Interviewed by Varsha Singh, Managing Editor, Reviews
*First Published in Reviews, Vol. 1, Issue 2.
Brought up and educated in Varanasi, India, Dr. R.K. Singh is a university professor teaching English language skills to students of earth and mineral sciences. He has authored over 160 research articles and 170 book reviews in journals in all over the world. He has been writing poems in English for over three decades now and is widely anthologized and published in various journals and e-zines. Team Reviews is glad to feature an enriched conversation with Dr. Singh.
VS: Sir, what started you writing poetry?
RKS: Expression of creativity is own cause. It has been a natural activity happening by itself since my teenage. I offer no justification for writing poetry.
VS: What sort of thing did you write about when you began?
RKS: I initially wrote in Hindi with my teenage imagination, both in metrical and free verse form. It was largely romantic stuff but at times, social and political too. I can safely call it ‘practice exercises’ which continued in English, too, till I discovered my own natural voice and rhythm in my early twenties. By then, I had the maturity to reflect on personal life and experiences that include various familial, social, political, cultural, psychosexual, erotic, philosophical, spiritual, and even literary and academic issues, just as there were aspects of love, loneliness, failure, frustration, and memories.
VS: Now, jumping the years, can you say, are there any themes which particularly attract you as a poet, things that you feel you would like to write about?
RKS: Such a question is relevant for poets who are good at writing about a particular subject (on demand). Since I deliberately or consciously do not write on a particular theme, I can’t say what specific theme I should write in future. I have been writing what I intimately know or understand, or what naturally occurs to my mind, as part of my living experiences.
VS: Has there ever been a point when you thought the reader is not going to understand this? Have you ever imagined yourself in the readers’ shoes while writing?
RKS: Sometimes when I re-read my poems and find that I am not able to understand it myself as a reader, I try to rewrite it, or discard it. I do ensure that I don’t put out a poem which is not sensible to me. Sometimes certain images and metaphors may be challenging, but I do enjoy writing poems that may be “ambiguous” and/or allow more meanings than one. For example, since I hardly use titles or punctuation marks, the lines can be read differently to derive different meanings. Then, there is the use of enjambment (one line passing to the next with full period or question mark etc at the end) just as there are instances where first word of the next line plays a double role both at grammatical and semantic levels. The readers do need to be sensitive about these features of my poetry that make it simple and complex at the same time. This has been my normal style, posing difficulty to readers…. I am not writing prose as poetry!
VS: Could you speak about the use of clichés in your poetry?
RKS: If you point to the use of sex as clichés, then I would like you to read Dr G.D. Barche’s article ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Icarus’ Reworked in the Erotic Poetry of R.K.Singh (Creative Forum, Jan-Dec 1991) and R.S. Tiwary’s article ‘Secret of the First Menstrual Flow: R.K.Singh’s Commitment to Fleshly Reality (Language Forum, Jan-Dec 1997). Both these articles are also available in New Indian English Poetry: An Alternative Voice (ed. I.K.Sharma, 2004) Sex is a fact of daily life and it is through sex, one can understand the truths about the individual or his/her social consciousness.
VS: You are well known for your haiku and Tanka. Can you tell me about when you first began to become interested in these forms of poetry and how it changed your perception of the writing small verses?
RKS: I have been writing haiku and tanka for over three decades. In fact I used these forms as stanzas of many of my regular poems before these could happen with the sense of ‘here and now’ as individual poems. It appears now my lyrics are limited to tanka and regular poems reduced to haiku/senryu.
My first encounter with haiku was via Ezra Pound’s translations nearly four decades ago. In the 1980s, I tried to explore haiku in the UK and USA and read many haijins. I gladly acknowledge help from Mohammed H. Siddiqui (Baltimore), who shared with me copies of several journals and quality haiku by many good practitioners in Japan, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. I had great support from the editor and publisher of Azami (Japan). I could successfully write and publish many haiku and tanka all over the world.
VS: How do you relate ideas to language, or aesthetics to language?
RKS: For success in any creative genre, one needs to be not only sensitive about language but also love it. Aesthetic sense without language sense is incongruous. The process of relating it, i.e. aesthetics to language, is rather intuitive. One needs honesty to oneself.
VS: Being a Professor, you have a vast experience of teaching. How would you say your experience in the classroom has influenced your poetry?
RKS: Teaching, be it Scientific English, Grammar, Literature, or Criticism, has had no influence on my writing poetry. I have been a different person when I teach. I am not I when I write a poem.
VS: When you finish a poem do you believe you have put order into that chaotic world of random language without a form?
RKS: With practice and experience, an idea takes the form appropriate to it. If a poem begins well, it finds its end too. The initial chaos in the mind is resolved with the form it assumes and the end it gets.
VS: The writing of poetry is something which has been a great satisfaction to you in your life, is it?
RKS: Can’t say. But I would like to be remembered as a poet.
VS: What advice do you have for young poets/writers?
RKS: Read what you enjoy reading. Read different poets/writers, and develop love for the language, a sense of rhythm, and sensibility.