Amal Kiran & poetry

Amal Kiran's book "Inspiration and Effort"

Amal Kiran’s book “Inspiration and Effort”

Amal Kiran ! This guy is one of those tiny flowers with an intense colour, tucked way off the meadow on a mountain trail where not many venture and so not many would know of. Moreover, such flowers grow a little closer to the precipice for folks to know of their existence. How do I know? Had the good fortune of a helpful hand pointing in that direction as I stood look at the vista with her. All through those couple of days that I spent with this man’s daughter, I had no clue of the fine writing that awaited me in a Pondicherry bookshop. We spoke very little of Amal Kiran except a few references to his days in Aurobindo ashram. It was when I begin exploring further that I came across his book which opened up a whole new trail into poetry which I didn’t know existed. I say this because I have only been a consumer of poems. I do not and can’t seem to write poems.

This is about how Amal Kiran’s book Inspiration and Effort: Studies in Literary Attitude and Expression (Published: 1995, The Integral Life Foundation, USA) offers an easy to identify explanation of where might be the source of inspiration lie, in those splendid imaginations turned into words by Shelly, Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Byron.  It is well worth to re-produce this section from the first page of his book, wherein he dives straight into the intent of the entire exposition. He begins –

You hold that genuine poetry is written always by inspiration – effortlessly – as if in a state of semi-trance. A correct view, this, as regards fundamentals. But you may take my breath away by adding that, because in my letter I used words like “tried”, “attempted”, “sought” when I spoke of producing poetry of a mystic and spiritual order new in many respects to the English language, you drew the conclusion that I wrote my poems with a manufacturing mentality which thought out with intellectual labour all of the phrases, lined up the different parts like a mechanic rivetting joints and constructed artifically an unfamiliar out-of-the-way model!

Inspiration is a fact and it does come from a region that is beyond the muscular brain and the tense sinews of thought: it comes from a hidden fountain of force which is more spontaneous, swift, suggestive, vision-bright and harmonious: its outflow brings in a condition of mind cleansed of a too external and intellectual and deliberately constructive activity – hence, the semi-trance, as it were, of poetic creation.

The part I am most interested in is where he speaks of ‘spontaneity’ as the point that is ‘never properly seized by those who do not write poetry’ and goes on to explain how the process might work for those who are recognized for their poetry. Recently, reading an English translation of Kutti Revathi’s poem Rain River written in Tamil,  I marveled at the way her words could create that intense moment of desire and longing. I wondered if the entire thing came in one gush to the poet. It stayed with me for a long time. Amal Kiran’s thinking on this process appears clear and sort of helps in having a perspective on what might the process involve. It may not necessarily be the same for every poet, but it is worth a look. He writes –

The ordinary notion is that spontaneity is the first flow of words when one starts writing or the flood that overwhelms one all of a sudden. It is frequently these things but it is not confined to them. The spontaneous word is that which comes from a certain source – the deep fountain of inspiration beyond the logical and ingenuous brain: no more, no less. There is not the slightest implication that the initial flow of words is the most inspired: it may be so or it may not – everything depends on whether you are a clear medium or a partly clogged one. If you are not quite clear in the passage running between the creative source and the receptive self, the lines that come to you all of a sudden or at the first turning towards poetic composition are likely to be a mixed beauty and even a facile imitation of the beautiful. Consequently, you have to take a good deal of corrective pains or resort to a total rejection. It is of no moment how much you re-write; all that is important is whether at the first blush or at the “umpteenth” trial you catch unsullied the shining spontaneity of the secret realms where inspiration has its throne. Shakespeare never “blotted” a word; Keats “blotted” a thousand, and yet Keats is looked upon as the most Shakespearean of modern poets in “natural magic”. Even Shelly, to all appearance the most spontaneous of singers, was scrupulous in his revisions. What still kept him spontaneous was that each time it was not intellectual hacking and hewing, but a re-vision, a re-opening of the inner sight on the hidden realms in order to behold as accurately as possible the lines and tones, the shapes and designs of those dream-worlds weaving their simple or complex dances.

To end this section, Amal Kiran mentions Humbert Wolfe’s lines which ‘brings another mode of sight, speech and rhythm equally flawless:

Thus it began. On a cool and whispering eve

When there was quiet in my heart she came,

and there was the end of quiet. I believe

that a star trembled when she breathed my name.

(Humbert Wolfe)

Amal Kiran’s book – Inspiration and Effort, is a rare one from Indian authors on poetry and the process of it. He was an admirer of Aurbindo’s Savitri and a long time resident of Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry. In over ten years that I have been visiting Pondicherry, I have not been quite attracted to read Aurobindo’s poems or his works. But Amal Kiran now makes me want to do that.

