Allusions to Simplicity is Dr. Koshy A.V’s first solo collection of poetry. He speaks to Lopa Banerjee, author of the memoir ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’ about his latest publication.
‘Allusions to Simplicity’, Dr. Koshy A.V’s first solo collection of poetry recently published by Authorspress, happens to be of much relevance in the arena of poetry writing by contemporary English writers from the Indian Diaspora. I had read much of his poems published before in various journals, e-zines, anthologies and more, and being aware of his background as a qualified poet, author and academician of English literature, I instinctively expected poetic finesse in this collection.
After reading the book and being much impressed, I felt an interview was needed with him to bring out more of its beauty and literary relevance. Here is the full interview, with him answering my questions that I framed, keeping the depth of the poems and the writer in mind.
Lopa: In the preface to the collection of poems, you write: “The poems claim simplicity of the best kind as their base and forte and I hope each reader who has a child, a poet, a lover or a madman alive in them, especially, and everyone else will enjoy them.” How would you define or explain the poems of Allusions to Simplicity in connection with this line/statement?
AVK: I remember the acrid debate between Faulkner and Hemingway here, where Faulkner said Hemingway never sends his reader to a dictionary. I have a large vocabulary and so probably did Hemingway but I tread the middle path in using it as I want to be understood by my readers. We do not say Faulkner is wrong, but our personal predilection leads us in one of the two directions. Even when we compare Joyce the guru and Beckett who was his disciple for some time we see a kind of similar approach in Beckett contra Joyce towards simplicity in vocabulary, language, style, clarity etc. The surface is not difficult. Recently a friend of mine, a Marathi poetess who writes very fine poetry in English, Gauri Dixit, told me: you seldom send me to the dictionary. I take it as a compliment. This leaning is what I refer to. I try for it in my poems, half consciously but it probably comes naturally to me to write in a rather simple, conversational style, normally.
Lopa: I read your first poem in the collection, After Rilke: An Explanation, a mesmerizing, haunting tribute to the phenomenal writer/novelist and mystical poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the poem has deeply impacted my psyche with its unusual, striking imagery of a woman, juxtaposed with the dark, sinister imagery of ‘a cobbled street full of dead bodies’, and other crumbling images of despair and nothingness. Same goes for ‘Vincent’, where desolation plays a very significant role. What would you say was your inspiration behind such esoteric depiction?
AVK: I guess my imagination is founded on the fact that it comes from inside me from reading books and watching films as a trigger and then imagining things and writing rather than from outside, from actual experience, though this is also only a partial truth. As a result, something about Rilke caught my attention as he too writes, so to speak, from inside. This inspiration has led me to write several Rilke like poems and while they do not match Rilke, they go deeper than some of my other poems. The images juxtaposed, for instance, are my attempt to point out that we live in troubled times where God is silent and love may be the answer, but love too is perhaps not a final solution and uncertain being fragile and mortal like the times. The images are European as they are Rilkean and refer to times there, like the French Revolution rather than Indian, but coloured by the world of my imagination.
Vincent Van Gogh, to come to the second question, has been a lifelong inspiration. I have included two poems here that spring from this. Both refer to the idea of communing with Vincent as a friend, a misunderstood genius then and now, who would like talking to me as a fellow artist and thinking of thoughts we would exchange or what I would tell him. Rejection forms the basis of the two poems in the sense that Vincent fails even today as he painted for the poor and only the rich can afford or have his paintings, the real ones, a cruel irony, as his life too was a failure, and I feel akin to him as I write, feeling I am born too late and write in the wrong form, poetry, as it no longer has much power as a discourse and in the wrong place as the wrong person, meaning as a Christian in India, and like Vincent struggled with his art that all called wrong in his time saying he did not know how to paint, I too struggle with this wrong combination, including that of writing in a colonial tongue English, to make something of it and still produce great art. This forms the base of these poems on Van Gogh.
