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Impervious R K Singh: A Critical Study of the Collection Against the Waves- Selected Poems

 


Impervious R K Singh: A Critical Study of the Collection Against the Waves- Selected Poems

Dr. Ram Kulesh Thakur

Assistant Professor

Department of English

SRM AP University, Andhra Pradesh

 

The fact cannot be overlooked that in the recent times a major non-erasable chapter has been added to the history of Human Civilization (or may be the ‘Un-civic’ side of modern man) and it records a difficult, anxiety-provoking, and morally debatable decade; but yet, the silver lining may be considered to be a few pieces of remarkable literature. To quote just an example, one can find the rich tapestry Against the Waves- Selected Poems by Ram Krishna Singh, Publisher: Authorspress, New Delhi, 2021.

Dr Ram Krishna Singh, one of the leading contemporary Indian poets writing in English, celebrates his overall existence and each experience whether dark or bright, dull or exciting, dreadful or captivating with the simple looking but pregnant poetic lines. His poems reflect upon his vast experience starting from his days of journalism to being a lecturer and then a professor. Singh’s poems cover a wide spectrum of topics such as close observations of the daily monotonous life, traditions, cultural beliefs, religion, superstition, history, science, academics, research, corruption, social evils, love, sex, art, modern practices, politics, etc.

The collection Against the Waves displays a colourful mosaic of different experiences coming from different walks of life having different themes making it more enriching altogether. A closer look at the Contents Pages, i.e., 7-9, with a mention of 66 titles such as ‘Haunted’, ‘Self-Neglect’, ‘Rot’, ‘Dream’, ‘Weird Chains’, ‘Prayers’, ‘Insomnia’, ‘Quarantined’, ‘Covid- 19’, ‘NawRuz’, ‘New Gods’, ‘Flood’, ‘Test’, ‘Mahakaal’, ‘Tanshi’, ‘Warning’, ‘Creativity’, ‘Me Too’, ‘Rituals’, ‘Designs’, ‘Neighbours’, ‘Intellectuals’, ‘Enemy’, ‘Culture’, ‘Strike’, ‘Marriage’, ‘Lies’, ‘Rootless’, ‘Liberation’, ‘God Too Awaits Light’, ‘Silence: A White Distrust’, ‘Redemption’ etc clearly bespeaks the poetic spectrum. It is impossible to categorize Singh’s poems into specific sub-categories or thematic headings as each poem is a different world, and more importantly, it is a complete ‘Communicative Event’. Nonetheless, his poems may broadly be partitioned into two major sub-headings: first, highlight the journey with-in (personal inward experiences) and second, the worldly experiences (the day-to-day encounters). The most striking observation in this collection is its use of ‘Fresh’ metaphors that are passionately intense. Some of the poems in this collection display a classical poise whereas a few others dramatically create the tremors that both undermine and bolster that poise. This collection has something for every type of reader as a few of the poems are funny, thought-provoking, serious, challenging, evocative, story-telling, satirical, sombre, etc.

Unlike Singh’s other popular poetry collections, in Against the Wave she decides to give an apt title to the poems making it easy for the readers to construct a discourse. In fact, the titles are very wisely selected and they rightly serve the purpose of constructing a desired suitable discourse platform for the readers.

The first poem of this collection titled ‘Haunted’ straightaway exposes the reader to the element of surprise, which is quite evident in his poems, with the lines: “I don’t let silence sleep / even if none hear / the disturbed spirit / growing wild to say / what I never say” (p 11). The 16 lines poem uses only a three hyphens, two commas, and a colon that clearly reflects upon the severity of tone. The major verbs: sleeps, grope, contain, hates, suffer, fear, and hear significantly constructs a dark or negative emotion. The poem moves inwards to project the state of being of the charred soul; the soul that is ‘Haunted’.

In one of the poems titled ‘It’s my Time’, Singh coins a new verb ‘hydraheaded’ to show his treatment of truth: “I’ve hydraheaded truth too” (p 12), and it clearly manifests that he falls short of regular language vocabulary to express his unique experiences. His poems, quite frequently, display his secular person as one can find uses of signs, symbols, myths, images, archetypes, etc across religions, cultures, traditions, and geography. To quote an example, one finds the use of “Christ’s kingdom”, “divine fruit”, “Peter”, and “prophet” in the poem ‘It’s my Time’ (p 12).

