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An Interview with Dr. A.V. Koshy
|by Dr. Kiriti Sengupta|
Frankly, it was the Pushcart nomination of Dr. A. V. Koshy in the year 2012 that bound my soul closer with the man. My limited research revealed that very few Indian authors have been nominated until now for this prestigious award from the United States. Koshy has three poetry titles, and four titles on serious literary critiquing. He has served many an institution as a faculty of the department of English. He did his research (Ph.D.) on Samuel Beckett’s poetry in English, majoring in modern English poetry. Once a regular columnist with the Plumtree Books and Publishers (United Kingdom), Koshy prefers to remain reticent about his literary achievements. He is now serving the Academic College of the Jazan University (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in the capacity of an Assistant Professor. It was indeed challenging to make Dr. Koshy pour his heart out! A poet, as we generalise, is essentially humble, and Dr. Koshy is no exception. He took the pain to name and acknowledge the upcoming poets whose works he admired.
Kiriti Sengupta: Hello Sir! It is my pleasure to have you at my interview desk. How are you doing these days?
A. V. Koshy: Talking of my writing it is going well, though it is an uphill battle because of lack of time. My next project is a book of short stories for Lifi and I am excited about it. I want to write a significant collection both in terms of my personal oeuvre and in terms of short story writing. Work stands in the way and my being away from my family is also a hindrance. I am also trying to work on a challenging photography some poetry book with two friends, this both besides my usual smaller writing and submissions of articles, poems, research essays etc.
Kiriti: You are an out and out academician. You have served so many institutions of repute and you have accomplished much research on modern English poetry. What made you write poetry?
Koshy: My research on poetry came out of my love for writing poetry and not vice versa, Kiriti. When I was four or five-year I won a prize for a poem in an international competition, due to my mother’s encouragement, the Shanker’s International Children’s Competiton for Art. I have been writing poems all along. I am more proud of having had three of my poems picked as editor’s picks by Russell Streur of Camel Saloon and having had one poem as best of the month or two in the highly commended category in Destiny Poets UK than of my criticism getting praise sometimes. I am a natural poet. I am inspired mostly by almost everything around me and it comes out easiest in the form of poetry. It is some deep drive and I cannot but be one.
Kiriti: Your book, A Treatise on Poetry for Beginners has been re-released under the name The Art of Poetry. You readers are keen to know the chemistry associated with its uninterrupted success.
Koshy: When I wrote that book something clicked. It came out of a deep desire to teach and make others enjoy the difficult art of writing and reading poetry and a life time’s learning went into it. Yet I also wanted to be populist and democratic, with a simple style and making use of humour. The style fell into place. It was written first as a series on facebook posts and helped me get a huge fan following. It remains my most popular and most sold book and the reprint with a new name is actually because of its demand in India. Now it is available on all major online bookstores. I have not seen a book like it anywhere honestly, it is unique.
I would like to quote what Bina Biswas, the famous translator, poet, critic, short story writer and friend said about the book as she came to release it in Delhi as The Art of Poetry in October, 2013: “Koshy's book's title The Art of Poetry refers to the classicism of books starting from Aristotle's Poetics and Horace's Ars Poetica where poetry was supposed to follow rules. The subtitle, "A Self Styled Verbal Weaving" on the other hand, refers to poetry as self driven and a process in the present continuous tense without any rules, primarily oral and auditory in its origin. The book shows the same dynamic antagonism in its essence for here on one hand is a critic who seems to be speaking for the ancient kind of poetry but here is also a poet and critic who is able to deftly navigate and negotiate the modern one that is technology driven and thus find a balance between "making it new" and at the same time enjoying the "old" which "is gold." Koshy is not drawing from Borges or Nicholas Boileau or Paris Review interviews, although he mischievously sends his readers on such wild goose chases. He is drawing from texts he is teaching and his experience as a seasoned poet and critic who appreciates reading new poetry. His startling originality lies in his having used the social media of facebook to make an impact, leveraging it like an adept, using skills he picked up earlier in other online forums, something no earlier critic has ever done in the same way, and to use humour and simplicity to reach his audience, becoming thus through this book an overnight instant sensation and celebrity purely on the basis of his writing and teaching skills and a type of a new kind of media made cult figure. This impresses me as I am similar in this particular aspect. His book, as Dr Prathap Kamath says, is, at a cursory glance only a very basic guide; too basic, one might think, to draw much attention, but if one reads it one becomes drawn to its inter-textual depths of knowledge and fascinating ability to start on a simple note and build up to a rather complicated and complex climax as it finally talks on things like a poet's style, voice and ideology. It is a book written by a scholar who has a delightful sense of humour and a sparkling writing style, the rarest of combinations, and is not to be missed; being a minimalist gem in the genre of such books, a book that I am happy will adorn my shelf in both its earlier and new, better avatars.”
Kiriti: There has been a movement in favour of performing poetry in recent times. What is your take on it?
Koshy: Poetry, we have to remember is oral in origin and connected to song, ritual, chant and dance. However much modernists try to make it image-centred and figure of speech centred and print centred … this strand won’t die out. So performing poetry will also flourish. There are very fine performance poets in our local language and internationally like Benjamin Zephaniah, for instance, and by locally I mean those who can read or sing or recite their poetry powerfully in their mother tongue.
Kiriti: Worldwide the publishers are not so keen to publish poetry titles. It is a fact that poetry anthologies do not enjoy much of readership. Do you have any plan to restore this pathetic scenario?