Lopa: Like an impressionistic painting, your poems in Allusions to Simplicity, like ‘After Rilke: An Explanation’, ‘Heart’, ‘Imagism’, ‘Love-less Solitude’, lyrically intense as well as fluid, reflect on the ever-expanding solitude, vulnerability, failed love, bodily passions and the desolation that is an overpowering reality of the post-modern literary consciousness. How much of you as a traditional poet and how much of you as a modernist poet can we expect to see in your poetic vision of this collection?
AVK: Yes, it is essentially towards post modernism, though the word essential is now not exactly accurate; the move is from romanticism to modernism and beyond to post-modernism that my poems delineate. The traditionalism is there dimly in that they are never nihilistic. But in a via negativa way, if you get what I mean. I probably got that from Beckett. It is not life denying, my poems. As for love, love fails but is therefore not something that is not worth trying for though it adds to the confusion and this is reflected in my poems. Heart, for instance, is a conversation with one’s own heart that blames the other person but knows deep inside that no one is to blame for the paradox that is love but oneself and, universally speaking, all are thus complicit in its painfully beautiful reality and failure.
Lopa: Now let me take a quote from your poem ‘Hunger’ in the first volume of your poetry collection, ‘Poems from Soul Resuscitation’. You write: “there are only nails on your wall’s edge/ no hibiscus flower/ no sound of spoon on a plate’s (l)edge/ taking you to/ that enchanted land Marcel and Will lived in…” Would you say these lines reflect on the existential angst of the post-modern poet for whom poetry is the language of suffering as well as the language of attaining a unique closure within oneself?
AVK: Yes, I would say that. Post-modernism implies failure – whereas, Proust and Shakespeare did not fail. The nails on the wall that are driven in, in my native place, for no one to climb over them, fail, are a bogey, and the shoe flower is not found in exile and the beatific aesthetic gift of involuntary memory is not given to me or that of Ilyria or Arden. This is why my poems try so desperately to transcend into an age that by its very nature militates against the possibility of it being great as grand narratives are no longer possible to rephrase Lyotard and it is this struggle and tension that is reflected in the lines you quoted. Why write in an age where nothing is significant and your own significance is only on constant, battering away at creating a space where you keep appearing with poems that aim to be epic in miniscule or miniature? It is a Beckettian dilemma – we live in an age of the non-knower and the non-can-er, but have to go on though one cannot go on. One writes poetry as one is driven to do it and does not know its value anymore, even when it is of the best kind but one goes on. Thus metaphysical questions like why, where and what now become more important and this gets reflected in everyone’s work today to some extent. I am no exception.
Lopa: Also, the short poems in the first volume, including ‘Imagism’, ‘N(e)o-Imagism’, ‘Conversation’, are crisp, intensely passionate poetic narratives with relatable everyday images like ‘the ripe red plum’, ‘ginger and lemon mix’, and also uses the jargon and lexicon of our everyday lives. In the poem ‘Water Mitty’, you depict a lover dreaming of a homely, yet irresistible woman reaching out “to take out a cake from the microwave oven.” Would you say these images/metaphors reflect on the changing faces of humanity in the world? How much of love, self-realization and also revolution is there in these images that you employ in your poetry?
AVK: Love, a lot, as my poems are dipped in the sauce of love and liberally dosed with its mayonnaise. The two poles of a poet’s world are imagination and reality or experience and these images come from the second pole. They reflect our life as we see it now around us, a consumer’s world, and they also attempt at self-realization and they are revolutionary, yes, in trying to reach out indirectly, for a better world, in some way or the other.
Lopa: The man-woman equation in the poems ‘Man-Woman Relationship’, ‘Love & Hate’ is again very post-modernist, especially in the lines, “a beauty spot on the woman’s body/somewhere near her thigh/or a mole on the man’s back/both become precious/becomes symbolic of this deeper truth/is love-hate the only equation? /the black spot in the white and the white in the black of the yin and yang?” In spite of the haunting lyrical intensity, there is a sporadic, fragmentary feel to it. On the other hand, in poems like ‘Mandakranta’, the imagery of a woman is so delicate and romantically woven. Would you like to share your insights about them here?