Some of the poems in the collection are complicated as well. Here, one finds the words moving faster than usual, with a constantly changing rhythm and a centre in motion, and as a result, the poems are buoyant, often playful, as they cover ground from desire to religion, aspiration to politics, need to action, and dream to reality. Singh’s notable and prodigious ability of experimenting with form and syntax surfaces in a good number of poems in the given collection. For example, the poem ‘Energy Block’ presents the discordant body and soul in quick bouts between words: “Frazzled and restless / bouts of anxiety / addiction, sleeplessness / spinal degeneration / pain in neck and back / numbness in the legs / loss of teeth, libido / anal bleeding and what not”, and it continues further in the lines “things get hairy and scary / with body failure / ailments pop up / spirit dries up / mind disconnects”. (p 13)

As the poet is a world-renowned Haiku practitioner, the traces of brevity, absolute imagery, wit, and momentous capture/depiction can be easily found in some of the poems in this collection as well. For example, in the poem titled ‘Post-Election’:

They don’t hear

the silent screams of

millions

 

tired of misfortune

play games of convenience

innocent voters

 

sordid life-

nation’s destiny

heaven-fed (p 15)

 

Here, one can find the three different stanzas (above) exactly replicating the structure of a Haiku: the first stanza has 3-5-3 syllables in the lines respectively, the second stanza displays 6-7-5, and again the third is composed in 3-5-3 syllables, respectively. One cannot miss the powerful images of ‘silent screams’ and ‘innocent voters’. To quote another example, the poem titled ‘Rot’:

Moon energy

fills up the inner space –

call to wake up

 

or be hostage to wounds

that don’t autocorrect

astral faults

 

knitting the luck

amidst the waste gods spread

I smell the rot (p 16)

 

Here, one finds the syllabic structure of 4-6-4 in the first three lines and last three lines respectively. Again, one cannot miss the use of the technical term ‘autocorrect’ in connection to ‘wounds’, thus making it a powerful imagery. Thus, one finds that Singh lives upto his worldwide repute for capturing a ‘moment’ in his poems and making his reader re-live the same with his sense of perception. Undoubtedly, Singh has given a new dimension to the practice of ‘Haiku’ in the Indian Literary Scene, but even his other poetic forms are equally powerful and evocative. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to quote Singh here: “Living life in a boring environment, it is a challenge to sustain poetic creativity. Yet I have survived the inner and outer sterility. It has been great fun to use some small, negligible aspect of one’s behavior, or some insignificant event, or something read or heard in the past that stays unconsciously in the memory and gets connected some other time while something incites me into a poem, or I get my own thoughts as I read somebody else’s poem, or I recollect some complex dream experiences into the garb of a poem. I see to it that the emotion thus expressed makes sense to me as an ordinary reader and is not mere claptrap in the form of a poem.”

As expected, a few poems in this collection are pungent satire, or better called sarcastic, such as ‘Aftermath’: “wisdom splashed in gonzo arguments / cocks the walk. Others too feel his sting but prefer / silence. They know the caged parrot’s free / to shame seven decades of democracy groomed / differently…” (p 18). The use of the terms such as ‘gonzo’, ‘sting’, ‘caged’, ‘parrot’, and ‘shame’ undoubtedly makes the poem pungent, and the repeated quick succession of these terms adds a strong sarcastic tone to it. Singh can never keep himself away from his surroundings and it is clearly reflected through a few of his poems, although he never admits that he intends to make his poetry didactic. One magnificent example displaying his social awareness is the poem titled ‘Weird Chains’:

They invent new lies with periodical distractions

repeat falsehood till truth turns doubtful

teach generations the ways of hating

the porn of discriminating, dividing, killing

the innocents that love their neighbours

value diversity, equality and peace

shunning the weird chains that lock the sun for roots to grow (p 22)

 

One noticeable element in the poems of this collection is the absence of ‘period’ or ‘full stop’ from the poetic text, thus making each line run on to each other not only adding serious tone to it but also indicating a state of chaos that the poems’ discourse is suggestive of. The absence of adequate pauses (not clearly indicated) makes the poems appear somber, but to some extent ghostly. To quote another suitable example, one finds the same in the poem titled ‘Insomnia-II’

My brain forgets to clean toxins

create and store memories

refresh my being and bliss

by morning the sun pronounces

my time is running out fast

there’s no magic elixir

for sleep that revives before rest (p 26)

 

A few poems such as ‘Quarantined’, ‘Covid-19’, ‘NawRuz’, ‘New Gods’, ‘Third Wave’ etc. in the collection reverberates the Covid 19 experiences where the poet vehemently argues “the house arrest sickens / the fear kills the spring” (p 29) and questions the “fanatic ambitions” (p 29). The poet labels the recent unfortunate development as “culture of suicide” (p 29) and declares “no re-creation / but perpetual death” (p 29).

The erotic images that come to life is yet another strong characteristic of Singh’s poetry and the same is experienced in the poem ‘Creativity’:

The hole between words is vaginal

if the mind could penetrate

 

the seed won’t question age

inside the lines it crackles

 

with orgasmic pleasure

meanders through the tunnel

 

from first breath to oblivion

stays erect, liberates the text (p 48)

 

One cannot miss powerful erotic images scattered here and there in his poems: “in bed sleepless she turns / undoing a hook or two / of her tight blouse” (p 92), “love tickles / with erect pistil: / hibiscus” (p 92), “love making / he melts into her / time stands still” (p 93), “the wax dips / down the long candle - / a soft hum” (p 93), “fingers grope / the leaking pulp / moist lips” (p 100), etc.