Koshy: I like to work with young people like Yaseen Anwer and Sumit Sehgal who have a vision for keeping poetry alive and I also do it on facebook and by email by encouraging poets and not discouraging them as far as possible. I also think my books like The Art of Poetry and even my book on Beckett and my poems that are accessible to the common man, that more or less anyone can read and understand and are not textbook material, will go a long way to keeping poetry alive and reviving it, at least in English. Social media has helped us powerfully. In a paper written on me that is to see the light soon, Zeenath Ibrahim, an Arundhati Roy scholar from Kerala makes the same point about how the media has helped create new icons of poetry and made it popular. The media has powerfully revived short poems, especially.
Kiriti: Your poem was nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize in the year 2012. Could you, please, read out a few of its lines?
Koshy: First, the story. This poem put up by me on google-plus and an editor who likes me, Russell Streur of Camel Saloon, not only came and asked me for it, but published it and made it the editor’s pick. He then nominated it for Pushcart Prize for Poetry, all purely on merit. I was so surprised that I was like- ‘oh my God!’ This must be heaven and I am finally in it. I owe him a lot. It was influenced by my love for Urdu poetry in translation and for Khayyam. This is the poem, KIriti. Reading out from A Shayari of Sorts by A.V. Koshy:
“O Rumi intoxication with the divine is not the only way O Ghalib the way of the senses not the only one Brothers, you know the body of my love also has on it cartography that gives me the map: I alone have the key to open its hidden door Before me spreads the unending vistas of her Keen Delight.”
Kiriti: Until now none of the Indian writers/poets has been awarded the Pushcart Prize. Do you think that the Indians do not produce quality English-language poetry?
Koshy: I do not know, really. The standard is very high, Kiriti. It is not easy to come among the best in a collection where poets and poems have been nominated from all over the whole English speaking world. Luck was with me that I could at least be nominated. Indians produce excellent poetry but the truth is our definition of poetry varies from that of the West, ours is more musical and based on strong emotions and feelings and spiritual nuances whereas theirs as I told you is more visual, imagistic, intellectual and figures of speech centred from the time of modernism. This could be one reason why we do not often get such prizes.
Kiriti: Nowadays poetry is being replaced by free verse. Is it due to a lack of knowledgeable poets? Or is this just a smooth transition with the passage of time?
Koshy: It is a smooth transition with the passage of time that is primarily medium or technology driven but of course there is more to it than that. Verse in metre requires a lot of mastery and discipline as do forms and that kind of rigour is nowadays sacrificed as poetry does not need it so much to be powerful, or needs it only rarely. Essentially poetry as deep, musical and image centred as well as using figures of speech and being sensuous remains as its core setting it apart except in the hands of a few masters like Joyce or Beckett, from prose. For this kind of concentration of language to be brought about one does not need metre or rhyme. As for Indians metronomic lines and syllable count work better than English metre if at all they want to try for ordering. Forms too have become outdated but new ones do emerge like the five liner, and three liner a kind of free flowing haiku or tanka, you can say, becoming popular.
Kiriti: You have tried your hand at short stories as well. Was it just like that, or has this been a conscious effort on your part to try out a different genre of writing?
Koshy: It is a conscious effort on my part to try out a new genre. As a writer I feel I should grace every genre including the novel and the drama and these three remain for me to conquer at least once as does the really long poem. I want to see if what I teach about the great art of the short story can be applied effectively and my stories can be as good as my poems. I would then like to stretch them into novellas and novelettes and finally break out into a novel. The art of fiction, especially the short story and novel is very challenging for one as well read as I and I do have a little trepidation in taking it on, knowing its history by reading many classics. One thing is my short stories will be beautiful to read, of that I am sure, being written by a poet.
Kiriti: Who are your favorites amongst the upcoming Indian poets and writers?
Koshy: I have many but after coming on facebook I have read some startling poetry, or some pretty good poetry or poems, beside that of my own, especially by poets like Reena Prasad, Bina Biswas of course, Ravi Shankar (Ra Sh), Sumana Roy, KVK Murthy, my brother A V Varghese and sister Mary Annie AV , Payal Pasha, Panjami Anand, Pooja Garg Singh, Anilkumar Payyapilly Vijayan, Gopalakrishna Damodar, Sudeesh Padanna, Ratan Bhattarcharjee, Jayaa Lakshmi, Pushpa Moorjani, Madhumita Ghosh, Sudarshana Ghosh, Vasudev Murthy, Bharath Ravikumar, Gopali C Ghosh, Ruma Chakravarti, Poulome Mitra Shaw, Ro Hith, Gorakhnath Gangane, Santanu Halder, a girl whose name I don’t know called Miki Mbizii on facebook, Susma Sharma Gurumayum, Zeenath Ibrahim, Yagni Payal, Rave Rajah, Rukhaya Mk and last but not least my friend Prathap Kamath… my leaning may be, of course, the Keralites and Bengalis and the South-Indians, but to be honest others from other states don’t seem to write much in English…. I would like to add the names of Kamlesh Acharya, Meenu Mehrotra and Abha Iyengar to the list of poets I like in my long list above, in signing off.... Also Purnojit Haldar, Atindriyo Chakraborty, Shaurya Singh and Samantak Bhadra ... And last of all the gentle and genteel poetry of Minakshi Watts ...
Kiriti: Thank you so much, Sir. It was indeed a wonderful experience to talk to you. I wish you all the best in your future enterprises.
Koshy: Thanks to you too Kiriti, for giving me this opportunity to be drawn out of my reticence and wish you the best for your forthcoming book My Glass of Wine, which I enjoyed as it is very different and interesting, very much out of the box. Wish you all the best.
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