An Armless Hand Writes by K. K. Srivastava. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (P) Ltd., 2008, 176 pp. Rs. 250.
An Armless Hand Writes is K.K.Srivastava’s second collection of poems. While Srivastava’s lyrical short poems show polish and finish,
several longer poems have a muscular elegance and a clean economy of line. There is never the sense of trying to squeeze in too much knowledge or experience. Srivastava employs divergent and expansive rhythms and an opening out of sense to myriad possibilities. Even through his work is very personal, and encompasses numerous personal threads, it is not difficult work.
In his lengthy Preface, Srivastava writes of the position he sets up for himself when writing, “Only precondition I put forth before myself, while assessing these ideas as reasonable or otherwise, is that these ideas must be formed of indissoluble substance, capable of self-reflexion, self-doubts and be in a position to grapple with the philosophical issues that deal with complex relationships between the whole and the parts and vice versa and yet more complex relationships between cohesive primordial instincts and incoherent and errant
reason running beneath sophistication lacking both in intellect and intuition.” We will see in this collection how Srivastava meets these conditions he sets for himself.
Most of the fifty-one poems express the angst of contemporary man within the context of interaction between the conscious and unconscious aspects of humanity. Yet there is also a need to try and anchor himself between those places where, “we float between real and unreal: (“Oppressiveness of Nothingness”), a lengthy poem in 39 sections. In Part 2 the poet says,
I wish I could have blank memory.
An infinitesimal imagery.
But what if these nasty erasures don’t work now,
these are redundant and obscure,
these have left nothing to us.
I feel so oppressed,
I proceed with my vision blurred
traces of my identity unfurled.
Ensconced past and continuing present
traverse together sightlessly long,
stillness of travesties of raucous
past falls away.
The need for permanence, and the unreliability of days “unfilled: whole, incomplete,” “(Vexations”) seem to be what impels him to record these poems of insurmountable problems concerning himself and his place in the world. In the three-part poem “Thy Face; Great Anarch,” we meet the three Graces: beauty, gentleness and grace, whose charms enter the poet’s mind and inspire his writing:
Thy glittering face foists upon me dazzling
endowments of desires,
inspiring ecstasies to crowd
the aligned corners of my mind
and I add fiercely to the tyranny of my memory
flame of innocence.
But alongside his eye for beauty, and insight, there is also, in some poems, a depth of feeling (“Old Man And His Conflicts”), and again, in “Disintegrated Self” when describing himself and the fears and anxieties we all face from time to time:
Attachment to self.
Detachment from self.
And growing between them,
T.S.Eliot completes his three conditions,
conditions looking alike yet differing completely,
flourishing “in the same hedgerow.”
“Confusions” is a lonesomely sad poem, and so in a different way is the poem “Grotesque Masks” where what might previously have been seen as the pleasure of “cheery faces” becomes a nightmare of peoples’ imperfections: “The masks, / crowned on triumphal chariot,/ and / we whimper, at/ their protozoic grotesqueness.”
Srivastava’s work is essentially that of the observer, and the human feeling and nightmarish qualities with which he imbues some of these poems are part of the artistic life-journey he has undertaken. The poems in this collection can be seen as stopping-points on that journey towards discovering the intricate relationship between the poet and the way in which he perceives the world. Within these tightly controlled poems, a good example of Srivastava’s work at its most powerful might be the 15-part poem “Oh! That One Year Get-together And Our Very Own, Mr Monsieur Maillard” which develops an understanding of the lives lived by certain characters from literature. For example, here is a passage from part 4, “Dawn Breaks out, “which contains a quote from Edith Sitwell’s The Little Ghost Who Died for Love:
“Good, good, “someone cried,
from inside the dining hall,
loud voice and a louder laughter,
the short, thin, bearded, the anglicized
chap entering the hall, adding his laughter
to that voice.
Inside life had started searching itself.
The blizzard last night had left
Young cheeks, younger and rosier.
The moustached, bulky fellow felt cozier.
