RAM KRISHNA SINGH

Collects all of my published poetry books. Also provides an uptodate view of my poetry, especially haiku and tanka.

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Ram Krishna Singh is a university professor whose main fields of interest consist of Indian English writing, especially poetry, and English for Specific Purposes, especially for science and technology. He was born on 31 December 1950 in Varanasi, India. Apart from a BA earned in 1970, he gained his MA in English Literature from Banaras Hindu University in 1972 and Ph D from Kashi Vidyapith, Varanasi, in 1981. He also obtained a Diploma in Russian in 1972. Dr Singh started his career in journalism, as a Compilation Officer in the District Gazetteers Department, Lucknow, 1973, and a Journalist with the Press Trust of India, New Delhi, 1973-74. Changing to teaching he became a Lecturer at the Royal Bhutan Polytechnic, Deothang, Bhutan, 1974-76. Joining the Indian School of Mines in Dhanbad as a Lecturer from 1976-83, he then rose to Assistant Professor in 1983 and full  Professor and Head of the Institute’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences since 1993 to 2011. He is now Professor of English (HAG).

A reviewer, critic and contemporary poet who writes in Indian English, Dr. Singh is the author of more than 160 research articles and 175 book reviews. He has published 39 books, including:  Savitri : A Spiritual Epic (Criticism, 1984); My Silence (poems, 1985); Sound and Silence (edited articles on Krishna Srinivas, 1986); Indian English Writing : 1981-1985 : Experiments with Expression (ed., 1987, rept. 1991); Using English in Science and Technology (textbook, 1988, rev. and rept, 2000); Recent Indian English Poets : Expressions and Beliefs (ed. 1992); Two Poets: R.K. Singh (I DO NOT QUESTION) Ujjal Singh Bahri (THE GRAMMAR OF MY LIFE) (poems, 1994); General English Practice (textbook, 1995); Anger in Action : Explorations of Anger in Indian Writing in English (ed.,1997); My Silence and Other Selected Poems : 1974-1994 (poems, 1996); Above the Earth’s Green (poems, 1997); Psychic Knot : Search for Tolerance in Indian English Fiction (ed., 1998); New Zealand Literature : Some Recent Trends (ed.,1998); Every Stone Drop Pebble (haiku, 1999); Multiple-Choice General English for UPSC Competitive Exams (textbook, 2001); Cover to Cover (poems, 2002). Pacem in Terris ( haiku, English and Italian, 2003), Communication : Grammar and Composition ( textbook, 2003), Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri : Essays on Love, Life and Death ( Critical articles, 2005), Teaching English for Specific Purposes : An Evolving Experience ( Research articles and review essays, 2005), Voices of the Present: Critical Essays on Some Indian English Poets (2006), The River Returns (tanka and haiku collection, 2006), English as a Second Language: Experience into Essays (ed. research articles, 2007), English Language Teaching: Some Aspects Recollected (ed. research articles, 2008), Sexless Solitude and Other Poems (2009), Mechanics of Research Writing (2010), Sense and Silence: Collected Poems (2010),  New and Selected Poems Tanka and Haiku (2012), and I Am No Jesus and Other Selected Poems, Tanka and Haiku (2014). His works have been anthologized in about 160 publications, while his editorial activities extend to include guest-editing of Language Forum, 1986, 1995, and Creative Forum, 1991, 1997, 1998, besides being co-editor of the latter publication from 1987-90, General Editor of Creative Forum New Poets Series, and service on the editorial boards of Canopy, Indian Book Chronicle, Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, Reflections, Titiksha, International Journal of Translation, Poetcrit, Impressions of Eternity (ie), and SlugFest. He has evaluated about 50 PhD theses from various universities. He has also edited the ISM Newsletter for about five years.

Friday, September 15, 2006

NEW INDIAN ENGLISH POETRY: AN ALTERNATIVE VOICE : R.K.SINGH

New Indian English Poetry, An Alternative Voice: R. K. Singh, Edited by I. K. Sharma. Book Enclave: Jaipur, India, 2004. pp. 370. ISBN: 81-8152-085-8. Price: Rs. 850.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

As a book, New Indian English Poetry is well engineered, well-edited and well-presented. Its sections are so distinct that one is almost startled when they pick up on each other’s threads. Briefly, the book contains critical essays exploring Professor R. K. Singh’s oeuvre: scholars explore from many angles the mystique of Singh’s poetry, the poet himself clarifies many aspects of his art through interviews with an almost “chatty” voice (I liked this; it made for a dramatic change of tone); and foreign critics and readers argue their cases for his work. At the same time, the book talks about the creative use of English in Indian poetry.

