Thursday, August 19, 2004


I just read Alex Cumberbatch's rather long poem titled Piece in 940 Parts. Got the link from Jay Thomas' blog. "There is certainly much more to this work than its length", writes Jay Thomas. I fully agree.

I thought it would be interesting to try to visualize the poem, at least parts of it, as a Sandeshakavya, the poet, nostalgic about the days when his beloved, his country, was all smiles, (his country now only "makes the immigrant's song, sung, listless"), sending his message through his blog!

And why not? Allusions to this end are many. For instance,

"Occasional shivers shoot
Like arrows, a cloud messenger
Approaches, a more-than-human
Grief becomes a great deluge."

Moreover the poet listens to "the mandakranta metric of the Kalidasan romance figures" too.

How is the message like? It is long, and touches upon all sorts of topics. "Forget. I think, and be, unconcerned" does not work, and he bothers about "Divying: up the toll." His "quest" is "for life in a world of humans". His advice is to "change the tune of your politics", and to "weaken lightning strikes",

"And unlearn the lines--unlove
Your love of the world--forsake
Your future and your past
Live always presence preen."

What he expects from the beloved is "a youthful love, an ancient mind, and a bold body". The crux of the message seems to be:

"There is no reason to be as others
Or to know the knowledge
Of the dead, but be atuned
To the light of the living
Requires exquisite mastery."

And what kind of a poet is he? In his own words,

"Is poetry a form static
Or a continuous fluxive practice?
For me, it is the latter: form
Is incidental--it will happen anyway.

There is no 'true', 'correct', or 'perfect'
Way to write a poem; in this perhaps
The 'untrue', 'incorrect' and 'imperfect'
Are to be valued as the aesthetic
Benchmarks of the most valuable excitements."

He detests

"An off-beat easy-listening type of
Effeminate bird warble, the
Kind of inane sentimental Americana."

And he asserts:

"Never, Mr. Editor, correct my grammar,
Spells and punctuation to suit your
Nice book trade."

"Weeping and then writing, cursing and then writing, writing curses; and incantations", he understands that,

"The diversity within a word
Is the poetic of the poem."

But his country may not get the message right after all! She could as well say:

"Slump. Dead poet, I heard
You wrote your rhymes for me.
How pretty they are. I am
Unmoved. I love another."

Nevertheless, I am certain that the reader is going to agree when the poet writes:

"There are some abstractions
Beyond metaphor and vision
That may not be apprehended
By outer sight. These require
The capacity of insight."


"Digressive art and literature
Has a subversive power
That fastens the heart and mind
Against the corrupting forces
Of capitalism, fascism and ethnicity."

Of course the poet knows that his words will reach many ears as "the ragged thoughts of a dreamer shall not fail".

"Who loves poets? Really--or is it just
The torrent of words you like to hear cascading"

-wonders the poet. Does the Sahridaya have another option, after reading such a beautiful piece of work? And who will not like to hear the torrent of words cascading as in

"Being is, uneasy, uneasy to, uneasy
To understand, that is, to fathom,
People's politics bother me some of the
The time of your life--collected
In a rather bland cycle of myths."

The unmetred prose of his poetry records a turbulent reality, of the way he lives, what he sees, and what he is privy to.


At 5:25 AM, Blogger said...

Thanks for this intriguing critical perspective on my work. I can't say that I could ever have predicted such a response to the piece, but it is heartening that at least for one reader it has repaid the effort of reading, given of course the length, the medium (which I can't imagine is the most comfortable on the eyes) and of course the 'style' for which I am entirely to blame.

In fact, initially I had blogged parts of it under various titles--but then I was not satisfied with this and felt that I wanted it display it in the manner in which I had first conceived and written it back in August last year when I started writing it out by hand. It took well over a month to get down, and I deliberately refrained from any extensive revision as I wanted to keep it as close to act as creation as possible. I guess in keeping with the spirit of Kalidasa's poem, the composition was done at and on the way to various locations--some of which are referred to in the text--and as such it constitutes a kind of poetic journey. As I told Jay, who had earlier inquired about the process of the poem--I also slept with my notebook (not an Apple computer) next to me so that I could capture the thoughts and verbal patterns that occur between sleep and wake. I was also working a lot from memories and the reading experiences of the past and of the moment--which included mundane things like advertising billboards, shop signs, bits of conversation, snippets from musak. I tried--I am not sure with how much success--to open the field of the poem up to accommodate just about anything.

While I was aware of those elements of the poem that you have focused on in your piece, it had never occurred to me that a comparison with 'Sandeshakavya' (message poem) genre of Indian classical literature epitomised by Kalidasa's 'Meghadutta' ( would have been apt--and certainly you were careful to qualify your remarks by stating that this applied to 'at least parts of it'. Your reading has actually given me a greater appreciation of Kalidasa's protaganist in that poem, which I developed a liking for through works by Rabindranath Tagore, who had written a poem with the same name as well as an essayistic appreciation of the piece, and Aurobindo Ghose, who, I am guessing, was one of the first Indians to translate the plays and poems of Kalidasa to English to seriously rival the efforts of English Orientalists of the Victorian era.

I had hoped, notwithstanding the fairly standard look of the poem, that it would weave several traditions (the revolt against tradition being also traditional), narratives, themes and syntaxes in a vast textual counterpoint. It seems also that despite the rambling nature of the poem, it is yet possible to extract coherent narratives and theories from it; and, hopefully, this would be true also for a reader who focuses on other aspects of the poem--that is, s/he would arrive at different even inconsistent with your take on it--that it could also be 'visualised' without reference to a master narrative.

Coincidentally, among the first set of pieces that I blogged is one entitled 'Other Side of a Paper Object' about The VAKYAPADIYAM of Bhartrhari DHAVANYALOKA of Anandavarhana and the LOCANA of Abhinavagupta--well it may it may not be really 'about' them, but it does at least use them as points of departure.

One thing I found admirable about your critical method is the lively interplay between your own understanding and the poem speaking 'for itself' through quotations.

I certainly look forward to viewing more of your creative and critical exercises in the future.

Best wishes,



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