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Poems and Micropoems by Ram Krishna Singh

 



Poems and Micropoems by Ram Krishna Singh

 

Reviewed by

Prof. (Dr.) Sagar Mal Gupta



Poems and Micropoems | Poetry | Ram Krishna Singh |

Southern Arizona Press, 2023, pp. 78, $7.24/ INR 475

ISBN: 978-1960038081

Prof. R.K Singh, an internationally renowned poet, is a doyen among the poets of haiku and tanka writers. He has published thirty poetry books including a dozen haiku and tanka collections in the last forty years. He has received generous support from poet friends belonging to Romania, Japan, Taiwan, Syria, Iran, Croatia, China, and a few others. His poetry has been translated into different languages, which is quite creditable.

 

 His awards and honours include Ritsumeikan University Peace Museum Award, Kyoto 1999, Certificate of Honour and Nyuusen Prize, Kumamoto, 2000 and 2008. It is an honour not only for Prof. Singh but for the whole country that he was honoured for Japanese poetry by Japanese experts in the art of haiku and tanka poetry.

 

His recent  poetry collections  that have drawn international attention are Growing Within/Desăvârşire lăuntrică  (English/Romanian, 2017), Tainted With Prayers/Contaminado con oraciones (English/Spanish, 2019), Silencio: Blanca Desconfianza: Silence: White Distrust (Spanish/English, Kindle, 2021), A Lone Sparrow:Haiku Poems (English/Arabic, 2021), Against The Waves: Selected Poems (2021), Covid-19 And Surge of Silence/Kovid-19 Hem Sessízlík Tolkȋnȋ (English/Tatar, 2021), 白濁: SILENCE: A WHITE DISTRUST (English/Japanese,  2022), Changing Seasons: Collected Tanka and Haiku (English/Arabic, 2021), Lantern In The Sky: Selected Haiku (English/French, 2022), SHE: Haiku Celebrating Woman That Makes Man Complete (Arabic Haiku Club, 2022), and Drifty Silence (2023).

 

The book Poems and Micropoems contains thirty-five regular poems, eighty haiku and forty-four tanka. It is not possible to review all these in this article but I will review some of them. It would not be out of place to start the review with a favourite poem of Prof. R.K. Singh in which he expresses a sense of disillusionment and a resignation to the fact that there is no escape from the less pleasant aspects of life:

 

The frog in mirror

slips by damp towel

cold sets in slippy hands

 

rain flows on windows

black water crawls down

like diseased reptiles

 

 

 

why scrub the smelly

underbellies

there’s no paradise 

 

(Poem #29. Sense and Silence: Collected Poems , pp. 70-71)

 

 

Professor Singh writes on different topics, mostly on abstract emotions and nature. Out of his three types of poetry in this collection, I shall take up haiku first. Haiku is a short poem which uses imagistic language to convey the essence of an experience of nature or the season intuitively linked to the human condition. It consists of three lines, the first line having 5 syllables, the second seven syllables, and the third five syllables. But many contemporary poets sometimes take liberty with this syllable structure.

In the analysis of haiku in this book, I shall take up only six haiku and comment on them, which will indicate the richness of his remaining haiku. Consider the following haiku:

they watch from the street

our embrace at the window

sneak into liquor  (p. 51)

 

This haiku creates a sense of intimacy and privacy suggesting a sense of voyeurism or intrusion. A vivid image is created by detail, window and liquor. Look at the following haiku:

people trust

what utopia looks like:

lighted banks of Saryu  (p. 58)

 

This haiku highlights human nature and a human desire for a perfect world. The mention of ‘lighted bank of Saryu’ paints a vivid picture of a beautiful and peaceful place which could represent the ideal world that people yearn for. The use of the word ‘trust’ suggests that people have faith in the vision of utopia and see it as something to attempt for. Let us take another haiku:

on his epitaph:

he died protesting land tax

on his grave   (p.58)

 

The person referred to in this haiku was actively engaged in an organised effort to challenge the land tax. The epitaph suggests that protest is shown as part of their identity. The epitaph commemorates their activism.