Professor I. K. Sharma in his Introduction to the book has this to say about Singh’s output:

He is a strong poet with considerable output to his credit. His ten volumes of verse should, without prejudice, earn him a place among the noteworthies of our developing literature. (‘Fifteen years constitute a literary career’, said Sainte-Beave.) It is unfortunate that poets who have written much less and of no high value are sitting pretty on a high swing with the aid of overarching hands of a literary cabal while they who have ‘plighted their troth’ to muses (like Narmad) lie on the wayside. (6)

New Indian English Poetry figures an attempt at upsetting the boundaries, positions and closures of traditional Indian poetry, and also suggests that these terms may have shifted. Coming as it does at a time when courses on Indian writers in the academy have been enlarged to focus on gender, sexuality and difference. Sharma’s collection responds to an informed sense of what “conversations” have been and where they are going, and particularly to the resource-based question of what is needed by other collections. As Sharma writes:

So I come back to where I started from: chaos. Who are the makers of chaos? Obviously, minor poets, for, they outnumber the dominant group. Unlike the smart set forming a guild of their own inside and outside the country, they are quite restrained and modest. Neither affluent nor well-connected they have had no opportunity for visiting London, Oxford, Wisconsin or Chicago. Nor were they moulded in the Iowa workshop of poetry writing. Yet of their own volition they began to compose poems. In this excursion, they instructed themselves by reading, more reading, and still more reading – dismantling their poetic structure till their daemon had approved it. Self-trained they are our modern Eklavyas who have practised art in their own backyard. (5)

Professor I. K. Sharma seems to be exploring in his Introduction the value of applying western criticism towards Indian English poetry. Now that English is increasingly becoming culturally, nationally and regionally neutral, and is the chosen language of many Indian poets. As he states, it has become the “most fecund segment of Indian English literature.” Sharma castigates academia for its “compound neglect with their snobberies, their workshop of Eliot, Stevens and Frost a perspective that until recently excluded even the livelier American literature and that of the Third World.” Why, therefore, he indicates, it there no academic exploration of a poet’s output before he/she is relegated to the scrap heap?

New Indian English Poetry positions itself as the document that seeks to study one of these poets. It surveys and implicitly honours Singh’s output in a diverse yet cohesive field of production, and in so doing historicizes that field and makes a version of it available within the integrity of the volume.

The essays and interviews can be perused like the strands in knitting. They may seem complex at first, but it is worth taking time with them and tracing the weaves of the threads. There are moments that are wonderful: for example, G. D. Barche’s essay “’Phoenix’ and ‘Icarus’ Reworked in the Erotic Poetry of R. K. Singh,” where the critic states,

Thus R. K. Singh’s treatment of sex is unique. Generally poets have looked upon sex either as ‘phoenix’, i.e. life rejuvenating, or as ‘Icarus’, i.e. life depleting. But the poet here has presented it as a catalytic process, operating simultaneously as rejuvenator and desiccator. He has used myths, images and symbols in the most refreshing manner in order to project sex in its contrasting operations (39)

When Shelley described poets as “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” it is not too fanciful to imagine he had someone like Professor R. K. Singh in mind. Singh has been praised not only for the “lyrical beauty” of his work, but also for its “eroticism.” For three decades of his life his writing has provided rare shafts of illumination into the complexities of Indian life and culture, and his intelligence and humanity have seen his work published throughout the world.

It seems that while Shelley’s line may be applicable to Singh – he is indeed acknowledged “as a legislator” in some quarters – there is no getting away from the fact that the one thing Singh has never lacked is acknowledgement. His life can be seen as a pageant of recognition as the articles, reviews, interviews and literary comments gathered between two covers by Sharma, can attest.

Singh is part of a set of Indian poets who have had their work widely published and acknowledged and many of their articles about his work appear in this volume: poets, academics and editors such as D. C. Chambial, I. K. Sharma, R. A. Singh, K. D. Singh, K. Srinivas, I. H. Rizvi, and many more. Alongside these Indian poets are writers from other countries: L. Glazier, M. P. Hogan, R. W. Schuler, A. Davis and Uncle River, among others.

The publication of New Indian English Poetry is the fruit of decades of criticism of Singh’s work. The book may well become the definitive school and college text for a generation. It may even raise a slew of questions about the nature of his work itself: issues of cultural identity and ownership, nationalism, politics, eroticism and language have all been stirred up. This Indian poet has re-fashioned the rock solid cornerstone of Indian literature and in so doing has amended the literature not only of the present, but also of the past.

