White Crow Art Daily

POLYLOGUE – Words are not in battle with Images

Aditya Shankar / Remya Sanjeev

Q . A poet is a hybrid variety,newly composed and with multiple contradictory identities.For a bilingual poet like you,the issue is much more complex.Am I right?
Ans…Identity is the name of your soul when it crosses a border. It’s like a milestone where you leave your hat or a feather. You want it to be done differently, each time you do it – crossing the border of orchards when you steal mangoes, the border of homecoming after your first adventure trip, the border of manhood with the first stubble, the border of ideas with your written word, the first line in a sketch. You fall in love with the idea of reading a great book; you want to be that critique whose feedback the writer treasures. Then, you want to be a voice that smells meaning; you want to be the kid in the school library, lost in a comic. You want to be a game designer who feels the level design could have been better. You want to be an eye hidden in the darkness of a theatre, where collective emotion rises and falls like a wave in a tempest. So I think writing is as much a collective activity as making a movie. The crew is within you though, multiple eyes or identities as you call it, that knows the language to communicate, emote, and debate with anything and anyone that we can see or imagine. It’s impossible to imagine writing that is stale in terms of how it expresses itself. In that context, the term bilingual is an oxymoron because there are multiple Malayalam’s and English’s within you, and the language employed in each piece is different. Each work, I believe, speaks its own language.


Q. When we talk about diaspora or diasporic writers , there is a concept of common homeland or the idea of a homeland.This can create nostalgic tendencies.Your poems carry certain images that show this tendency…
Ans…..Childhood is one among my multiple diaspora. In certain pieces, it forms the nucleus of my creative essence. And at this nucleus, there is a village or small town to hold dear, a friend to remember, a summer vacation that flew away like a migratory bird. Your characters and stories often stem from this ‘homeland’. But I wouldn’t say that writing about past or memory is a longing for lost time or place; it hardly is. Every sigh is an intellectual product. You tend to use these elements to drive home a very current or contemporary concern. Also, I wouldn’t agree to a reading of poetry as a reading of its imagery, as this tends to focus on what the poem feels, and not what it thinks. I think good poetry thinks, and thinks forward.
Q. There are innumerous images of crowded city life in poems like “Subway”,”Verse(u)s.
“When you are left alone
you feel like the only factory sounding sirens on a holiday
the only cubicle with light in an office”(Party Poopers)
A sort of juxtaposing loneliness with urban living conditions.Could you comment on this further?
Ans….. You get to know something when you figure out what it’s trying to hide. I have grown up with the conviction that to know urban life, you should dare to lift the gutter and look at what it’s trying to bury. Probably courage is being the voice for the dead body floating in one of those gutters, unidentified, ignored, and denied justice. Being forgotten is probably the scariest feeling that I can imagine, and if you look around, you can see despair floating beneath every other urban smile, buried deep inside forgetfulness. There, the loneliness is a misnomer for helplessness; like a pregnant prisoner giving birth to her kid in shackles (which is still a reality though the law bans it). You see that sort of loneliness in every celebration. I’m trying to talk about a longing for loneliness in our togetherness; the longing is mine, but I would like to see loneliness in you, not me. Then I look into myself, and see that even I’m suffering. The images in my poems that you were mentioning thus sums up the silent suffering that I witness all around me. But I feel as long as art is not just dream selling and weekend getaways, we are good to discuss urban loneliness as a reality, and not as juxtaposition.

Party Poopers Cover
Q. In a world of cultural polyvalency,how long can we stick on to ‘cultural purity’?
Ans…Unfortunately, cultural purity is the slogan of fundamentalist thinking and I don’t think I have any interest in supporting it, ever. I’d agree to the statement – polluted words to represent polluted time, and confused words to represent a confused era. I think purity of any kind, without its grey areas, makes thinking very limited and dimensional. Even when thinking about a process of writing, I would like to think why does poetry need to mean just pure words? Why not images, sounds, or installations?
Q. “Politics is no more my priority”(Never).Living in a world of cultural protests where we fight against the intruding fascist elements,how far can a writer stay ‘apolitical’ or ‘neutral’?
Ans…. The poem being referred is a strong political statement, and resentment towards what the system has done to our great political thinkers. It is homage to the lost minds that took on the system, and never budged. The poem in a way mourns the blunted resistance of our times. Just as we are used to saying ‘Personal is political’, I would say being creative is being political. You have a voice, and you want to be heard. And having a voice means having a position, and having a position means being a critique.
Q.Is there any stylistic influence of your mother language/literature?
Ans…. Yes, there is. In fact, all media has an influence on your writing. My attempt is to mould a language that speaks my experience, and as long as it derives immense power from the Malayalee self, I would be more than happy to be sincere to my self-expression. I like the way Malayalam is able to be a very poetic language in its structure, and I think it should be something that the new Indian English writing should strive to achieve. It is understandable in the context of how Indian English poetry is still fighting to find its own voice. The issue of linguistic technicalities takes over the process of writing in many an instance, and we can see that most of the poems, especially from younger writers try to ‘belong’ or be ‘acceptable’, instead of striving to become better poems. At times, poetry is at a loss, and I have tried to remain awake to this challenge, and find my own voice someday.
Q.When we read poems like ‘The Big clock tower in railway station’ and ‘The house of my old man’,we stumble upon the concept of time and space.You have written…”Public time has died…”
Ans…. . Time and space, as a poetic construct or as a technical element, as a feeling, history, future, or as anything that we define it to be, often has correlations that tend to intersect at certain points that are not far-fetched. For instance, I switch into a thought about ‘time’ in poetic terms from a time instance in a telecom network represented as a protocol, or a thematic time as defined in a movie, to anything. I guess new age poetry resides in those points of intersection and needs to be discussed and read. It is part of the new age reality that as writers and readers, we are trying to explore. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m trying to use technical contexts in poetry. No! I think technological references would stagnate in the poem, and as technology would become obsolete over time, even those poems would. Poems sadly have to be completed, and constant updating will not work as we do with technical manuals. It could be debated that a poem is never complete and only abandoned; I’m not sure. But I firmly believe that good poetry should capture the human situation around the technological evolution, how it shapes human feelings and behavior and should be able to bring in the ambience of our times without being too literal in terms of what are the enabling tools that brought forth the change. Let me make it clear that I am referring only about a type of poems, and I talked about it since you discussed time and space.

