Book Reviews

Distinctive Poesy

R.K. Singh, I Am No Jesus and other selected poems, tanka, and haiku, Editura StudIs, Irasi, 2014-08-03

Some fresh bones and designer’s dress
distorted hopes, cataract vision
hardly any better the face of the body
and if there is a soul, the soul hears
the map guides the mind’s midnight
but the destination is different
deception is courage
they know the end of journey
and get down when the train stops
I too descend. (I Too Descend)

R.K. Singh displays his psychological intensity and depth of understanding with brevity of expression. No wonder Internet attracted his poetry to one in far away Rumania and a reader translated his poetry into a language they called Crimean Tatar. RK (hereinafter called so) carved a niche for himself . The latest collection of this collection of poems, tanka and haiku has a rare distinction. RK has carved a niche for himself in the Parthenon of Indian English poetry with the publication of five collections: She Hides; Man; Pied-eyes; Inverted Images and Seasonal Grace. In Dec. 2006, in an interview by Arbind Kumar Choudhury, RK placed before his interviewer his first ars poetica. Here are a few of his averments:

I write to seek a release from myself as much as from others; to feel free by unburdening myself in verses; to experience an inner balance, feeling, probing, sensing, recalling, or whatever. A good poem generates some physical, emotional or psychosexual sensation, stimulates some sensuous, spiritual or exalted pleasure, or provokes some ideas. 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. Poetry lies in creating the image (like the painter who celebrates sensuality), and in capturing momentness of a moment, which stirs the mind. …But here [in the body of the poet’s total work till 2006] one may discover my formal taste, personal vision, and sexual orientation rooted in Purush-Prakriti union. It is significant for open eroticism, seriousness, candor, and exaltation of Rati. I believe in unity of mankind and equality of sexes, and am secular and non-moral in my attitude and values.

The poem cited as an epigraph is from R.K’s I AM NOT JESUS. In 2014 this poet acquired yet another feather in his cap. I AM NOT JESUS, a collection of selected poems, tanka and haiku is translated into Crimean Tatar by Romanian Taner Murat and illustrated by Shikova Ildrovna. This book has twenty-nine selected poems, thirty one numbered tanka and eight-nine unnumbered haiku. In this book poet RK, after proven prowess, enlarged his prolegomena of his poetic composition:

Genuine poetry happens as an event to be truthful, clear, courageous, and honest to oneself; to be open about things one often tries to conceal. Poetry provides an opportunity for expressing one’s intimate moments with the same passion while talking about the interwoven outer realities. I also view it (poetry) as the expression of cosmic, organic, erotic life, creating its own forms, expressing itself and, in being expressed, finds its voice. My experience convinces me that we are not limited by what we are, but we are limited by what we are not. Poetry becomes a means to overcome this limitation, and thus, allows us not only to ourselves but also to expand on what we are. This means we should remain open to healthy revisions that we can make to our way of thinking, and incorporate new perspectives into our outlook. In other words, we should not let our rigidity destroy our potential, but rather we should evince forward-looking, tolerant, and open mindset if we wish to create future.

RK being an academic professionally has shifted himself into his lecture mood. The up and coming poet, learning the craft of writing out his imagination and mind, would benefit by ruminating on these ideas and profit himself in his own way. At the end, in all humility - humility is endless – in peroration he says:

I don’t know if my poetry fits in what I think at the moment, but poetry does help us to traverse the boundaries of hesitation to see the joy of fulfilment.

The first poem is not easy to understand for all if one goes alone by the title. ‘Merkaba’ is the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot. Once understood it sets the tone of the poems to follow. The poem takes us back to the Hebrew prophet and we feel that the state of reality today is not different. The speaker of the poem today suffers from the same third-rate villains. New sins, new horrors and new villainy have come up if that were to be any change. The celestials fume in the zoo of humans. There can be nothing promising. Heaven itself is a mirage. No water for the parched. Here is the poem itself:

They say my birth was a heavenly event
here I am suffering third-rate villains
that erect walls to stop the chariots
from Merkaba: the angles fume but who cares
heaven is a mirage in human zoo

‘New Year’ is about degenerating sex jeering and it is an itch. There can be no fresh petals with mantra and mirror for god is silent – never perturbed – for His is the kingdom though it is not said so. The very brevity of the poems is their strong point making us think, think and think again. ‘Nude Delight’ talks of sensuous sweetness and the littleness of every moment. The divine is coiled – a beautiful trope - for the coiled serpent is torpid. Brevity is the soul of the poems. Many words convey less, the fewer the better would be an inspiration to fathom the deep.