AVK: I said this briefly earlier – love itself is an incomplete experience. Love can never be fulfilling unless two become one, and that is just not possible in today’s world that highlights self over other, so my poems on love have to be fragmentary! Love does not exist, but love-hate does. Mandakranta is my effort to write sensuous, erotic and sexual poetry that is not vulgar, cheap etc., but real art, and I think I pulled it off.
Lopa: Another crucial poem of this volume is ‘Nirbhaya’. There are a few very striking rhetorical questions that open up the poem to its readers, and then, in a way, it seeps into their senses with a rather unusual finale, the lines, “heaven and hell are separate/and a great gulf is fixed in between”, which has an elemental quality of truth in it. How did these lines speak to you when you wrote the poem?
AVK: They are Biblical, from Jesus’ famous Lazarus – Dives parable, the last lines. We want an ideal world but it seems impossible, so we end up thinking of a world of no intersection, heaven and hell, free world and prison, and this seems pragmatic or realistic, so the poem is one that rejects idealism for utilitarianism. It starts in pain and ends in the only seeming solution, almost tamely, except for being carried off, hopefully, into a different realm of poetic punch by the note of eternity you speak of. Nirbhaya’s rape cannot happen in a world where rapists are not allowed to enter but kept apart elsewhere, and as there is no such world here, one hopes to have it in the hereafter.
Lopa: In the second volume of ‘Allusions to Simplicity’, there are a range of poems reflecting on the sad, temporal and weary urbane life. Like in ‘A Real Irish Poet’s Drunk’n Song’, the stark imagery of “makin’ luv & lyin’ in the gutter, stoned… life flowin’ out like sewer water/into the drain”, or the surreal imagery of the ‘moon-faced’ Russian girl of the folklore. Do you think these verses illustrate the power of poetry to evoke human empathy?
AVK: The moon-faced girl poems, on the one about Yekaterina, definitely evoke sympathy. The first one is more a cocking the snook at mankind kind of poem that was influenced by reading famous Irish writers, especially the dramatists. It laughs at the idea of achievement and exalts the bum, the down and out, and in both poems as you said, the imagery carries it off.
Lopa: I would now like to quote the opening lines of your poem ‘Where Do You Seek The One Who Has No Form.’ You write: “Where do you seek the one who has no form/or comeliness to be desired, thou seeker of truth?/I no longer seek anywhere, my sakhi./ To seek is to not seek.
But yet I find in the ecstasy…”. Does poetry for you mean a celebration of abstraction to gain a greater understanding of the philosophies of love and life? Or is it a conscious cognitive exercise of creating concrete visual images that mean the absolute poetic truth to you?
AVK: Yes, poetry is my way of reaching out to the absolute and in its images I find the closest thing to uttering truth, albeit in poetry. I love the fine wording of your questions here which seems to me to answer them also. Yes, my poems celebrate through abstractions the philosophies of love and life and are also a cognitive exercise of creating concrete visual images; but they are more inspired than conscious, hence to some extent romantic, seemingly spontaneous and natural. But it is more driven or possessed, I just write and what comes forth is the result of years of immersion in the world of poetry.
Lopa: A few poems from your last collection of poems ‘Igniting Key’ that you co-authored with Bina Biswas and Pramila Khadun, like ‘Sonakshi’, ‘Gandhara’, with some very subtle, yet strong imagery of a woman reappear in this collection. Did you keep these poems in ‘Allusions to Simplicity’ to reiterate the fact that they would bring out the facets of the child, poet, lover, madman in you?
