BENGALURU: Delhi-based poet C P Surendran, who was in the city for the recent Bangalore Poetry Festival shares some insights.
Your favourite poem:
ASSISI by Paul Celan.
Umbrian night. / Umbrian night with the silver of church bell and olive leaf. / Umbrian night with the stone that you carried here. / Umbrian night with the stone / Dumb, that which rose to life, dumb. / Refill the jugs, come. / Earthenware jug. / Earthenware jug to which the potter’s hand grew affixed / Earthenware jug which a shad’s hand closed for ever. / Earthenware jug with a shade’s seal. / Stone, wherever you look, stone. / Let the grey animal in. / Trotting animal. / Trotting animal in the snow the nakedest hand scatters. / Trotting animal before the world that clicked shut. / Trotting animal that takes sleep from the feeding hand. / Brightness that will not comfort, brightness you shed. / Still they are begging, Francis — the dead.
A poem / poet you keep going back to:
Paul Celan’s poems. Because he went through things — the war, the loss of his family, the concentration camp; things people can’t survive. He survived, but he committed suicide.
He was the scale of language. What language can suffer, and come out in golden tatters. Celan’s poems teach you what it’s to be a man in an insane world. It’s about the barest of graces. He makes the world fall silent all around him. Rhythms and rhymes almost turn meaningless. What you are left with in the crucible of fire are insubstantial shadows of what man does to man.
The first poem you remember reading:
From The Princess: Home they Brought her Warrior Dead. By Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Home they brought her warrior dead: / She nor swoon’d nor utter’d cry: / All her maidens, watching, said, / “She must weep or she will die.”
Written word or slam? Or songs?
Epics or anthologies? Or any other genre?
What kind of binary is this? I tend to read one poet at a time in some depth, just as I tend to write my own poems in cycles and sequences. Available Light, which is scheduled to come out later this year, has a 39 poem-cycle on a Jew I encountered in a dream. What I am trying to say is, anthologies to me have an amateurish appeal. It might introduce you to a poet who resonates with you and then you could perhaps delve deep into him. In poetry, depth is more useful to me than breadth.
Poetry vs prose:
Clearly two different functions. The scope of prose, to my mind, is different. Poetry is ill-equipped to handle characters, and therefore, action. I often think of poetry as a state of mind.
In that frame of mind, things take on another dimension, like a ray of light turning out to be the transport of humans. We arrive here, after all, from some star that broke up.
Also, I tend to feel that poetry is an inward journey. Its resolutions are short. In prose, resolutions of its narrative crises are long, like in classical music. Prose tends to be an outward journey. It’s a conversation with the world. Poety is more like a soliloquy read out aloud. I handle both with different expectations.
Inspiration and influences:
As we grow old, these increase in number. But I’d think sustainable inspirations are one’s own angles we see the world from. That’s mostly innate.