In the poem ‘Stranger’, the speaker is one and a half scores old and has no feeling of belonging. He lives between cold walls, candles put out, with no roof on the head. The more one thinks, the more one is perturbed, fuddled and dumbfounded. The illustration shows the man with no roof on his head, his chest /hear sullied.

‘Avalanche’ is what it would be. The land is trivialized. There is breathlessness at midnight. This is the state of the present. The tumbling mountain opens the wound. Man can only be the silent stranger with no hope, no succour and no light even at the end of the tunnel.

‘Return to Wholeness’ is the genuine effort to achieve the ultimate goal. Restlessness and negative vibrations make man look at the east only to protect his body, withstand the yelling jackals outside and read philosophy. Body is precious as our culture told us aeons ago. sharreramaadyam khalu dharma saadhanam. The speaker does what he could – went to Hsu Chicheng. One must return to wholeness. The speaker remembers Buddha.

I love its stillness
beauty and sanctity
here and now
sink into its calm
to hear the whispers in all
its ebbs and flows
erect, penetrate
the edge of life and loss
return to wholeness.

From being a particle, an atom, one should get back into wholeness. Vishnu Sahasranama the myriad appellations of the Supreme Lord says the He is both ‘aNu’ and ‘brihat’. The ultimate objective is to get into the wholeness.

With growth, fruition is still a long way ahead. The first step towards realization is the capacity to feel. There is realization in the poem, the title of which is title of the book, I Am No Jesus.

I am no Jesus
but I can feel the pains
of crucifixion
as a common man
suffer all what he suffered –
play the same refrains—
at times cry and pray
hope for better days ahead
despite lack of love
diminishing strength
failures, ennui and blames
for sins I didn’t author
feel for humankind
like carry the cross
and relive my arms

Capacity and willingness and sacrifice – feeling the pain of crucifixion are the ways to soar upward.

‘Valley of Self’ is about helplessness. The speaker doesn’t know psalms, does not know any goddess to worship or a mantra to chant to overcome fear. That is the valley of self:

I see no saviour come
to rescue me when tired
I seek freedom for myself
my ordeals are mine alone
in the valley of the self
I must learn to clear the clouds
soaring high or low
This ennui which is suffering one experiences

Earlier, for one of his collections, RK chose the title Sexless Solitude. The title poem, usually, is the one the poet considers his best to illustrate his point of view, his world vision and his own individual stamp, his signature-tune, if you will. The endeavour is to tune in into the reader’s mind to make sure that the complex web of feeling is put across. In this collection the poem is included as ‘Solitude’. The earlier sex is removed but solitude remains.

Sexless Solitude is a coinage to signify a state of mind when solitude takes the main stage with sex driven into a no-loner-significant-part to play. This, paradoxically, makes existence significant. There are moments when the reader feels that the poet in RK is tossed on the tightrope of spirituality and the sexy but surely this volume bids goodbye to the tossing. The scabrous and the scatological, normally vulgar or loathsome cease to be so with a widening of the intellectual horizon. Sin becomes behovely, as that great Saint Juliana of Norwich convincingly declared: “Sin is behovely, all shall be well and all manner of things”. There is no more tight-rope-walking, and hence the pronouncement in the title composition:

I don’t seek the stone bowl
Buddha used while here
She dwells on moon beams

The poet’s vision has come to full maturation of the kind of ripening attained by mystics after a strenuous effort at understanding the ultimate reality. All the poems display this maturation as seen below in the sampler from the slim collection of poems included in Sexless Solitude.

In this new collection, there is one poem which is of delight and joy. ‘From the Window’ is relaxation both for the poet and the reader. What are seen from the car’s window are the very common ones to things very substantially joy giving and sublime. Tall houses, trees, people, birds and beasts are common. Suddenly there is a take off to the high, elevated region. The speaker

Nervously worried
Watch the moving mass of clouds
From the window
eternal patterns
nature’s wonder on the edge
a streak of orange
twinkle in colour like stars –
seat belt fastened

The last line is the landing from the heights of joy.

