Review: Frontier Lyrics: A collection of poems by Ramakanta Rath

Ramakanta Rath believes in poetry as music for survival-rising and ebbing being ineluctable part of it, says K.K.Srivastava in this review.

Frontier Lyrics CoverFrontier Lyrics
A collection of poems
Author- Ramakanta Rath
Publisher-AuthorsPress, New Delhi
Price-Rs 195/ US$ 10; Pages- 110/Published-2014

The world of poetry is a kaleidoscopic world. Visiting poets in different guises, it is full of dichotomies, pleasures and perils, love and hatred, perceivable areas of darkness and hidden areas of illumination, but always enlightening bringing to the fore the fugacious potential of  ideas and words. The onus of exploring that potential rests with the poets. While dilating his statement, “Poetry is the most highly organized form of intellectual activity” T.S. Eliot in his essay ‘The Perfect Critic’ draws a distinction between what he refers to as “appreciation” and “intellectual criticism” the two psychological faculties and their inevitable interplay with the perceptions that he feels don’t “accumulate as a mass, but form themselves as a structure and” a review “is the statement in language of his structure….”.  A poem is the most abstract art with all dramatics inside the poem represented by dynamics of symbols and metaphors. Strangeness makes the texture of life of poets forming the warp and the woof of what we call poetry. Seen in aforementioned context, a reviewer’s work, oftentimes epitomizes more doubts than what it dispels but it hardly deters him as this is precisely one of the principal objectives of a review. Reviewers transport the work of poets to the readers and in a limited way cause obscurity to melt away as history crawls along with time.

Ramakanta Rath joined Indian Administrative Service in 1957 and held important positions in Govt of India and State Govt. He retired as Chief Secretary of Odisha in 1992. He is a poet with many poetry collections to his credit and came to prominence with his collection ‘Sri Radha’ recognized as a modern classic: the harbinger of a new poetics. His latest poetry collection-Frontier Lyrics that, inter alia, explores man’s inner world, has 43 poems.

In this collection, Rath presents life with all its abiding features of haziness and spontaneity as a continuum where he confronts readers with copious forms: nature, God, religion and humanity.  Thoughtful and reflective, poems carry experiences of different hues of life. Revelations through these poems reflect on bigger and more versatile issues of life which has its own scheme of dispersal that is left to every individual to decipher and grapple with and finally to go with or without these dispersals. Rath, aware of such a scheme of things that exists in the cosmos and not baffled by superficial self-clashes of individuals, tries to weave together human endurances and anomalies cased in such a scheme as in the poem-

The Morning Today

‘This morning today

is somehow very different.


The small residues of its existence

Are already crumbling.

..  ……………………………..

It says all this in a strange language—

in words different from all the words I’ve known.’

In many of his poems we come across an effortless inventiveness vi-a-vis the raptured images lurking endlessly: ‘I will go back to the futility I had left behind’ (COME LET ME ADORN YOU) or ‘If, from the quivering lips of the woman/who is on the way to becoming the sky/the smile she smiles while weeping is subtracted/what remains?’ (Arithmetic)

The Poem Woman gives readers authentic image and cadence with unmatched sweep  of lines with a sense of estrangement-

‘I kept on running

To collect the flowers.

I didn’t have the time

To see what you looked like.’

Rath like any other poet is conscious of more than himself.  Dismal reality of decadence and modern man’s self-division with his consequential alienation drives the poet to cry, ‘protect my dreams from the tyranny of the fire’ (Because I DIDN’T Stay). He believes in poetry as music for survival-rising and ebbing being ineluctable part of it. There is considerable variety in his poems but irrespective of the sources, varieties cohere.  This is the most significant aspect of his poetry.   His poetry stems from a self-imposed restraint that is deliberate and meaningful and the metaphors and symbols showcase poet’s brilliant observation powers imbued with his ability to draw meaningful conclusions from things perceived and sensed. Smoothness runs through many of his poems with deep imagination and beautifully crafted wisdom and feeling.  For instance,

The Listener

‘I listened to the description of

what I could have been but never was.


I stood outside that song, with my feet struck

in the mud of numerous dark nights’

In another touching poem THE SONG, we have vividly realized scene where the poet encounters the eternity of a single moment: ‘Does not my fate hold anything/other than this song/that dismembers my soul? Haven’t I lived long enough/in terror of this song?’

There are questions in this collection that keep resonating in search of answers which readers might either seek in the verses or within. Rath’s poems exhibit artistic excellence coming alive with tropes and structures that are integral to the meaning of poems. ‘It was not the first time/to be cast away into/wilderness/by those I knew and didn’t know. (My Own Condolence Meeting) Past for him is not the past that is vanished but is the one that comes back to him with variety of concerns and their movements:


‘In December, trees shed their leaves.

there is always a thick fog ahead

and all that’s behind

remains forever unseen.

In December, none belongs to me. I belong to none.’

Mind-numbing inscrutability of human existence baffles his poetic mind and in the process he creates what seem to be uncontainable. ‘It’s not as if this has happened for the first time/Have we not played at being lovers?’ (We Could Have Been Lovers)

Lyrically expressive and situated at the axis of the wheel with all its stillness and yet with all happening movements there only, Rath’s poems meet classical concepts of poetic beauty. Once the reader catches the rhythm, lines after lines unfurl, hitchhiking the reader to the realm of fabulous vigour. Talking of Rath’s poetry, Kathleen Raine, eminent English critic aptly says, ‘I know of no other poet who has achieved so intense and profound a poem of love-a masterpiece of remorseless uncovering of the ever-unfulfilled experience of erotic love that aspires to union with the divine which lies beyond human reach in this life.’

K.K.Srivastava is an officer of Indian Audit & Accounts Service of 1983 batch and currently posted as Principal Accountant General, Kerala. He is a poet and reviewer with three poetry collections to his credit —Ineluctable Stillness (2005), An Armless Hand Writes (2008) and Shadows of the Real (2012). His Diary is expected to be out in 2016.

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