The most pragmatic service of Sharma’s collection is that it assembles a good deal of material, which is hard or occasionally impossible to come by elsewhere. At the same time it allows us to see the depth and breadth of Singh’s field thus represented and weigh its claims, historically and theoretically, to be considered as a grounding, though not by that means removed from dialogue with other ways of configuring his personal literary history. Many universities, libraries and individuals will buy Sharma’s collection whose purchases could not extend to the range of Singh’s output. The reader of New Indian English Poetry will find it an invaluable resource for discovering and for reconsidering: a collection like this leads readers to individual volumes.

Compilations such as this are reactive and proactive. They create their own occasion. Every item selected constitutes an implicit reading of both part and whole, the oeuvre of the writer in question and the aims of the collection. The virtue and value of access and apposition for many differently located readers provided by an excellent and timely book such as this can not be overestimated. We owe to New Indian English Poetry the chance – which is also the collection’s directive – to read across a wealth of material gathered under an inclusive but specific rubric and to “see” what effects and alignments may be produced.

Singh has lived most of his adult life and his literary career under conditions of the most critical scrutiny and expectation. As Sharma states,

An impression may go round that Singh is forever busy in the mortal game of erotics and is largely unconcerned about the ills of the age he lives in. It’s far from the truth. Quite the contrary, he as citizen-artist is acutely aware of the painful realities of the Indian society. Time and again he records his distress in poems without overstretching his poetic ligaments. Ascetic in expression he protests against the multiple virus he notices in different sectors of our life – religious, social, economic, and political. (10)

His status as one of the leading poets of his generation in India has been taken as read as much by his critics as by his supporters.

Many Indian English journals such as Creative Forum, Poetcrit, Poet, Indian Book Chronicle, and more, are among the many publications that make plausible a new conception of the globalisation of poetry. One might argue that earlier in the twentieth century the impulse toward the internationalisation of poetry had been linked to a homogenisation of artistic activity: the hope of a unified field. In the present poetry is disseminated through electronic transmission of texts, correspondence, and journals – a process which assumes the primacy of English. Today’s movement toward globalisation depends upon a respect for, even a savouring of, those elements of language and textual practice that are local in nature, which are somewhat opaque, and which resist homogenisation.

Such a process, of simultaneous globalisation and insistence upon the unassimably local nature of poetry, is one that we find in Singh’s poetry. His poetry may be seen as the kind of intercultural poetics that breaks across the boundaries and definitions of self and nation that were the latent source of its creative powers.

“He is chiefly a poet of love and sex. His Muse is tantalising: half-concealing, half-revealing. He is a past master in the art of concealing art,” so says R. S. Tiwary in his essay “A Peep into the Poetry of R. K. Singh.” (15). Singh has found his voice and discovered the joy of writing about eroticism as it applies to his muse, to his personal life and to the life-giving energy that drives his poetry. It must have been a life-turning point as he came alive to himself through poetry and energy. It became a magical transition to move from the speechless and helpless to a position where one’s work is satisfied by the world and by editors. The confirmation by actual publication of his books must be gratifying. His poems, articles, essays and criticism, have also been widely published in journals and on the Internet.

Satish Kumar states in “Rainbow Hues: The Poetry of R. K. Singh” that,

Poetry in Indian English expresses Indian ethos and sensibility and is in no way cut off from the main trends and sensibility which find powerful utterance in Indian literature. (41).

“Time stands still” is one of the poems chosen by P. C. K. Prem in his article “R. K. Singh: A Poet of Nature, Beauty and Woman”:

Time stands still

in November chill

I fill emptiness

with words paint season

on your face

This is one of Singh’s poems about women, which as Prem states, “It is through the intimate love of a woman that the poet wants to establish his identity.” (73). It is a remarkably bold statement that has been utterly justified by time and achievement. In the poem Singh describes, naturally and expertly how, in the coldness of winter, time waits for the poet to find comfort and warmth in the loved one’s face.

Above the Earth’s Green attracted good reviews. D. C. Chambial in his article “Poetry, Politics and Woman: A Study of R. K. Singh’s Above the Earth’s Green,” says that,

. . . in his poetry, R. K. Singh looks at poetry, politics and woman from his own vantage point and lays them bare for the common reader to comprehend. With a sense of deep commitment towards poetry, he exhibits a marvellous sociopolitical consciousness of his time and milieu. (88)

Singh has been criticised for depicting the union between man and woman in “low key” (R. S. Tiwary, “Secret of the First Menstrual Flow: R. K. Singh’s Commitment to Fleshly Reality”). Tiwary states,

It appears as though he deliberately subdues the palpable emergence of the sexual passion on the surface. In his intercourse, especially with his own wife, he remains grossly matter of fact, rather businesslike. But when it comes to extramarital relationships, the element of emotion does make register its presence, howsoever weakly. (93)

Singh has managed to rise above such criticism to be true to a kind of experience that isn’t corrupted by the way in which he views his relationships.

