R.K. Singh. Sense and Silence: Collected Poems. Jaipur: Yking Books, 2010, Pages 347, Price: Rs. 995/-, ISBN 978-81-910588-2-6
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Reviewed by: S.L. Peeran
R.K. Singh is an academician, a poet of standing, who has been acclaimed as a major voice in post independent era. A well known critic and a person who cares for the voiceless and marginalized poets in the country.
Yking Books, Jaipur, India, has brought out the entire collection of poetry of R.K. Singh Sense and Silences:Collected Poems: 1974-2009 with an extremely aesthetic cover with a picture of a nude women lying in grass surrounded by pipal leaves signifying love, beauty and wisdom. The back side of the cover page has the latest photograph of the poet, in the background is a Muslim period monument with calligraphic writing of holy scriptures.
The blurb speaks about R.K. Singh’s achievement as an academician in as much as he has authored more than 150 research articles, 160 book reviews and authored 35 books which include 12 collections of poem, which have been translated in many local and European languages. R.K. Singh is an innovative Haiku and Tanka writer, having won acclaim and prizes in international contests. He is also well known ESTist and currently heading the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad.
The outstanding feature of the poetry of R.K. Singh is its sensuousness, explicit and graphic description of intimate relationship with his best half and bed mate in his initial work ‘My Silence’ and other subsequent works, As a young man, R.K. Singh was thrilled, excited and uninhibitedly details his sexual release, his passion and love. He is a great connoisseur of beauty, love and sex. But that is not all, the poet is sincere and honestly deals about social issues and hypocrisy. He calls a spade a spade. He is truthful in his exposition and never minces words.
R.K. Singh does not title his poems, but they are numerically numbered. In the words of I..K. Sharma the poetry of R K Singh displays the power of plain words, scaring the puritans and taunting the purists, speaking for love, sensuality and meaning of life. I K Sharma has done a thorough analysis of R.K. Singh’s work. In his foreward to his latest collection “Sexless Solitude and other poems”, I.K. Sharma states that the poet articulates his perceptions, his experiences in a very unconventional way. Not at all shy of using words associated with sex, he puts them to different uses in his poems. He further states the poetry of R.K Singh “makes purists of literature believe that the poet is a shameless hawker of sex in the street of literature. His poems, they think, have soiled the white house (not White House) of literature; such persons in fact suffer from agoraphobia.” I.K. Sharma further states that: “Dr Singh manages to tell his experiences, bitter or sweet, mostly bitter, in minimum possible words. He would eliminate all the non essential from his compositions. He would chiefly exploit, like Hemingway, the vigour of verb in his poems, and avoid the pomp and vanity of adjective altogether. This way of writing makes his poems far different from the poems we often come across in Indian English poetry magazines.” He further notes: “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 clichés exists there. Only the power of plain words on display.”
R.K. Singh’s poetry is not “run of the mill” one and following the traditional and much beaten path. His poetry is mostly sensual, imaginative, original and innovative.
Among all his work the ‘Sexless Solitude” section in the Collected Poems is monumental, classical, and his masterpiece. The poet has poured forth his emotions in a most chiseled form, bare like “the tree/green and wide/abundantly dressed/over flowing/ spreading her sleeves/ blesses all/ in her cool shades/ solitude teems /with breeze songs/ I feel nearer God.” These are the poet’s opening lines in praise of his beloved, but the poem sums up the poetry of the narrator.
The poet is not ritualistic nor an atheist but he has broken the cocoon of religiosity and considers himself neither a Hindu, nor a Muslim, nor a Christian. The poet is influenced by the Bahai’s faith, its message of universal love and brotherhood of man.
R.K. Singh’s poetry is far from being didactic or philosophic, but the poet does show concern for the underdogs, sidelined persons, fallen women and those women who are rejected, put to hardship and difficulties. The poet speaks about the happenings around him, about himself, about his best half’s response with him in his bed, the attitude of his children, his colleagues, his critics about the world and the people in the society. The poet has gone further to write about too intimate relationship with his best half, which is generally neither spoken of nor written.
The poet has shown concern for the environment, about the dust and fumes of Dhanbad , the place where he has been living for more than three decades. He has observed the lives of the down trodden coal miners and the hardships faced by them, about the water shortage, about the pollution, garbage and pseudo personalities and hypocrites.
