Poetry in AK Ramanujan’s words

The Oxford omnibus – which has the wonderful works of AK Ramanujan is one of the fattest books I own. It’s one of those books that probably might find itself supporting the one-leg-less couch in the apartment. Except, it’s so full of stuff that needs to be read again and again, it never quite makes it to the floor. (Except for the times when I lie down on the floor and read it – and use it as a very hard pillow. )

The discovery of poets and poetry signifies a certain stage in life or (im)maturity in me. I don’t know if it is the poem that pre-empts that state of mind, or the mind that seeks out the poem that matches its state. Either way, they become like marks on the wall of growing children. Three months ago, I was this tall. And now, I am taller. On the day my heart broke, I fell and lost my tallness. In the house I grew up as a child, the ten years were marked by deep marks on the patch of wall behind a wooden door. Whitewash after whitewash, and yet the marks were dug deep into the walls. Poems are pretty much the same. Wash after wash, they remain stubborn in the progression of having been read one after the other.

While hunting for a poem yesterday, I then ended up reading a wonderful interview of AK Ramanujan by Chirantan Kulshrestha. He speaks on poetry and suchlike.

If a thing is important to you, it becomes an obsessession. Actually, that’s what you mean by saying it’s important to you. If it’s obsessive you begin to see it eerywhere for a while and soon find you have written several poems on the same theme, although you might have given it different names; often these poems take similar forms, share a vocabulary, a repoertory of symbols, voices. Gradually a number of poems gather around a single obsession often in a progression, a sequence.

It is true that I have a number of poems which are obsessed not only with memories but with memory itself, memory as history and myth, memory as one’s own past – the presence of the past – the way the present gathers to itself differnet pasts. This kind of concern can, of course, lead to the no-more and the have-been and the not-yet all weaving into and out of hte here-and-now. You have to find a way of bringing all these together and still not confuse or diffuse the form of the work.

In India today we do share, entirely unawares, a great stock of symbolism and mythology. Most of us writing in English don’t use it. We filter it out, because we wish to write English English. Self-conscious, we write out of a corner of ourselves filtering out our childhood, our obscenities, our bodies, our mythologies, the rich fabric of allusion that a first language is. (Many first language poets are no better; they do the same.) You don’t just write with a language, you write with all you have. When I write in Kannada, I’d like all my English, Tamil, etc. to be at the back of it; and when I write in English I hope my Tamil and my Kanada, like my linguistics and anthropology, what I know of America and India, are at the back of it. It’s of course only a hope, not a claim. I’m less and less embarrassed or afraid of keeping all of these doors open even when it’s dark outside and it’s 3 a.m. inside.

I wish I had one of those wands they call pen scanners, and could blockquote all that I read. But for now, short excerpts will have to do.

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0 Responses to Poetry in AK Ramanujan’s words

  1. Mary says:

    Thanks, Neha, for your poetic post. It is so important to remember the beautiful possibilities of human enterprise at this time of useless conflict, which seems to be all I can think about. You have a lovely soul.


  2. km says:

    Great recommendation, Neha.

    And yes, Mysoreans rule πŸ˜‰


  3. Falstaff says:

    Yes, although unlike the marks on the wall, you never really outgrow the poets of your youth, do you? If anything, returning to re-read a poet you thought you had read already can prove to be a discovery in itself. The real difficulty is making the choice between discovering new poets or exploring old one. For example, now this post of yours has made me want to go back and re-read Ramanujan.

    Lovely post, and a nice quote, though one would think Ramanujan is hardly the only poet obsessed with ‘memory’.


  4. sudha says:

    oh tell me about it, the last time around, I so wanted to do CTRL F to go back to a passage I liked πŸ˜€


  5. ashu says:

    oh yes its great book, the fact that he wrote in english makes him even more approachable… i would have liked this post more had you posted some of his brillaint poetry here ..

    a nice one from AKR

    Excerpts from a Father’s Wisdom

    dont worry about despair
    just comb your hair
    despair is a strange disease
    i think it even happens to trees


  6. Anon2 says:

    Yes, dem scanner pens would be useful to excerpt large sections of texts except they are expensive and unreliable. I made a mental note to take down the brick myself this weekend.


  7. Vineet Singh says:

    dint get time to go thru all ur articless…srry..bt ya read few..nice way f presentiinng thngss..likd ut stylee..gd goin alll..the bestttt


  8. Mary: When it comes to you, I also remember how enterprising we could be when we were looking for that studio in SoHo. Yes, poetry is just so much more productive than conflict is.. or so I think.

    km: You parochial old man.

    Falstaff: True. One does keep going back to them – though I don’t think Ramanjuan asserts anywhere he’s the only one with that obsession. Maybe what I find so immensely amazing is his humility. And yet his poems are confident voices by themselves.

    Sudha: I know!

    ashu: Will dig up some poems and post them. God knows they deserve to be read out too.

    Anon2: Please get one and tell me how it works. πŸ™‚

    Vineet Singh: If you must plug yourself shamelessly in a post, at least use decent punctuation and spelling. I hate it when others deface my blog. Only I have the right to do it.


  9. vidya says:

    Lovely Post Neha..
    Rings True.. Poets, Poetry are all in a sense a reflection of our evolution(that sounds terribly pompous but you know what I mean).I had read a translation of Basava’s vacanas and some Tamil Poetry by Kamil Zvelebil, who is no doubt a scholar and all that..And then I came upon Ramanujan’s version of Poems of Love and War.Truly an exception to the rule that the world of academics and aesthetics never meet.
    You can percieve the aesthete in him in his both in the flow of words and his choice of words in translation. Where Zvelebil translates as “He will grind you into tiny shape” as opposed to AK Ramaujans’s “He will grind you till you’re fine and small”.One of the rare instances where a senisble translator, linguist and an poet are all the same person..


  10. Well I was hoping for a taste of Ramanujam. Quite forgotten it.