By Agron Shele*
Agron Shele, a poet from Belgium, discusses literature and poetry with Indian Poet K. K. Srivastava
K. Srivastava with his three books of poetry — “Ineluctable Stillness” (2005), “An Armless Hand Writes” (2008 & 2nd reprint 2012) and “Shadows of the Real” (2012) — has established himself as a well-recognized poet on a global level.
On this opportunity Srivastava has embarked on a discussion with Agron Shele, a poet and writer from Belgium, for Eurasia Review.
ASH: As an interviewer, I ought to be very candid in my questions. There are things in your collections that may not be welcomed or someone does not feel comfortable with the idea of poetry. It seems that your books indicate your infection with murky, unseen side of ……..? Now let me stop here.
KKS: Let me explain to you my understanding of your observation. For someone like me craving for ways to start is not very important. Things keep happening to me every moment, every second. And out of so many occurrences, a few reasons put me on hold. I feel trammeled. There is a feeling that the way is certain but what I will come across on my way to a destination is not certain.
This is my greatest dilemma; you walk on an unvalued road with symbols, metaphors and amusement. Reality suffers some sort of surrealism. The choices and allurements that life offers become in the hands of surreal world as means to enhance agony and alienation. Backdrops of memories are what one is left with. Outer and inner world are immutable and inseparable and the longing that exists between these two hands comes over to be a writing material. Writing is as much about consciousness, alive facets as it is about unconscious, unlived facets.
ASH: Borges was forthcoming to his admissions. Those that are not anymore poets and philosophers give ideas to today’s writers.
KKS: How many plain writers like Borges are there. Those who claim originality are puny-headed, self-obsessed writers. Originality comes from infinity. This is what Borges harped on. I have no idea as to where infinity rests.
But I have one example I like to mention. In Bertrand Russell’s autobiography, I find a letter where Russell is thanking Laski for the photograph he sent to Russell, ’Many thanks for the photograph. Even if it is bad, it gives a basis to the imagination…’ This is the relationship between a writer’s reading and his writing. This is a precise meaning of ‘influence or influences’. The basis of writing is imagination. Imagination crops up from a writer’s reading.
No writer begins with tabula rasa. You cannot be a good writer if you are not a better reader. Although there are exceptions.
ASH: In the Preface to “An Armless Hand Writes”, you talk of ‘imageless thoughts’. What are these?
KKS: I am happy you asked me this question. It refreshes my memory. A young girl whom I taught in a Training School that I was heading and who now occupies an important position in Indian Police Service, having read this book, sent me a long mail carrying her comments about various poems in the book but she asked me this question—‘Coming to the preface, two things, at one place you have written about the poets that they have image – less thoughts with them. I don’t agree Sir. Without imagination of the thoughts, no one can write. You can write only imagined thoughts…….’
That was a unique experience for me, a question I expected from a seasoned poet but Lord and behold it was coming from a girl hardly with twenty-three years of age. So I owed her a response the way I owe one to you now.
A poem is an outcome of a singular or multiple mental processes involving sensations, impulses, emotions, insight, concept formation, cognition and a lot more. Each one of these has its own methodological complexities which clarifies but obscures too. What a poet is in search of is nothing but an image vying for appropriate words, metaphors and symbols. I, as a poet, have to reach out to an idea in terms of images that are clear and distinct.
By ‘imageless thoughts’, I imply those images to which a coherent response is not possible. And this is a real hotbed of ‘imageless thoughts’ where a poet has to delve into to snatch away some meaningful associations. So the example of the photograph that I have just given, is so relevant.
ASH: The influences of idea’s sources are occuring to you?
KKS: When you leave aside literary influences, you are left with sources but only two go side by side. In retrospect when I look back, I come across two sources’ ideas that accrue to me from: my reading, my perception and observations of things around me-both near and far off ones both in time and space.
Yes, there is also a third thing. You have individuals in groups, something of seminal importance, for here it is some human beings: men and women behaving in the most bizarre form by letting out their true being or reversely by hiding it considerably. Artificiality is the sole product of either: the best possible hotbed for a writer. My childhood which carries with it threads that connect me to memories, illusions and a sense of futility whose pervasiveness I feel very times. For me, when I reflect back and it is an intermittent phenomenon, I find my childhood unfolding itself, swimming in a kaleidoscopic lake which receives a falling light on a appearing and disappearing format.
