Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Review essay on GROWING WITHIN by Patricia Prime

Growing Within
Patricia Prime

Ram Krishna Singh
Growing Within (English) / Desavârsire launtrica (Romanian)
Haiku, Tanka & Other Poems
Translators (Romanian): Alexandra Flora Munteanu & Taner Murat
Constanta: Anticius Press, 2017  
ISBN: 9786069450925
PB | Pp 285 | Price not mentioned

A poetic trove of pearls of wisdom

The title of Ram Krishna Singh’s volume of poems, Growing Within, with its semantic multiplicity, captures the poetics one finds between its covers. The words “growing within” can equally mean creation and contrivance: “Growing” meaning both a wellspring of the growth within oneself and the growth of the poem.

The collection, with a trove of pearls of wisdom, contains three sections: poetry, haiku and tanka and, while it is tempting to divide these into separate packets, the truth is they decline such neat distribution. Like life itself, subject matters overlap and interweave. The poems are packed full of imagery and the most powerful poems are ingeniously worded, with perception and succinct imagery.

Singh, who consistently experiments with framing types of utterance in different forms-- haiku, tanka and traditional poems-- has written several books with this format. Many poems at first glance look like automatic writing. Wry titles like “Lonely Journey” and “Haze” provide clues to his poetic outlook without explaining the work they head. Here, for example, are the first lines of “Lonely Journey”:
The scars of manipulative system
squib through my shrinking genius
no detergent of luck could clean
whatever the prophecy...   (#4)
Personal pronouns, even “real” events and experiences, appear throughout his corpus, as in “Haze”:
Behind the hill the drill goes on
the shooting unmindful of traffic
and children returning from school
for peace beyond quiet Sikkim
the politicians in-fight
with rhetoric of denial . . . (#10)
It would be a mistake to presume that all his poems have a message, or that the stories are always true. “A Tribute”, for instance, might be a simple nature poem, but the poem investigates – apparently – the connection between the attack and the “Bodyguard House”:
A black ant
pulling the broken wing
of a butterfly
in the portico
of Bodyguard House
on hill top
the scattered cloud overhead
paying tribute (#11)
“Growing Nude,” with its haiku-like verses, describes the maturing plants which are destroyed by strangers uprooting their seeds. Yet this interpretation hinges on the further assumption that words have a special ability to call into being our life—world— that they are not in a state of material flux. Here are the poem’s first three stanzas:
Growing nude
the plant sways in the field
and matures

in golden silk
drifts like a bee
in quiet rhythm

the sun sings the flight
and stars guard
till beauty plays harlot (#19)
The poems in Growing Within regularly start off “about” something, progressively distorting the narrative they initiate and, in doing so, illustrating the contingency of their assumptions. Thus, “Peace in Sin”, in which the poet, while trying to locate someone in a lonely street, gets himself lost. The details devolve into finding someone who may or may not be a “random” choice:
I thought I’d locate you
in the dark lonely street
but I myself got lost

mind’s mazy prompts
shocked me into nakedness
I never perceived (#20)
This aporia of the essentially strange inhering even in our most familiar experiences, indeed in our experience of language itself, is possibly Singh’s point. “Loneliness Torments the Soul” has a lack of transparency which seems to be a hallmark of Singh’s poetry and it is successful in the context of poetic objectivism. Here, he writes:
Sometimes I may seek your eyes to see
hands to touch or legs to move
but how can I borrow your flesh
and be my own love (#28)
From the plethora of angles on what links a reader’s subjectivity and the poet’s intentions, the most resounding notes are picked up on and amplified in “Smallness”:
I live in a crowd of fakes
smallness rises with age
my mind has ceased to think
new metaphors hardly happen
hunger keeps me awake all night
I mitigate minginess (# 38)
The second half of the collection focuses on haiku and tanka. I believe Singh places a fierce belief in the haiku he writes. He looks at the world with unrestrained belief that stems from compassion for all things, even those most of us take for granted. He creates meaning with a deft stroke, telling stories in three short lines. For example:
a fish tail
dried up in river mud:
burning smell (#6, p. 216)
The language here is minimal and yet it never loses the lustre of something exceptional. Singh’s voice is forceful. It has an elegance that I suspect arises from a deep understanding of his subjects. For instance, in the following haiku:
faded flowers from deities:
new morning (#12, p. 218)
The poem stops us in its tracks, as we witness the flowers, which have been placed lovingly by worshippers of the deities, fading in the light of the sun. His simple haiku illustrate a skilful use of language, and a unique style of investigation, as we see in:
from the peepal
swirling raindrops –
palms open (#15, pp. 218-9)
which offers a delicacy of language, through his ability to articulate a simple scene which many people might miss as they go about their daily tasks.

The musicality of Singh’s haiku is not merely a matter of its themes. Read any of these poems aloud and savour the melody of their becoming: “trespassing to pluck / the only hibiscus –/ a morning walker” (#18, p. 220) to hear the sibilance (“pluck . . . hibiscus . . . walker”); catch the rhythms, hear the vowel sounds and the image. The senses are part of what makes haiku special and Singh adopts them all: sight, sound, taste, hearing, touch, as we see in “icy fish / laced with blood / spices smell” (#19, p. 220). Here, we can feel the cold fish, see and smell the blood and spices and almost savour their taste.

Singh’s haiku are grounded in nature, humanity and in the rhythm of life. Hear how this poet’s art brings our sense of unlimited wonder into focus:
warming together
on a ceiling fan’s arm
two pigeons (#20, p. 220)
ready to burst
over the cracked window panes
darkening clouds (#11, p. 217)
Is this the observation of a moment or a generalization of a recurrent phenomenon? The answer remains enigmatic. In the following poem –
the peepal in pot
worshipped each Saturday:
Phailin in backyard (#14, p. 218)
We see the role of the human in the celebration of nature.  Another poem regarding worship and nature is this one:
incense stick smoke
before the paper goddess:
Durga puja (#17, p. 219)
Singh brings into focus his deep resources of thought and spirituality that inform and complicate the modern. In the following haiku, his thoughts are on a simple everyday event:
sitting quietly
on a packet of sweets
a cockroach in the fridge (#21, p. 221)
Thus, the essence of Singh’s quest to comprehend the world in which we live is encapsulated in these poems. Singh has the courage to mingle the contemporary with the traditional in his vocabulary and format always to serve the best interest of the poem. His rhythms are exceptional as he weaves his magic with words then returns to his themes as they weave across the page. The themes are those of man and nature. He is very much alive to his surroundings and has the assurance of his maturity to accept himself and his world as they are.  This is the power of the creative arts. We turn the pages and hide between the lines and let the immense beautiful spaces become a refuge.