Q.In your first book ‘After Seeing” you seem to be concerned with the world of filmy vision.In the modern environment we are dominated by visual images.what is the struggle you try to depict in those poems?
Ans… When we say we inhabit an age dominated by filmy vision, let’s not lose sight of the fact that words are not in a battle with images. In fact, as I see in all duals, there are enablers and doers. Words certainly play a part in enabling cinematic delight. So, can’t the reverse be also true? My cine poems are probably an answer to that. Poetry is one way of re-creating cinematic experience. We also should have cine-stories, and cine-paintings, not just cine-poems, articles, posters, and teasers. I believe that if we have a way to extent a creative experience, it should be explored. To me, my poems are not reactions or responses or just dialogues with the cinema that happened in a retrospective effect. As the mountains and people and flowers and cities have been around us, so have been these movies.
Q. Could you elaborate on the innovative practices like Graphic Poetry.It is actually a ‘collaboration process’ where we need perfect balancing.Which one gathers public attention first-the Graphics or the Poem?
Ans… Graphic poetry or poetic graffiti or concrete poetry becomes essential when you are an online poet. By online poet, I don’t mean someone who writes on the cloud or the web. It is more a sensibility driven classification that defines poetry that is aware of its times. And one of the primary things that would represent an online poet is the ability to place a poem above the poet. You would want your poem to hold ground amongst others in a blind selection. You acknowledge that your reader does not bother about who has written the piece, s/he doesn’t care about you. The poem should have a voice that represents the reader or her/his imagination; it should speak a new language each time. This also lets you take yourself out of the picture, and put your work first. Hence, collaboration becomes possible. Actually collaboration is a very commercial term for representing stakeholders. Let’s call it ‘polylogue’ (it’s much more than a dialogue). And I say polylogue of all sorts is possible: between people, formats, art forms. Even if an online poem is written on a train toilet, you know it is one. Because, it is not afraid to experiment and fail, repeatedly! And coming to the second part of the question, if either the poem or the graphic were to stand out and gain more attention than the other, we will have to assume that the poem has failed. The same can be said about the collaboration between your native self and the foreign language you use. But it’s ok with me; as long as the attempt lets you inch forward in some way. I like it when the poet writing about the ocean says “ovals of soot for eyes”. You know those eyes stay only for a glimpse and then dissolve into a new shape like the clouds, but you get your moment of ecological concern in that; an eye that cannot see the future.


Q .I think graphic poems can serve the purpose of pamphlets and politically/socially relevant posers.How can we shift it to a much wider realm like streets?

Ans… Oh yes!
Graphic poetry is the printing press where you sweat over your slogans to circulate in a gathering. To put it bluntly, political and corporate processes are very similar in their branding methods; to reach out to people and inculcate faith. There is no wrong in poetry adopting the same. The eventual aim of all creative writing and thinking is to replace all the meaningless and polluting words floating around us, with better ones. There are so many instances of creative installations such as these happening around us these days, with street art initiatives and poetry out loud (by IFA, Rangoli Metro art centre and others) or using the exteriors of auto rickshaws as canvas for art work. I think it will be good to remember Tamil lorries of yore covered with mural paintings of the deities, which can further be extended to our inscriptions and cave paintings. Didn’t we just say that graphic verse is one of the oldest forms of dream, faith, and inner energy?


K.M Madhusudhanan’s paintings , based on Aditya Shankar’s first poetry collection – After Seeing