Summer days are full of warmth, activity and the pleasures of being close to nature. The vivid image of this is mentioned in this haiku:

mid- June morning-

the gardener’s muddy fingers

scratch the itching scalp  (p. 49)

 

The first line of the following haiku shows a luxurious bathroom. The presence of beetles in a clean bathroom is because of neglect or a lack of maintenance. The third line creates a mood of stillness and gloominess. The bathroom may not be well ventilated. The text of the haiku shows a sense of contrast and unease:

one with granite tub

a beetle in the bathroom-

silence of dampness   (p. 49)

 

The following haiku

threatening rain

dark clouds hang over still trees-

smelly clothesline   (p. 49)

 

effectively captures the mood of an approaching storm and the way it affects our senses and surroundings. It depicts a vivid image of an impending storm. The imagery of ‘dark clouds’ hanging over a clothesline have started to smell a mood of unease.

The question arises why I took up the discussion of haiku first. I would like to quote a statement from Prof. R.K. Singh’s interview with Khalil  A  Jomma (WEC: 13:1, March 2023, 92-99). Prof. Singh states:

“I view haiku writing as something innately spiritual, with sensuousness as the key factor; looking outside to communicate the inside; expressing the unity of human being with all existence; imagining life in all its hues- from physical lust to divine sensation… ( p. 93).

He further says that haiku has a lot of possibilities if the poet has a sense of proportion or harmony, the expressive side of language or rhythm which permeates the words (p.94).

Let us now discuss a few tanka, another distinguished poetic form of Japanese poetry. A tanka is an ancient Japanese form of poetry that is categorised by the number of syllable in each line, totalling thirty-one syllables. Tanka translates as ‘short song’ and is better known in its five line 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count form.  There are forty four tanka poems in this collection.

late night-

not many drink

at home

wait for the end

the bed sinks the body  (p.62)

 

This refers to two different times of a day, the morning and late night,  people are active and awake, perhaps getting ready for the day. The late night moves very slowly and fewer people are drinking and waiting for the night to end. The phrase ‘drink for the end’ is significant, suggesting that the people are trapped in the cycle of drinking and waiting for something to happen.

what poem can brew

on faces hidden behind

veils misty eyes say

all I can’t imagine in

haiku with season word  (p. 62)

 

It looks like a fragmented description of some sort of  a scene. The phrase ‘brew on faces hidden behind veils’ suggests some sort of a  mysterious image. The phrase ‘misty eyes’ suggests uncertainty. This means the poem is describing a moment of uncertainty or confusion.

The poem seems to suggest a hidden emotional or psychological state.

Some tanka poems are very easy to understand. Consider the following tanka describing the onset of winter season and its accompanying illness:

winter arrives with

wheezing sneezing and backache

whole night without sleep

I try pills to get better

lamenting ageing and pray  (p.64)

 

The person referred to in the poem is an old man who tries to assuage his illness by taking pills and praying to God for the riddance. Look at another tanka:

no temple

this body degenerates

memory fades

stinking remains

can’t forget all  (p.65)

 

Generally the body is believed to be a  temple in which the soul lives. But with the passage of time, the body degenerates and memories become dim. But a person can’t forget everything, some bad happenings lurk behind.

Prof. Singh does not always write on abstract topics. Sometimes his tanka is about social issues. In the following tanka, he very poignantly describes the poverty of a person who collects warm ashes to find gold so that he could provide liquor for himself and bread for the starving wife and children. Notice the irony in the poem that the poor person does not forget buying liquor for himself without caring that no money would be left to buy bread for the family.

There are some more tanka referring to the social issues of dissent being regarded anti national and competition between hungry people pushing one other for a pail of rice:

 anti-national

every dissenting voice-

lotus regime

bullying the generation

with changing narratives (p.70)

and

  no firsts in hunger:

they all push one another

for a pail of rice

to cook without fire, roof and

utensils lost in a landslide  (p.70)

 

The discussion of micro poems corroborates the saying that brevity is the soul of wit. From the analysis of micro poems to the discussion of poems  would be a logical step. Thirty five poems in the collection are on different themes, from Nature, Love, Azaan, Temple, Meditation to a number of different topics. We shall discuss only a few poems in this article.

 

Consider this poem on ‘Nature’:

 

Nature is me

seeking my place

in the star through births

 

now memory

wild maze of conceit

and darkness

 

yet a tiny part

a dew drop

dotted with beauty

 

                        (Nature is Me, p. 10)

 

The poem offers a relationship with the natural world. In spite of uncertainties and challenges in life, there is a deep connection and sense of belonging that is found in the natural world.