Meanwhile, from a completely direction, I read yesterday on Flavorwire – Why Queer Poetry Still Matters, which mentions yet another terrific gang of poets – Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Langston Huges and more recent ones.

I am not sure if I will ever manage to write poems, but the fact that poetry holds immense power in it to make one see the world and himself in newer and insightful ways, I am convinced of!



Saints & Poets – Kannada Poetry

Translated works are often special because of a completely new world that they open up for a reader who wouldn’t have otherwise known and understood some of the finest poetry of a different region composed in an alien language. When such a world opens up, it is like a travel to a distant unknown land whose terrain, landscape and colors one enjoys with fascination. Living in Bangalore for some time now, I noticed statues of men like Basvanna (near Chalukya Hotel signal), Kuvempu (at Freedom Park) and could know no further of their poetry or their life.

Book Cover: Poets & Saints, Translated by G. S. Amur

Book Cover: Poets & Saints, Translated by G. S. Amur

This afternoon, I am reading Saints and Poets, a collection of Kannada poetry translated by G.S. Amur. It is a sheer delight to know these men and women poets of Karnataka and have a taste of their poetry. The book is highly recommended.

Here are some of my favorites :

Basavanna: A great religious and social reformer of the 12th century and a minister in the court of the Kalachuri king Bijjala (1130-1167) who ruled in Kalyan. He is considered to be the most poetic of the Vachanakaras.

Tied to the altar,
The sacrificial lamb
Ate the tender leaves
Hung in decoration.
Not knowing the axe
Would fall, it filled
Its burning belley.
That day it was born,
That day it died.
Did the killers live
O God Kudala Sangama?

Akkamahadevi: First woman poet in Kannada and one of the best known of the 12th century Vachanakaras. She has been an iconic figure for women poets in Kannada because of her revolutionary nature, her spiritual achievement and the high poetic quality of her Vachanas.

When you build a house in the mountains
It will not do to be scared of wild animals.
When you build a house on the ocean shore
It will not do to be frightened by breaking waves.
When you build a house in the marketplace
It will not do to shy away from noise.
Hear me Channamallikarjunadeva,
Being born on the earth it will not do
To lose peace of mind by praise or blame.

Sarvajana: A 16th century saint and preacher, he is a household name in Karnataka. His Vachanas, set in the desi metre of Tripadi have a biting wit.

You find him in fine sand,
In polished stone
And in lines drawn on cloth
Can’t you find him in yourself,
Says Sarvajana.

The other names in the collection include modern poets like Gopalakrishna Adiga, Channaveera Kanavi, G.S. Shivarudrappa and more. This serves as a very engaging and enjoyable panorama of Kannada poetry.

Learning Farsi (1) – Nastaliq Style

Nastaliq style of writing farsi (persian). The line reads “bar akarin sayeat dakhil bastam”

I have been learning persian or farsi for over 3 weeks now. Today’s class is one of the high moments as I get to observe and appreciate the nastaliq style of writing persian. This aesthetically rich and elegant style has fascinated me since the time I saw it on the walls of old Indian monuments.

My persian teacher Shahin, wrote the first line of her poem for me in nastaliq style. I couldn’t help but start a persian thread here. The line in the image reads “Bar Akarin Sayeat Dakhil Bastam”. The story behind this is worth sharing. Early last month I was untying a metal rod from a fixture in the building foyer. This was supporting a string on which I had hung a series of posters from my field study. As I folded it up and untied the poles, this young lady who was an acquaintance until that moment happened to walk past and we exchanged smiles. She says, “to me it looks like you had tied a prayer on to that fixture which you now are untying.” In persian culture “dakhil” is an act of tying a piece of cloth with a prayer by a believer, who supplicates his God to fulfil his wish by doing this. In Hindu culture this is equivalent to a “mannat”. So, back to this conversation. This young lady in a flow speaks these words (in the pic) to me, saying what I was doing appeared to her like a “dakhil”.

This sets us talking persian culture, poetry, faith, Iran and the usual cascade of ideas that two people from different cultures would talk about in their first meet.

The line written in the image reads as “Bar Akarin Sayeat Dakhil Bastam” in persian. This is the first line of Shahin’s (my persian teacher. She blogs here) poem which means – the last time I saw you when you were leaving, I tied your receding shadow with a dakhil. The poet wishes that her love doesn’t leave her and as an act of desire she ties his shadow with a dakhil which to her is a sort of prayer that she wishes is fulfilled.

Persian poetry has always been so stirring to me, as much as their culture. As I get on this journey of learning this language, I can’t help but celebrate this richness.