The poetry of R.K. Singh cannot be classed with any of the western poets or class poetry but his is innovative, creative, fresh and new, and can be classed as post modern, current and contemporary. The poet is sure to open up a school of his own, with his own appreciators and fans. The poet’s work has been acclaimed and a number of PhD scholars have taken up his poetry for study and research work. Innumerable articles have appeared in poetry journals about the his poetry. Contemporary scholars, professors and poets have brought out books on his poetry. R.K. Singh is hugely adulated, appreciated, criticized and some have condemned his earlier collection for being too sensuous and comparing his poetry to that of D.H. Lawrence.
His poetry is bereft of rhetoric, and far from being prosaic or thematic; it is untitled, unrhymed and unmetered. It is also ironic and satiric, especially against religious taboos and irrational customary practices. There is a tinge of pathos as well, and his personal suffering and suffering of people of all classes are brought out well. Many poems are reflective and meditative, and sometimes they tend to speak about his personal philosophy, views, perceptions and sensitivity about the world and people around him. The poet is at once simple and complex but he hardly taxes the readers’ mind with verbosity and high bombastic language.
R.K. Singh has experimented with language in his own way, leading to a new path in the annals of Indian English Literature, or for that matter, in English Literature. His expression is bold, truthful and straight away, catching the eye, startling, and sometimes shocking and amazing. The poet has never theorized but has put to paper all that he has felt, experienced and experimented. He is a very clear thinker and level headed. He has spoken about his personal life of sex, insomnia, hope, fear, quietness, wakefulness, dream state, semi-dream state, sublime state, despair, frustration, dejection, pessimism, personal likes, dislikes and even personal secrets.
The poetry of R.K. Singh can be classed also as metaphysical in as much as he does not reject God but keeps away from all forms of religiosity. He is mystical in that one can live a full and rich life, enjoy the company of ones mate, satisfy oneself fully and be above board, above the rigmarole of life, reach higher stage of consciousness and attain the supreme bliss, ‘moksha’ or ‘Nirvana’. For the poet living a fuller sensual life is not an impediment but the poet never sounds amoral, promiscuous or a cheat to his genuine love. He does not want to betray his love nor be half hearted but would like to be fully devoted and live in full measure and satisfy his beloved fully. The poet desires to live a pure, simple, straightforward and truthful life and detests hypocrisy of all kinds. He is against make ups, fashions, showiness and pretences of people. He is against the politicians who promise and cheat the electorates; make tons of money, loot the common man and stove off the money in foreign countries. He laments the exploitation of poor and down trodden in the name of religion, customs and politics or for any other purposes. He speaks about the Bhopal gas tragedy, about the suffering of common man due to floods, earthquakes, droughts, famine, civil wars, chaos, confusion, looting, and havocs created by Nature. About the exploitation of poor nations by civilized ones and about failure of democracy and various systems in the society.
The poet decries the unnecessary idolatry about the exploitation of devotees by priests and religious taboos, about the pollution of the holy rivers in the name of God by His so called ‘god men’. The poet speaks about the petty mindedness of people “living (in) their smallness in a small world (and ) they cease(d) to grow and be human”. The poet bemoans the loss of meaning in life and says that he can’t be comfortable with their bragging ego as they are “corrupt to the core /they eat into our fabric: /I must search my own way/ through empty cups and alleys/ in body rain love/ or plant new phonies.” Thus the poet being dejected with the systems, religiosity, hypocrisy and meaningless of life around has undertaken a lone unbeaten path in search of truth and light. He ends up in finding love being the only source of solace, tranquility and to reach the sublime and higher realms of consciousness.
For him, “poetry is prayer/in life’s vicissitudes:/ a saving grace against manipulated or /unmanifested odds/ overwhelming without/ warrant or patterning.” The poet in his opening lines in the section “ Above the Earth’s Green” says that “ I do not write the sun, storm or sea/ but recreate myself and others/ in verses turn time and pluck stars/ to find my way through masked trenches/ witness to my sinking into mud/ that curves the memories into bias/ disgrace dust, sky wind, and all relations/ windows of emotions I must chain/ to breathe a pure breath without passion/ and discover essence of beauty/ spring a move towards self harmony/ perfection and peace, prelude to nude/ enlightenment to carve life in full.”
I find R.K. Singh’s Sense and Silence extremely readable and elevating the mind and consciousness.
Poet & Editor, SUFI WORLD
R K Singh