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.