AN INTERVIEW WITH R. K. SINGH
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K.R. : What is poetry according to you and what prompted you to write poetry?
R.K.S.: If the context is my poetry, it is rather you who should define it on the basis of what you gather from my poems. And, if it relates to poetry in general, there are as many definitions as poets. I doubt I would do any good by adding my ‘own’ definition which is unlikely to be original or fully applicable to my poetry.
Having said that, I would agree with the view that poetry is an art, a verbal art, which when effective, generates some physical, emotional or psychosexual sensation, stimulates some sensuous, spiritual or exalted pleasure, or provokes some mood or aesthetic sentiments, feelings, thoughts or ideas. It is also the subjective expression of a social vision, reality, or protest, and an extension of the poet’s self.
However, I have no taste for didacticism in poetry. I love brevity, rhythm and “colouring of human passion”, personal, lyrical, honest and free expression, with seriousness in reflection and interpretation.
Sometimes I also think that poetry lies in articulating momentness of a moment as lived or experienced and in continuity of memory, which is free to make illusion of a truth or reality, and truth or reality of an illusion. To write poetry is to envision in a timeless frame of a moment inhering the pressures of the struggle for survival.
As regards the second part of your question, I write a poem to seek a release from myself as much as from others; feel free by unburdening myself in verses, and experience an inner balance, feeling, probing, sensing, recalling, or whatev. If it turns out to be a good poem, it has beauty and meaning created out of a pressing sense of inner emptiness.
Like everyone, I too pass through time, through unfulfilled desires, dreams and passions, through meaninglessness and purposelessness of an existence which questioningly stares into my eyes all the time just as I try to preserve all those small moments that offer pleasing sensations and rest to my disturbed nerves and inner being.
I also experience poetry in the brief interfusion with sex which has a rare subtlety of awareness. I feel myself in words that acquire their own existence in the process of making in a form I may not have control over: I read a new meaning in and through my verses that are, as I mentioned in a poem, often an extension of my self.
K.R.: What do you think is the prevailing trend in Indian English poetry today?
R.K.S.: Indian English is not area-specific: it is a collaborative effort of Indian poets from every region/part of India, like Sanskrit or Urdu, with distinctive ethos. Some of them with English Literature background and aware of the ‘theory revolution’ of the 1970s – feminist, Marxist, Postcolonial, pragmatist, cultural materialist, etc. – may also have a ‘different’ understanding of ‘literariness’, but most of the practicing Indian English poets demonstrate a wider sense of community, social harmony, tolerance of differences, and cultural and religious integration. Some of them are more international in spirit than poets in regional languages though many of them (writing in regional languages) do seem to share the same international or global attitude as against the on-going barbarisms and political correctness, and misplaced notions of superiority or guilt. When I view thus, I ignore all those poets who present a moralizing discourse, preach or assert cultural authority and dogmatism, or make Romantic-apocalyptic utterances.
K. R. : Can you specify the reason for the decadent morality in the youth of India?
R. K. S. : Poetry has nothing to do with the decadent morality of the youth….What you observe as decadent these days is simply part of the new consumerist cosmopolitan culture. I won’t call it decadent. It is rather fast pace of development of the IT dominated new world of work, making the old link between the adult world and the child world very weak.
The new changes, or the crossover of trends and fashions, may be generating a feeling of existential urgency; the sublime seems to be melding with the trivial and the creative with the conventional. A sort of re-orientation is going on so rapidly that the established old concepts of morality etc. appear outdated. I won’t call the shift from the idealist to the materialist view as decadent.
You may feel out of the place or irrelevant in the new or emerging society, but it is today’s reality: this is going to stay, even if ‘decadent’ or mad, alongside the old, till the process of transformation is complete, and people everywhere, across cultures and societies, have something common to say, something new and different but universally shared.
K.R: Is it possible to rehabilitate the spoilt youth with the poetry of social reality?
R . K. S. : I don’t think. Nor do I agree with what your question implies. Poetry, of whatever hue or reality, can at best create some awareness, hone some finer feelings, present some specialist perceptions, reflect ones mind and soul, and remain part of cultural activities and a form of literary communication, but I doubt it can mould a society by itself. It has no utilitarian function, even as reading it could be liberating to those who can grasp what is at issue. Poetry doesn’t help in saving lives, winning wars, or rehabilitating a spoilt youth.