 

The lines ‘now memory/ wild maze of conceit/ and darkness’ create a sense of confusion and  disorientation as if the speaker is lost in a complex and uncertain world. Even in this darkness, there is a recognition of beauty and wonder as suggested by the delicate and powerful image of ‘a tiny part/a dew drop dotted with beauty’.

 

From ‘Nature’, we move to ‘Love’ poem:

 

Rocking chair:

sun through the clouds in

veranda

after days of rain

and nostalgic nights

 

she hands me

a lukewarm tea of ginger   clove

and honey to make

love and stay alive

 

                           (Love, p. 35)

 

The poem describes a beautiful scene of a couple enjoying a moment of love and nostalgia on a rocking chair on the veranda, after days of rain. The description of the warm and soothing ginger, clove and honey concoction adds a touch of sensuality and intimacy to the poem.

 

The juxtaposition of love and the need to stay alive suggest the importance of finding comfort and support in a partner during difficult times. The imagery of the warm drink can also be interpreted as a metaphor for the warmth and comfort that love provides.

 

Let us now move to the poem ‘Love by Default’ from ‘Love’ poem:

 

When you deny love lies in fucking you cheat

millions of starving lovers smelling sex

in each encounter or dating a woman

whose hunger is different each time she meets man

 

to say the unsaid or live the fleeing joy

or weep longingly recall the days gone by

or rue only if it were as it once was

 

lying on his back like whales he lets the ships pass

and clasps a drowning one as he gasps for air

and she yields her body to love by default

 

                                                   (Love by Default, p. 14)

 

The poem presents a complex and nuanced exploration of love and its many challenges. The language is poetic and evocative and the use of metaphor and imagery adds depth and richness to the piece.

 

The idea of loving by default suggests a setting less than ideal relationship because the lovers have no other choice.

 

The image of a whale letting ships pass by and gasping for air suggests a sense of resignation and defeat. ‘To say the unsaid or live the fleeing joy/ or weep lovingly   recall the days gone by/ or rue only if it was as it once was’ suggests a sense of nostalgia or longing for a past relationship.

 

The lines ‘when you deny love lies in fucking you cheat/ millions of starving lovers smelling sex’ refer to someone engaged in infidelity and a sense of desperation and longing. The lines ‘in each encounter or dating a woman/ whose hunger is different each time she meets man’ refers to a woman who is constantly changing and adapting to the men she meets.

 

We shall now analyse the poem ‘Locked’:

 

Eagle’s shadow

on the still boat on bank

blank page of tomb

that sank without history

of women who anchored

life now locked within

sandy rocks disguising faith

in phallic images

drunken politics

of carving and curving

on the potter’s wheel

 

                      (Locked, p.15)

 

The poem refers to the issues related to power, gender and history in a thought provoking and challenging way.

 

The first two lines ‘Eagle’s shadow on the still boat on bank’ suggest a sense of stillness and inactivity. The lines ‘blank page of tomb that sank without history’ refer to forgotten history and absence of women’s stories. The lives ‘of women who anchored life now locked within sand rocks suggests the suppression of women power.

 

The lines ‘faith in phallic images, drunken politics, of carving and curving, on the potter’s wheel’ suggest patriarchal power structures and ways in which they enforce rigid gender roles and social norms.

 

A temple is a sacred place of worship but some selfish people use it for their benefit to earn money. Consider this poem:

 

Known a man of his word

before exiting the windowless hall

scrawls his bearded sinisterity

none could read he proves a rhino

turning the temple into funeral home

 

                                                 (Temple, p.30)

 

This poem presents a dark and ominous picture of a powerful man (‘a rhino’), who has corrupted a sacred place. This suggests that religion can be used to serve the interests of individuals rather than the general good.

 

Look at the description of the man. He had a sinister appearance (‘bearded sinisterity’) and had the power of turning a sacred place into a place of mourning or death. The irony of the situation is that none could comprehend or foresee his intentions. The use of the metaphor ‘a funeral home’ is quite effective.