G. D. Barche examines one poem from the book My Silence for its stylistic assessment in his essay “A Stylistic Assessment of R. K. Singh’s ‘The Works and Days’ Weariness’”. He examines the subject of the poem and its organization, and notes, “ . . . the poet has taken a lot of pains to project the devastating effect of ‘the works and days’ on the poor miner’s life pattern. Equal efforts have gone into the presentation of the suffering at night.” ( 167)

R. A. Singh explains in his essay “The Poetry of R. K. Singh” that the

. . . poetry seems to be rooted in visions and divisions that traverse human existence, feeling the pulse in the rhythmic flow of time. His social visions intersect with the private; his flux of emotions creates a complex sound and silence, waving through love, loneliness, failure, frustration, and memories in search of home in a hostile world. His imaginings are not only delightful to the senses but also challenging to the mind. (170)

There is no section of the population whose position Singh has not explored. Often his poetry has been perceived as rooted in erotica, but he has also fashioned from the everyday lives of his society new images and a new reputation for himself that has fanned out around the world.

This apparent lack of engagement is equally criticised by those who feel he should be far more censorious of social evils, political issues and prejudices. But as Stephen Gill points out in his essay “R. K. Singh: A Mystic Poet of Beauty”:

The poems in My Silence and Other Selected Poems are about hypocrisies, marital complaints, pollution, a search for meaning, inane social/religious norms, the dark aspects of industrial progress and ascertaining the truth. These poems reveal the significance of life time after time, experience by experience. The poet’s constant analytical deliberations plunge him often into the abyss of gloom. (178)

Singh may be described as a poet of the senses, a poet of sensory understanding and a poet whose life view is devoted to the phenomena of the natural world. He is seen too as the Indian poet who, standing out from and often disagreeing with his peers, has both practised and argued for clarity and imagistic richness in poetry. Singh’s poetry may be seen to have three characteristics not often seen in other Indian writers verse: its sensuousness, the often melancholy ethos of the poetry’s seriousness and the poet’s undoubted repugnance for mere “manner” and for emptily fashionable gesture.

In many respects we can see a greater humanisation in Singh’s work than in many other Indian poets. He shows a greater reliance on human presence and human problems. He was praised early on for the visual intensity and purity of his poems. His later work, however, is just as likely to have moments of deep poignancy and self-irony sch as you can find in a poem like “Wordless Plaints”:

dust of alienness

has thickened on my throat . . .

my heart lacerates

I cough worldless plaints

Where he reflects on his anxiety and uncomfortableness and tells how he feels condemned just for thinking about his life.

The difference between poets that makes us call one poet a major poet, and another a minor poet, even though we may think of he or she as a very good poet, is a question of the use of language. The major poet’s work should have bulk; must attempt one or other of the greater poetic forms, which tests gifts of invention and variation and the subject-matter should have universal importance.

When a prolific poet, such as Singh has produced several reasonable volumes in the past twenty years, we are faced with a number of questions. The first leads us to lament that even the best poetry volumes produced seem to have a very short shelf-life. Runs are small, reprints are rare, and larger publishers are notoriously quick to remainder any stock left after the first two years. It is only the small presses who are willing to give book longer shelf life, and the slow returns have seen the demise of many small publishers.

The second question relates to perceived audience. The mainstream seems to treat poetry like a news item: headlines today, forgotten tomorrow. The reality is that poets sell more copies of their books through direct contact at readings, conferences, festivals and the like than through bookshops. And each time a poet performs, the audience widens. Poems live at least as long as the poet, hopefully longer, and the market is expanding, not contracting. A good poem will always find a loving home.

This book should be read by all interested in Indian English poetry. The material is refreshing to many because of its partisanship in an era when many writers and academics tend to evade the important political and social issues, and it is the ability of this book to maintain contact with an ever-changing audience that makes it outstanding. The reprinting of these essays and interviews makes it a publishing venture worth the effort and deserving of success.

2,957 words

Patricia Prime
42 Flanshaw Road
Te Atatu South,
Auckland 8
New Zealand

2 Comments:

Blogger judih said...

This is wonderful. I like it.

judih

9:49 PM  
Blogger R.K.SINGH said...

Thanks judih. I am happy you liked the information about my verses.
R K

9:55 PM  

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