K. R.: Can ‘Peace’ be the perfect remedy to every peril?
R. K. S. : Hope, you are not replacing ‘Poetry’ with “Peace”. Peace is not synonymous with poetry but one can sublimate ones desperations and even outgrow the external threats through poetry. Peace is necessary for poetry, for interpreting perils of awareness.
K.R.: Is it good to drift away from ‘main stream’ literature, i.e. British Literature, so that an identity could by evolved for Indian Writing in English?
R. K. S: In this time of knowledge society and proliferation of technological artifacts, all traditional arts have suffered. Literature or poetry is no exception. The issue of its little utilitarian worth and relevance vis-à-vis the emerging hybridization of cultural (and literary) identity will continue to haunt till some new patrons appear on the scene and accord an identity to Indian English creativity. Moreover, the poets have always been in search of identity.
Howsoever despairing it might look today, including the drift from the mainstream, I see in the ensuing future through the upheavals today a process of perfection rather than destruction: “I have come not to abolish, but to bring to fulfillment”, to quote a verse (Mt.5:17) from the Bible. Something good is giving way to something more perfect in Indian English Writing, too. Yet, to maintain a reasonable academic standard IEW could be studies as part of ‘Literatures in English’ without excluding British or American Literature.
K. R. : What is your message to the reader of your poetry?
R.K.S.: I doubt I write to construct a ‘message’ as such. But I do think that we should understand our personal concerns honestly and broaden the mind; re-tune our beliefs and prejudices, promoting tolerance for differences and mutual respect, particularly at a time when power is being blatantly expressed through control of knowledge, technology, research, economy, and change, through manipulation of the media—print, visual and internet, through hegemonic politics of War on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, human rights, third world poverty, democracy, environment, and globalisation et al; and appraise our survival vis-à-vis religious, casteist and ethnic conflicts, regional fundamentalism, violence of the right wing, and marginalisation of a large part of our society. I would feel rewarded if my poetry helps create cultural space for others to belong and defuses socioreligious tensions. Our living together in a global civilization or world peace will not be possible without some sort of global ethos on part of our poets and politicians.
K. R. : Is writing poetry of social reality easier than writing Nature Poetry/Romantic Poetry?
R. K. S. : No. As I said in the beginning, writing poetry is an art and it requires taste and sensibility to create, whether it is nature poetry or romantic poetry. The poet needs to articulate his creative perception of meaning in the world using meaning-making devices such as rhythm, tone, imagery, symbolism, myth, without excluding awareness of the present. This is what you also explore to highlight the poet’s social consciousness. So, nothing is easy.
K.R . : Will it be appropriate to use erotic metaphors in the poetry of social reality?
R K S : Why not? Social reality is not devoid of the private and sexual. Erotic metaphors reveal the secret and profound truths about the individual or his/her social consciousness. In the oriental poetry and art, sexual experiences illumine realities and are not devoid from other human experiences such as eating and sleeping. Erotic imagery has a transpersonal dimension.
In fact, the problem is not sex/sexuality but social attitude, false morality, hypocrisy, the socio-sexual standards that determine ‘civilised’ norms, that discriminate, enchain, and debase honest aspirations as lust or vulgarity.
As I mentioned in an article somewhere, erotic imagery helps us to explore relationships, concerns, roles, ethical and cultural values. The image of the human body reveals the human soul, the inner landscape, besides interpreting the outer awareness. Isn’t it the basic truth that we are flesh in sensuality? And this is not without social reality. By denying or negating the erotic, the fleshly unity, we deny the social reality itself.
The assimilation of the world of everyday thing, including sex, and the world that is foreign, mysterious, or uncertain in the poet’s vision is an aspect of social reality but what matters is the poet’s ability to answer particular questions made out at a given time, elaborating and extending the commonsense world.
K. R. : How far does your poetry fulfil the social obligation of reforming the degenerating society?
R.K.S.: I don’t think I have written poetry with any idealistic notion. Nor do I share the view what poetry can teach one about politics, ethics, history, morality or social revolution. I don’t look to it for social salvation. Nor has poetry ever changed a degenerating situation anywhere in the world. It might assimilate, inhere or portray a degenerating situation, but it can’t change it. My poetry commits no such obligation. Nor can poetry or criticism become a basis for societal reform.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Rajani Kalahathi, a researcher from Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, has explored socioconsciousness in the poetry of R.K.Singh, I.K.Sharma and D.C. Chambial for her Ph.D. under the guidance of Dr T.V.Reddy.
R K Singh