Singh, to provide an insight into his own poetry reveals: “What is my poetry about? Much depends on the insight into how one responds to my poetry or how delightful to the senses or challenging to the mind one finds it, or how one wants to interpret my creative perception of meaning in the world. There are many themes, individual passion, historic-mythical awareness, human relationship, social consciousness. I am my own veil and revelation; I am both the subject and the object and reveal others as much as I reveal myself.” In the poem ‘Against the Waves’, the poet uncovers his charred soul: “The crowded lift and emptiness of the flat / doesn’t help me resurrect what’s gone”, “…invent a new life to live with”, “the ghostly silence”, and “…straying against the waves” (p 23).

One cannot miss the real-life aura that the poet creates through his poems, and hence, ensures that every reader’s interest is engaged: “Stand naked / before the mirror / see changes / from top to toe / a tragic tale” (p 31); “Women and children / crossing the flooded huts” (p 33); “I can’t remember / my mother’s face” (p 40); “I love the night with you / when sleepless we yield” (p 46); “Evening Walk: / a peep into my own / lanes and bylanes / bodily harmony / a sense of inner calm” (p 53), etc. Most of the poems in this celebrated collection elucidates Singh’s opinion: “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 subjective expression of a social vision, reality or protest and an extension of the poet’s self.”

Talking about different opinions on Singh, it would be erstwhile to note that R. A. Singh explains in his essay “The Poetry of R. K. Singh” that the “. . . poetry seems to be rooted in visions and divisions that traverse human existence, feeling the pulse in the rhythmic flow of time. His social visions intersect with the private; his flux of emotions creates a complex sound and silence, waving through love, loneliness, failure, frustration, and memories in search of home in a hostile world. His imaginings are not only delightful to the senses but also challenging to the mind.” (170) The comment or critical observation made here is equally valid for his latest collection of poems as well, and it further suggests that the poet in R K Singh is the same although he has received many more bruises. The latest collection of poems records his present (recent) experiences, but it records the same in his established signature pattern.

Stephen Gill points out in his essay “R. K. Singh: A Mystic Poet of Beauty”: “The poet’s constant analytical deliberations plunge him often into the abyss of gloom.” (178), and the same continues till his latest collection. He looks disturbed by the Pandemic, Politics, Cultural Degradation, Social Behaviour, Anxiety, etc. Although a lot of other critics have made remarkable observations on the poetry of R K Singh, but the best comes from the poet himself: “To tell you the truth, most of the poems I wrote have simply happened. The poetic mood, short-lived as it is, would help create from anything, anywhere, anytime. I can’t write a poem deliberately on a theme on demand.  Nor have I been interested in didactic or moralistic writing.  My emotions and experiences are, therefore, genuine and sympathetic readers can relate to them.   Personally speaking, a poem’s composition helps me get a release from myself as much as from others or whatever agitates me. I feel free by unburdening myself in verses; I experience an inner relief, a freedom from the built-up pressure, tension, unease, or whatever, you know. If it turns out to be a good poem, it offers a pleasing sensation, rest to my disturbed nerves, and peace to my inner being. (http://creationandcriticism.com/113.html)

The poet has found a unique way of finding solace to his queasy heart and that comes to him through his poetry. His poems serve him a direction into which he wanders looking for the ultimate peace, relief, escape, or in simple term ‘Nirvana’. The poet seeks meaning of the mystery of life, its reality and pains through the eyes of Nature, metaphors of self-contradictions, intrinsic dissonance, harmony, and identity through his poems.

Suggested Readings

Singh, R K. Against the Waves- Selected Poems. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2021.

R.A. Singh. The Poetry of R.K. Singh,Creative Forum, Vol. 5, No. 1-4, January-December 1992.

R.S. Tiwary. A Peep into the Poetry of Dr R.K. Singh,University News, Vol. XXXIV, No. 19, May 6, 1996.

Dominic, K V (ed). Rajni Singh’s“An Interview with R.K. Singh.” Critical Perspectives on the Poetry of R.K.Singh, D.C. Chambial and I.K. Sharma. New Delhi: ACCESS, pp. 48-53.

Rajni Singh and Ram Krishna Singh. Indian Poetry in English: In Search of Identity. New Delhi: Authors Press, 2012.

Dominic, K V. Discourses on Five Indian Poets in English. New Delhi: Authors Press, 2011.

Thakur, Ram Kulesh. R. K. Singh: The Poet Who Celebrates 'senses' to attain 'Nirvana.' UOCHJLL, VOL. 1, ISSUE 1, JUNE – DEC, 2017. pp. 136-54. ISSN: 2617-3611.

Thakur, Ram Kulesh. Poetic Communication: A Study of the Verbal Art. Jaipur: YKING Publishers. 2015. ISBN:9382532889.