 

Like a temple, ‘azaan’ is a holy duty for the followers of Islam. But the sacred mosque may not be holy always: they may be a mix of holy and profane, and ancient and modern. Consider the following poem:

 

Precarious

at the threshold of sleep

the azaan

only a deprived

muezzin knows

 

behind the mosque

the peepal guards

mafia mansion

in lantern light

god’s business

 

                           (Azaan, p. 29)

 

This poem conveys a sense of precariousness or instability with the speaker perceiving a complex mix of the sacred and the profane; the traditional and the modern, the holy and the corrupt. The poem can also be interpreted as a comment on the illicit activities happening in the vicinity of the mosque.

 

The phrase the ‘threshold of sleep’ refers to the verge of falling asleep. The caller of ‘Azaan’ (known as muezzin) has been described as very poor which adds poignancy to the poem.

 

We are now going to discuss a poem which describes a sense of isolation and the struggle for human connection in a difficult world:

 

 

It’s no paradise

 but sounds filter upwards

from small Smondo shops

live-in couples in Neotown

share thrills of touch and hug

older couples miss

while walking or watching

alone from windows

gauge their depth of feelings

and monetary wellness

 

                        (Wellness, p.25)

 

This poem depicts a scene in a place called Neotown where people live in close proximity to one another in small shops and apartments. But still people struggle with feelings of loneliness and yearn for physical touch and hug. The language used is descriptive and straightforward.

Prof. Singh’s poetry sometimes also writes about political issues.  Here is a poem which calls for a more open and inclusive politics based on mutual respect and commitment rather than a narrow nationalism that divides people:

 

Is nationalism Hindutva

or right reactionaryism

for political security

of the lines of Modis, Xis, Putins

that play games of disorder

with a Biden and dictate

new rhetoric of regression and repression

at home the hope and hysteria

is dying and no Ayodhya

Mathura or Gyanvapi can win

votes of loyals and traitors

without mutual right to exist

without obscurantism and reform

parody of promises

 

               (Parody, p. 23)

 

The poem is a critique of nationalist politics and its leaders such as Modi, Putin and Xi, who are accused of playing games of disorder and promising regression and repression. The poet suggests that ‘hope and hysteria’ these leaders rely on to win votes is dying out and even controversial issues of Ayodhya, Mathura and Gyanvapi cannot win the vote without a commitment to mutual respect and reform.

The use of language in the poem is quite critical with words like ‘loyals and traitors’, ‘obscurantism and parody of promises,’ suggesting a deep sense of cynicism about the ability of nationalist politics to deliver on its promises.

Here is another poem which conveys a sense of frustration and disillusionment with the current state of affairs but also a sense of determination to continue moving forward despite the difficulties.

With structural corruption

embedded in system

who can change

 the future course:

 

in their stinking nests

the owls and rats plan for

booster shots, just in case...

 

dooms day is  a long dream

 

the pandemic cements

differences for eon

 

standing before a narrow spine

the dead claim the summit

without reaching the top

 

I don’t know how to set down

my burden and move ahead

 

                           (Just in Case, p.28)

 

The phrase ‘structural corruption’ refers to the corruption ingrained in the system. The protagonist expresses his hopelessness at his capacity to change the corrupt society. The use of ‘owls and rats’ refers to those who are powerful and hence they care only for boosting their positions rather than tackling the problems at hand. ‘Dooms day’ refers to the impending danger but a crisis cements the differences and inequalities in society for a brief period of time and later it suggests that we don’t reach the top. The protagonist ends the poem with a sense of despair in the face of difficulties.

In the preceding pages, we presented a brief analysis of Prof. Singh’s poems and micro poems. They are so full of rich meaning that a book can be written on their analysis. I unwillingly come to conclude the present analysis.

Professor Singh’s poems are ‘sagar in gagar’ (an ocean in a pot), they are rich in content; have density of meaning; are like ‘a sailor’s arrow that creates a deep wound’. His poems are like a deep ocean in which the more you dive,  the more pearls you discover. The language and style are simple but deep in meaning. Most of his poems are on abstract thoughts but there are poems which describe the present day issues facing the country. The imagery is new and refreshing. I enjoyed reading the poems and I am sure so will you if you decide to read them.

Works Cited

Singh, Ram Krishna. Poems and Micropoems.Sierra Vista, Arizona:Southern Arizona Press, 2023.

Singh, Ram Krishna. Sense and Silence: Collected Poems. Jaipur: Yking Books, 2010.

Writers Editors Critics ed. by KV Dominic, 13:1, March 2023.