“Poetry is an exacting genre, a thinker’s paradise: those who prefer to quench their thirst with the water from the glass filled from Lethe’s wharf cannot write poetry,” says Indian Civil Servant and poet K. K. Srivastava in this interview for Kitaab.
Srivastava is a poet with three poetry collections–Ineluctable Stillness (2005), An Armless Hand Writes (2008) and Shadows of the Real (2012). Adolf P. Shvedchikov, a Russian poet who has translated Shadows of the Real into Russian, interviewed Srivastava regarding his books.
In your poetry, what are the main themes?
K. K. Srivastava: Unlike fiction, no poet proceeds with or on premises. An honest confession on my part would be to admit that when my poems get written, irrespective of their shape and form, they defy any logical sequencing and symmetries; the unevenness is important. But later I spot themes in them and I wonder if this is a correct process. Still I consider it as an adequately equipped methodology to detect later what is invisible earlier. Ephemeral and the unconscious are as important as real. Time is also a character in most of the poems in as much as it acts as a lighthouse with turning signals with periodic flashes. It is through time that many themes in my poems-longer ones in particular seek themselves. Besides, I have also dealt with relationship between whole and parts, man-woman relationship, dreams, emotions and emotional distortions.
Your poetry is referential and allegorical. Let me take the poem on Mother or Oppressiveness of Nothingness. Is it necessary?
Second book, of course, yes, many. Third, only three references and the first has none. These are not voluntary; never intended. Sometimes you feel a little clarification may seduce a reader’s sensitivities and imagination. For instance, a mother facing bleak succession of moments that form time for her or life for her, may bring for a layman images of a helpless, ill-starred woman destined to suffer before death but for a poet who has seen the dark, bleak world of say Borges or Milton, of course through his reading of them, ‘O dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon/Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse/Without all hope of a day.’ are not the wailing of blind, aging poet in Samson Agonistes alone. Even with eyes alive, days can be murky and hopeless. Allusions connect the past to the present with different temporal perspectives placed side by side. Further, allusions bring together fragments culled out from various sources for a better appreciation of any literary output.
You write in preface to Shadows of the Real that,’ Poets are like blind people. They find themselves sitting buried in meditation within a strange world, stripped of its own nakedness.’ Please elaborate.
The pain that accompanies a poet when he writes is an inexplicable pain. There are memories—difficult and vexing memories he has to move into and search material for his poems. There is a struggle on an unconscious level and this struggle creates an aura of self-protectiveness which is to be grappled with and lived through all alone, in that solitude which gives more pain than bliss. Here ‘blindness’ connotes the solitude of a poet enabling him an indulgence in an interior monologue helping him fuse ideas with words, observe things more dispassionately and delve into two opposite experience–the concealed one and the revealed one. Poets animate the inanimate while feeling the chaos needed for uninterrupted succession of happenings in his mind so vital for writing poetry.
What is the role of memory in your poems, longer ones in particular?
Memory and time are irreversible entities and a writer knocks at the disjointed coexistence of these to search material for his writings. Relationship between short-term memory and long-term memory is necessary for whole, unified material images and perceptions. Long poems are marked by the presence of interconnected concepts and images and sometimes by the presence of imageless thoughts–say, like an unclear photograph stirring imagination. Many times a poet’s search for logical connections in the images he explores in order to write his poems propels him to move somewhere else. He has to clamber up monoliths towards the basis of his imagination. Memory, a resurrection of the past, helps in interpretation of past and present: jumbled and incoherent memories hide realities of every day existence. Without layers and depths of memory no imagery with its symbolism can be possible and more so no creative urge is feasible.
In your poems a sense of dark world looms large over the reader. Is the world really so void as to give us a mere sense of what you call, ‘frothing euphoria/ looming up in/our limping mind’?
Poetic thinking entails obscurity. It is like growth of the embryo from its dark and formless origin to its emergence into light of the day when the child is born. The story does not end there: it extends itself as life proceeds and the child grows into a man but that haunting relationship with the origin-the dark, unfathomable origin knocks at him throughout albeit some ecstatic moments opening up new beauties and wonders. The foreshadowed arena-the symbiosis of known and unknown occupies an important place in the mind of a poet.
Human Illusions, being a long poem, seems to be an amalgamation of various strands of thoughts and reflections. Please comment.
Illusions coexist with realities: harsh or otherwise. They precede reality. This poem is not a mere arrangement of words as in a puzzle. It is where the unconscious supplants the viewed and perceived world: realties becoming rarer than illusions. They integrate themselves rather than getting incorporated. Thus are born interior currents with new associations with different threads. Long poems are dilemmatic—both intellectually and linguistically. Nature of the subject, unpoetic subjects I mean, by compulsion produces subtlety of insights that takes refuge in blurred and cloggy images and materials. Illusions can be equated with what Bradley calls,’ offspring of the present’ if present is equated with reality. Further, illusions facilitate painful ambiguities of the real existence.
There are clear glimpses of psychic phenomenon in many of your poems? You draw upon dreams and their interpretations in poems like-Unremembered People and Discontented Dreams. Why dreams are important for a poet?
Immutably connected to dreams, psychic phenomenon fascinates me. Apart from representing repressed memories, dreams provide an array of associations that emerge as definite pattern but are extremely difficult to have linkages clearly established vis a vis realities of the day. Still for a poet dreams bring plethora of multi-peaked, incomprehensible and masked issues but with gaps when he writes. These gaps are to be filled and poets use inferences to fill these gaps though many inferences may stay unarticulated.
In Shadows of the Real you write, ‘What purpose would returning back to the lines I penned long back serve? It is like visiting the same harlot night after night. I prefer not to waste my nights over over-enjoyed pleasures.’ What perceptions do you want your readers to get from these lines?
I have evolved over a period of time a very uncertain relationship with the things I have written. My poems don’t give me pleasure even when I look at them for instance after five years and this basically is an unaccounted for phenomenon. It may be that as both the poet and his already written poems mature, a fresh connection between the two seems to be building over days past but unfortunately though new threads develop in my case too, these are pleasure-less threads.
Being in civil service, do you find it difficult to get time to write?
My job is my first priority. Other things come later. Poetry and love for literature are not unique to me alone. Many civil servants are into it. Poetry stems from perplexity: perplexity of human existence, thoughts and interactions. Poetry is an outcome of a puzzled and baffled mind and consciousness-serious poetry, I mean. A true poet is always in a quandary. Like Kafka he faces the question,’ Where, then, shall I be brought?’ An uncertain world and his dwelling in it.
You will agree there is mushrooming of poets writing in English.
I think for being a good writer one ought to be voracious reader which unfortunately many of the poets now-a-days are not. Poetry is an exacting genre, a thinker’s paradise: those who prefer to quench their thirst with the water from the glass filled from Lethe’s wharf cannot write poetry.