AVK: Yes, those are my best poems of those published in my collections, to some extent, meaning they have won the laudatory plaudits of others and since the world considers that validation, they are officially the best. Yes, these poems best depict the child, poet, lover and madman in me and the image of the woman is of a compound woman who is probably made up of my own mother, wife, sister, muses, daughters—everyone else whom I have been inspired by who appears in my works under different names as Anamika, not here, Kadambari, that too elsewhere, Sonakshi, Vina Apsara from Rushdie’s ‘Ground Beneath Her Feet’ etc. I feel woman or a woman or women inspire(s) the best art in me, and it shows in these poems. The poet appears in the other ones like Aria, my personal favourite in this collection, and the madman in the bold experimentalism of my poetry and the child in a poem on books kept in a steel trunk. But the last section is probably the fitting climax.
Lopa: I would also love to ask you, what has been the most definitive, almost life-changing poem for you among all your poetic creations? Did it come out on its own, born out of a quest to attain social justice, or to attain a personal catharsis?
AVK: In this collection, it is Aria. In Aria I have caught what great poetry is about and it is my personal tribute to my muse. It is Rilkean and refers back to a movie on music directed by Ken Russell for its title but it is a place where my voice asserts itself beautifully, and is also romantic and modern and not post modern which is probably closer to what I really am. I like it most as it is one poem I am sure will not die out.
Lopa: Finally, as the founder of the Facebook literary groups ‘The Significant League’, ‘Literary Criticism and Theory’, as the editor of ‘The Significant Anthology’ and other upcoming anthologies, what message would you like to convey to the poetry aficionados of today who are often dissuaded by mainstream publishers?
AVK: My message is that one has to keep trying, and only then can one find out how far one can go and how much till one strikes the goldmine and enjoys the gold rush of poetry coming from oneself that is worth it, contributing to literature its riches. Publication is the least of one’s worries in this effort. What has to be done is to perfect one’s art and the rest will follow on its own.
Dr Koshy A. V. is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English at the College for Arts and Humanities for Girls, Jazan University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He has written, co-written or co-edited eight books of criticism and poetry to his credit with authors like A.V. Varghese, Gorakhnath Gangane, Angel Meredith, Madhumita Ghosh, Zeenath Ibrahim, Rukhaya MK and Bina Biswas and one of them ‘A Treatise on Poetry for Beginners’ was reprinted once as ‘Art of Poetry.’ He is a Pushcart Poetry Prize nominee (2012) and twice Highly Commended Poet in Destiny Poets UK ICOP (2013, 2014) and he was thrice featured in Camel Saloon’s The Hump for best poem/editor’s pick and once for best poem in Destiny Poets UK Website. Even as a child he won the Shankar’s international award for writing. He is a reputed critic and expert on Samuel Beckett besides being a fiction writer and theoretician. His last books were Wake Up, India: Essays for Our Times, co-authored with Dr Bina Biswas and Mahesh Dattani’s Plays: Staging the Invisibles co-edited with Bina Biswas. Three more are on the way, namely The Significant Anthology he is editing with Reena Prasad, a collection of stories to be published by Lifi and a collection of poetry with Bina Biswas and Pramila Khadun. He has edited or co-edited many books including A Man Outside History by Naseer Ahmed Nasir and Inklinks: An Anthology by Poets Cornerand a novel for Lifi. He instituted the Reuel International Literary Prize in 2014 and runs an autism NPO with his wife Anna Gabriel. The first prize was given to Dr Santosh Bakaya. He administers with the help of others the literary group Rejected Stuff on Facebook. His poems have been studied in a research paper by Dr Zeenath Ibrahim and Kiriti Sengupta in Dazzling Bards and also translated into Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati,German and Malayalam. He won World Bank’s Urgent Evoke and participated in European Union’s Edgeryders. He has been interviewed extensively. He has other degrees, diplomas and certificates to his credit besides his doctorate on Beckett. He attributes everything to God’s grace and the prayers and good wishes of his loved ones.
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