Portrait of the Mariner as a Poet

Poet Paresh Tiwari finds the small Japanese forms of poetry cathartic, meditative and healing

Published: 27th November 2017 10:37 PM  |   Last Updated: 28th November 2017 08:44 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: The sea. they say, rewards patience. Patience of waiting on shores for the waves to bring shells, wrecks of ship or just a grain of sand containing a cosmos. It’s patience that sharpens a poet’s craft to make him present to the world the beauty in the tiniest of the specks. And mind you it requires dexterity to do that. That’s how city-based poet and marine engineer Paresh Tiwari chisels his words and presents them as beautiful gems in the form of haiku and haibun: the Japanese poetry forms. He launched his latest book ‘Raindrops Chasing Raindrops’: a collection of haibun and hybrid poetry at The Coffee Cup, Secunderabad recently. He talks about his choice for the Japanese poetry form, his life as a sailor and more. Excerpts:

How do you connect to Indian readers with Japanese forms of poetry? How receptive have they been?
To quote Salvatore Quasimodo, ‘It is the revelation of a feeling that is interior and personal which the reader recognises as his own.’

We as poets assemble words, images, memories, feelings, experiences and a little bit of our soul on the paper, but it’s only when a reader embraces these words, sleeps and eats with them, it becomes poetry. Even though the forms I write in are Japanese, the subjects are uniquely Indian and universal. I have read at many places including a  café and not for once have I found the audience discriminating the works based on the form alone.

At a haibun workshop we ended up talking about haiku/haibun for more than five and half hours instead of the stipulated three hours. I believe workshops, publications and readings have begun to connect Indian readers with these delicate forms.

Where do you think these Japanese forms will take contemporary Indian poetry scene?
I believe the critical things that the Japanese forms of poetry teach: directness, brevity, suspension of cleverness, absorbing the moment, and experiencing the world afresh, are universal and thus would help any poet in the pursuit of involving the reader more. These principles would help make poetry more accessible without sacrificing its literary merits.

There is a growing acceptance amongst poetry publishers and literary festivals about these new forms which is heartening. But I believe, the most important contribution of Japanese forms would be in bringing more poets to the feast. Haiku, you see makes most readers believe that they too can write.

What made you choose haibun, haiku and tanka to write your poetry?
Five years ago, I was going through one of the worst periods in my life. It is during this period of strife and pain that I discovered haiku, languishing in an anthology of poetry. I was smitten. I was in love. It gave me peace. I found these forms of writing cathartic and meditative. It helped me reflect on my life and find answers that seemed out of my reach.

Does the tight syllable structure of these forms discipline you as a poet?
The Japanese form of poetry might be the most ill-understood form out there. Haiku continues to be widely misunderstood as a 5–7–5 syllabic form. Not only is this an incorrect understanding of what is being counted in Japanese and how it converts to English, but it obscures far more important targets that are seldom taught.

Brevity is often misunderstood as being too easy or not capable of saying enough. The brevity forces, the poet, to only compose half a circle, the reader is the one who completes that circle based on his/her unique experiences, state of being, feelings and cultural predispositions.

What all have you explored as a poet through your poems?
Love, memory, family, pain, war, rebellion, dreams, mutiny, mundanity, to name a few. I have attempted to talk to painters, poets, and surrealists, who are no longer amongst us. I have tried to make love to well-thumbed books. I have even collected melting clocks and shared an umbrella for mongrels.
I believe an argument can be made that most of my works are memoirs, but I would like to add that I have taken liberties with the widely accepted definitions of the real and the imagined, with chronological timelines and order.

In future, do you plan to write in other forms of poetry?
I love words and the way they fall on paper or slip over a tongue to begin a life of their own. I wish to caress every contour, every cadence, every meaning they have to offer. So, I do plan to write in other forms. Whether other forms will embrace me is a different question entirely and one that I am incapable of answering right now.

How do you think through these forms you can address the current volatile socio-political situation in the country?
No literature of note can shy away from the socio-political situation of the times and place it takes birth in. And so is the case with these forms.
Even in my book ‘Raindrops chasing Raindrops’ you would find works that are born of and address these issues. Voiceless, Fault Lines, Noir in my bones, Ragdolls are few of the pieces that come to mind. But the threads run deeper. And they have all been written from a personal lens.

You are also a Navy Officer? How much does that play a role in your writing?
Thank you for addressiing me as a poet first and a Naval Officer later. I joined Indian Navy at the age of 17. Navy has taken me to places across the country and beyond. And I have met people who left an indelible mark on me. Also, solitude is a prerequisite for writing and the long sailings often provide me with that.

Have you thought of translating your work in any Indian language for the maximum outreach?
Not yet. I do write in Hindi. But my works in these two languages are such disparate voices that I often wonder if it is even written by the same person. I think I would be open to the idea of translating my works if someone
approaches me. Would I be willing to translate my own works? The answer would be a resounding, No.

How do you see the current poetry scene?
I would like to answer this one with a haiku:
            mustard fields —
             a thimbleful of sun
             on each blossom

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