of an Indian word adds to the mystery of the poem.

There are many lovely lyrics here. Let’s take a look at “Valley of Self.” The stanzas gloss the ordeal of not knowing where to turn for “the promised fulfillment”:

I see no savior come
to rescue me when mired
I seek freedom from myself:

my ordeals are mine alone
in the valley of self
I must learn to clear the clouds
soaring high or low

Knowledge is seen as problematical, only he can find the freedom of spirit within himself; this is ironic in that Singh clearly does not know where to seek the solace and comfort he seeks.

It is this theme of personal relationships on which Singh lays the most stress. For it is against the survival of personal and human values that the odds in modern society have been laid. But these pressures drive the poet to the rediscovery of emotions, mythopoeia, and ultimately, of religious modes of response to the world. This describes his goals, often enough achieved, accurately. It is thrilling to be in the mind of this great, restless poet.

The nexus of Singh’s text is formed by the moral and ethical quandaries we are in; the awful paradoxes, the frightening ironies contained in the quotidian. Who else would call a poem “Bliss Through Death,” indicating the fear and pain inherent in a girl’s menstruation? “They Call God Loudly” turns creatures who “blare / senseless mantras” into agents of fear. “ain” cruelly focuses on the persona’s disability to empathies with his wife. “I Am No Jesus” catches us at our shared dubious predilection to suffer as “a common man” the pain and humiliation of Jesus’ crucifixion. Finally, the “Dons in Four Walls” lets the reader know what it’s like behind the façade of academia.

“Rain Drops” begins “No perfume reduces / the damp watery smell / of the towel hanging in the bathroom.” A personal scene that seems to be remembered by the poem’s speaker leads to an intimate sharing with the reader. There is no ceremony of innocence in front of the altar of personal relationships. The lines seize us in the immediacy of the situation. “I’m Different” invites the reader into the personal remembrance of what it means to be a poet:

I enjoy the self, as much as others
and peep through the façade they raise
to make room for themselves in the sky

I live in me and am happy with
my little images that lift up
the sight and soul and please for a while

my brief thoughts in briefer words deride
the romantic eloquence and mist
they weave in pellucid silence

Politics also enters the poetry, as witnessed in “Politics Defies Silence”:

So they ever see themselves
their truth inside the mirror?

sound too much anger and hate
burn humans and homes to teach

lessons never learnt but played
the communal card for rights

no god granted. Their petty
politics defies silence

Nature too has a part to play, although it shows a hidden face, as we see in “River’s Song”: “With steel flow / the rolling water / pierces the rocks / and shapes them into stars” and “Snake”: “Hiding or waiting / it raises its head when least / expected, a snake,” where the words “pierces” and “hiding and waiting” alerts us to the dangers that may be lurking beneath nature’s kindness.

Poems about protest and terrorism are placed alongside the more lyrical love poems, such as “Wit and Soul”:

A Matisse or Picasso
only complicates
the secrecy of your face

I don’t understand
you, your body or the nude
even if I touch

hold your hand or sleep with you
sharing long kisses
the mystery of the dark womb

your mind and silence
hardly make up love we seek
squeezing wit and soul

The colloquial voice assumes a common assent to an attitude toward the world, the self and each other, a tone that excludes anything that may stand in the way of truth. The rules that govern the narrow and banal daily routines are a tightly structured reality governed by expectations of what is right and proper and are excluded from Singh’s themes of sexuality, fear and death.

Singh’s poetry is not only completely and refreshingly free of the triviality of blind confessionalism or of gratuitous appreciations of the natural world. He is refreshingly unafraid of developing an undisguised dimension of existential inquisitiveness in his poetry, by means of deceptively simple, energetic language, emotional and mental density, and memorable imagery, to the overall effect of challenging the reader.

He deals poignantly with the themes of sexuality and solitude without getting sentimental. His short pieces have a bounce and rhythm that give the sense of great energy and he deals with themes such as personal inner conflict with unremitting candour. The sensitive poet suffers in the narrow, vicious and violent realities he witnesses, in the course destroying all illusions any reader, with romantic idylls in his/her mind, may have entertained.