In order to search fresh meanings out of what seems to be stale, uninspiring, dead and buried, a poet has to wade through stillness of silence and harshness of darkness in perfect juxtaposition with experiences bringing him glee and élan; giving him moments of glory that all are there for him to roll about.
I remember that lady teacher of the primary school run by local municipality (I was in 3rd class), hailing from a poor, downtrodden strata of society, who called me, showing me my answer script and then hugged me while stating “You write so well; why don’t you speak?” That for me underlined the importance of written words, the importance of silence. My childhood was a childhood of silence, of darkness but not stillness. When I enter and reenter it after so many years have passed, this very silence helps me pierce through things, persons that make noise, that distract, that disturb.
Noise has always attracted me and given me a myriad of possibilities for contemplation and analysis. Noisy things, noisy people give me ample material for writing. Amid some pompously cacophonous fellows I see hollowness and shallowness making excellent bed-fellows. People ought to remember writers have eyes that non-writers don’t have.
One of my friends, I am talking way back in 1984-85, had a very troubled childhood, something to do with his father’s marital status. One evening while walking he asked me to read Sartre. Much later when I read Sartre’s book ‘Words’, these words, ‘a few drops of sperms poured out by a dead man,’ I could locate the memory of my conversation with my friend. Sartre was talking in terms of price of a child’s birth. Nothing can explain it better. It is this unknown environment, this darkness from which a child emerges that is crucial to me. I believe every child has a darkness inside himself; a haunting darkness that he grapples with. For me this darkness is akin to an incurable migraine; you keep getting the pangs. Darkness and silence are two most potent weapons on the hands of any poet.
I have a great inclination towards serious writers who look at the world pessimistically; for them there is always strife and wretchedness in everything alive or dead and the influences such writers have on me are indisputable. By serious writers I don’t mean those who produce best-sellers annually or once in two to three years as a matter of routine but those who hold themselves back from the cauldron of light, fame, women and wealth.
Some of the so-called best sellers of modern times are a scar on literature. Vanity of time takes care of them. I have the highest regards for Nirad C Chaudhuri and writers of his ilk: V. S. Naipaul, Samuel Beckett, Salman Rushdie, Borges, and Kafka. These writers make literary history and a few of them cause history.
ASH: What about poets?
KKS: Allen Ginsberg, Eliot, Hindi poet Muktibodh, Jayanta Mahapatra, Ezra Pound and a few more. I learned the idea of writing long poems from our Hindi poet Muktibodh. I read his poem, ‘Andhere Mein’ and ‘Brahamraksha’ more than ten times each and I am still dismayed at the connections that come into existence as these two poems emerge further on. Then T. S. Eliot teaches a lot when it comes to longish poems. Presently I am reading Louise Gluck’s book–‘Faithful and Virtuous Night’.
ASH: Do you read your poems yourself a few months after publication? Let me put a few lines from your Poem, ‘Riot And The Young Lady’ …
‘Reddish traces linger on
and that young fragile looking lady,
is lost in her remembrance,
like an unnoticeable cog
in the gargantuan past called
and suddenly asks;
‘That vile should a parent’s faults adore,
And err, because our fathers err’d before?’
ASH: You wrote these lines in 2008 and you very appropriately cite Charles Churchill from his poem ‘The Rosciad’. When you read such heart touching lines after some years, how do you feel then?
KKS: My poems represent some sort of conversation with my solitude, alienation; it is a monologue intensely personal. We are in 21st century hell- this is a perceived truth while there is no dearth of people quarreling with this perception. This fact despite occurrence of some gorgeous dawns always swallows me up, more collectively than individually. I abhor visiting time and again things I write; such visits frustrate me further.
The relationship of a writer with his writings is always a dualistic affair flowing to and from. Sometimes when I revert back to these, I visualize the pass I have come to everything so pusillanimous. This becomes a major highlight of my memory. With no choices, the need to seek hurried escape route to shun glare knocks at me. Drifting again away into a vein of associated thoughts is like you are pushed into a hellish company of your thoughts again after you have come out of it.
- Agron Shele is a poet from Belgium.
Note: this Interview was edited by Peter M. Tase