The poem ‘Eyeless Jagannath’is a frank admission of man’s helplessness to comprehend the mystical thrills and depths of existence. Headpiece filled with straw, standing on the precipice of physicality, man is Prometheus bound. The title could be construed differently, (I’m) Eyeless! Jagannath! or, one may prosaically attribute ‘eyelessness’ to Him. In the procession, the Supreme Lord of the Universe promenades in effulgence. The poet feels eyeless: this could be an explanation for the earthy actuality. There is a sense of bewilderment that, in spite of His Lordship, there should be so much gloom and emptiness both within and without. RK is rightly attracted by breathtaking splendour of the promenade – the rath yatra – the Lord seated in a fabulous chariot drawn by innumerable devotees. Man’s existence between physicality and the ‘eylessness’ are poignantly communicated like the pithy grand declarations in the Upanishads, the mahavakyas, RK’s admissions of frailty, bewilderment and cerebration. He impresses the reader with the genuineness of his feeling:

I stand on the edge
of earth’s physicality
waiting on the brink

On the brink of what, if it is not on the edge of sanity and saintly insight!

Body – A Bliss is a feeling of complacent physicality. Lorca rises up from the physical to the metaphysical in a sudden flash in the line quoted ‘To see you naked is to recall the earth.’ Body shines momentarily and passion does not last long. This is a truism no doubt but the understanding is valuable. Erotic love is valuable.

it’s no sin to love
strip naked in bed, kitchen
or prayer room
the bodies don’t shine
all the time nor passion
wildly overflows

It does us good to remember that ‘parts arouse dead flesh’. Three things are signified in the brief flash: movement, journey and evolution.

Man must play seasons
the thirst is ever new
and blissful too.
to recreate
the body, a temple
and a prayer

The supreme realization is the function of the body. shareeramaadyam khalu dharma sadhanam. The body is the primary requisite for dharmasadhanam, achievement and fulfilment of dharma – in one word, prayer.

The speaker’s love and affection for the young one in the poem is a blessing and really a benediction.

I want the best of life for you
but you must be patient and who what you can –
I can’t create the fruits
I may create space
for you to stand but I can’t
become the legs
you must run the race
on your own and be
what you dream
the redness of mars
and the whiteness of moon
merge in you
you have worlds to conquer
and miles to go, my dear
you must rear the goose
and have the gold each day

There is frank admission with no scheming inept hiding, in the poem ‘I Can’t Hide Tears’. The speaker is conscious of his limitations – he is no Jesus. He is the common man. The poem opens with the speaker revealing his bent of mind. He is just human, with no strength drawn from any divine source.

I could not make my bedroom church
reading psalms and Lord’s prayers
the light of my lamp and
the potion of my cup couldn’t
lift my soul mired in passions
and silence of the morning
in verses I can’t hide fears
my face I despise, can’t find
freedom from the chemicals
sprayed in the air and the smog
the terrors of death are real
the traps overwhelm, I can’t
escape my own creations
the bed, the flesh, the serpents
that seize the house of God
I can’t redeem, can’t save
the soul in battle with me
in bed I can’t sing and praise
This is human condition.

The concluding poem ‘Rainbow’ is about the fallacy and fecklessness of make-up, and using things like hair dye. Finding the colours to match the rainbow is impossible. This is practicality nothing to do with faith or faithlessness.

Tanka and haiku, both are Japanese verse forms from the very distant past. Tanka is a five line poem and haiku of three. Nowadays many Indian English poets are giving expression to their observations in these forms. As ‘snap shots’ or flashes of lightning expressing a mood, an observation or feeling these are unique.

I think that the review cannot be complete without a brief note on the illustrator too. There are illustrations for ten poems with the titles placed overhead. These the handiwork of Alsou Shikhova Ildarnova aid the assimilation of the feeling of the poems, give inspiration to think deeply and help looking up at wider horizons. The abstractions are a treasure trove in and by themselves when carefully viewed. These poems need to be studied slowly, fathoming the depths delved by the poet and shown vividly in illustrations.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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Views: 3320      Comments: 2

Comment Good review of a good poet's work,sir. While modesty marks Prof R.K.Singh, his work is remarkable for crisp expression pregnant with profound poetic thought.regards

T.S.Chandra Mouli
03-Sep-2014 12:28 PM

Comment Thanks Professor Ramarao for reviewing my new collection of poems so exhaustively. I am obliged to you.

Professor R.K.Singh
01-Sep-2014 01:32 AM

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