The poetry of this collection of poems is the poetry of the glide. It is poetry that results from the choreographed re-focussings of the main thought into the body of the poem. These off-shoot thoughts move into a dynamic adjacence with the main thought or motif, thereby expanding into a major statement about life: an inspired paraphrase of it. This inner design or pattern emerging compellingly into view is the hallmark of the best poems in the collection. Take the poem ‘Laughter’, for example. The two images or modes of imagery in it are the gurgling laughter of a stream flowing on, and the hapless laughter of man battling through life. Gurgling or hapless, the element of mirth characterizes them both, man and river. Haplessness and frolicsomeness are worked into the mirth, and mirth becomes Mirth: moves to the forefront of the reading eye, spreads out in panoramic proportions as the visage of life, as a synonym of life.
The finale of the poem is the image of a laughing figure, breaking into ‘impetuous laughter,’ a human laughing his head off. There’s no suggestion of sound in the image, no effort perceptible at evoking the quality of sound, the sound of the laughter. The descriptive word ‘impetuous’ occurs five full and laden lines earlier—lines of fulsome phrases about a)the endemic, embattled state of the human spirit; b) the ‘indelible stains’ left on it by ‘dark days of conflict and complaint’; and c) the therapeutic effects of laughter, which makes human beings ‘the masters of magic’, ‘unchallenged lords of luck, light, life and love’—the last is a line of eight words with five alliterations! But this word-load does not smother the pictorial impact of the phrase ‘impetuous laughter’ occurring five lines before. Further, this retentive quality is imparted mainly by the last two lines of the five lines referred to above. The first of the two is ‘When we laugh, we are the masters of magic’, followed by the line of alliterative words mentioned above.
How do these two lines recapture and hold the pictorial gist of the phrase ‘impetuous laughter’? How do they re-kindle the image of a figure convulsed with laughter? How do they set off in our ears the helpless non-lingual sounds of mirth? I think, firstly through a compound of pause and a sub-conscious paraphrase of the image contained in the two words ‘impetuous laughter’: and secondly, with both factors tailored to the beat and rhythm of the expression and cadence native to the poems. In the hairs-breadth timespan of the gelling of these factors the image of a man doubled over with mirth flashes on the mind-screen of the reading eye.
This means that the poetic glide has to be precise and measured like the steps of a dancer, if the poem has to have a poetic impact; if the driving thought or notion of the poem is to find accommodation in the psycho-cerebral landscape of the reader. That such an implanting is the intention of the poem/writer is a feeling strongly conveyed by the poems. The reader feels directly addressed to by the poet/poem. The sense of a colloquy of poet and reader, a straight, eye-to-eye connect between the two, quietly but insistently charges almost every poem.
This grand finale, this climaxing, does not always occur. And when it does not, the importance of the geometrical, precisional aspect of the glide gets reiterated. Take the poem ‘The Writer’. The poetic intention here is to reiterate, reinvoke the bond between writer and reader. This bond, the poem says, becomes tenuous in the loss of claim to the ownership of his own words that befalls the writer once his words leave him and find abode in other minds, are transplanted in them. It is a very delicate, complex operation that the poet feels called upon to perform in the poem. He cannot aver ownership of the words in a primitive, possessive way. And he cannot, at the same time, be blind to his sense of prior familiarity with them, to a sense of déjà vu. It is both sad and humorous—Chaplin-esque, say. And one expects a crystallization of this neither-nor state in tangible imagery that imparts its own power to the poem. We see this quiet yet compelling resolution take place in ‘Laughter’. In this poem, ‘The Writer’, however, this quiet yet reckonable resolution does not happen.
Let us start by taking a look at the things that do happen: at the many rechristenings of the main theme that is a hallmark of the poems in this collection, and is a technique rising from the glide, which is the major choreographic strategy of this poetry. The poem calls words, which are the hallmarks and alter-egos of a writer, ‘bustling ants on the march’, ‘shy children of my mind’, ‘soldiers crossing a ravine’. The word ‘ravine’ is a paraphrase of the term ‘chasms of silence’ occurring in the line before, denoting the void between the writing persona and his unseen, unseeable readers.
All these renamings and rechristenings are agreeable. They keep the reader fully engaged with the elan of the poem. ‘My thoughts, yet mine no longer/ Touching minds, touching souls’ run the first two lines of the last stanza. Yes, we concur, one with the spirit of the lines. Keenly, expectantly, we move on to the concluding lines which are to unfold, explode, into a grand re-saying of the theme and spirit of the poem, either pictorially or verbally. This does not happen. The concluding lines are: ‘echoing through unknown hearts/music drifting through the air’. The lines do not expand. They do not break out of their verbal bounds into an eloquently silent non-verbalism, into mime. They remain earth-bound—a non-mutation not allowed by the logic of the poetry underlying them.
This mutation does happen in ’Laughter’, as we saw. There are other poems in the collection that do mutate thus. As the rationed space of a review does not allow discussion of these, examining the un-mutated ones is one way of bringing the former to attention.
Raji Narasimhan is a writer and critic.