Everyone was doing the same thing,
Talking, giggling, gossiping, planning,
the ogler kept ogling.
The excitement knew no bounds.
I had landed in a place, a place
where “Though cockcrow marches crying of false dawns
Shall bury my dark voice, yet still it mourns,
Among the ruins…”
Srivastava is a traveller in unforeseen places, and one with an interest in literature, but it is the past which he seeks in everything he observes, not as a refuge from the traumas of the present, but as a confirmation that the barbarian has always been just outside the door, where the poet, melancholy and alone, says: “I noticed my insides being/ rolled out, / a bleak desire overshadows me/ and I tell my tears to/ smile at their fate” (“Etiolated Desires”).
Many of these poems are tightly shaped, yet at their heart there is a cynicism, a subversion of the dream, both the romantic and the modemist dream, but with little faith in either. The linguistic skill and tightly controlled shapes of some of the longer poems give the desperate something to hold onto in the broken world. There is strong
work here, especially in a poem such as “An Unfinished Journey” (Part 1):
We write our most beautiful lines
in solitude of two extremes,
one that reveals nothing, posing no
threat to us and
the other that secretes compulsive
We are detached from none of the two
but utility of detachment is one thing
and futility of detachment another,
both extending to each other,
both quarrelling with their own form,
both vying with each other
both obsessed by pushy self-questionings
of their very own.
We live in these two extremes,
Separately, lacking in,
“a dialogic relationship.”
The visionary quality in these poems can seem astonishing in its
range, its depth, its complexity. The rootedness in the local landscape is no limitation; a connectedness to history, literature and humanity, runs through these poems, as in “Eroded Memories”:
Where are those glimpses we survive by?
And also survive by the shuddering visions,
we perch upon.
Don’t hide yourself in dwarfed depths.
These are exhausting concealments where odyssey
neither the glimpses not the visions;
you keep philosophising
the unusual games of innocence and ignorance,
And in the very next poem we find the poet along in an empty room: “I stood in an empty room/ but couldn’t find sun rising, / air flowing, rains falling,/ winds blowing, sands flying,/ leaves drying, birds singing,/ moon sinking, stars falling,/ children weeping, girls singing./ I still wait” (“Seeking Solace In An Empty Room”) reminding ourselves that each of us stands alone. The movement of past and present is set within the empty room, where we wait for it to be filled with “silent music.”
Of especial power is the poem entitled “Riot And the Young Lady” which is set in “Roads, long and narrow, blood-bathed roads” where a young lady comes to mourn: “Reddish traces linger on/ and that young fragile looking lady,/ lost in her remembrance,/ like an unnoticeable cog/ in the gargantuan past called/ precious history,/ and suddenly asks: / “That’s vile – should we a parent’s faults adore,/ And err, because our fathers err’d before?” In the poem, the speaker courageously confronts, with stark lucidity, the implicit thoughts that come to mind when contemplating this woman “fragile and thoughtful.”
The same unflinching courage appears in “Half-truths”; its topic the lines and deceits with which one conceals the truth. Facing the moment of truth with an almost harrowing clarity, the poet asks the following question: “What, then, our hopes do hinge on? / On the tenuous relationship/ Between truths and half-truths./ We look up with longing./ we are perforated, we look askance at, and having barred all avenues to half-truths/ we have become inscrutably somber.” In these unpretentious lines, Srivastava identifies the unspoken language of intense feeling. He acknowledges, moreover, the human desire to testify to the value of life, and to express the way we reflect on ourselves at moments of high seriousness.
“Blissful End” may be one of this collection’s best poems. A passionate but never hectoring or dogmatic tone, lends solemnly to lines like the following: “Sometime back, did I not cajole you?/ To join me in my odyssey to the land/ of blissful encroachments./ And then you complained of my/ stirrings riding the panicky/ stars, you thought, that jumped from/ the sky.”
The lengthy 3-part poem “Of Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Superfluous People ‘ “ discusses those moments when the persona confronts his failings around other people: “Why should I evaluate, reevaluate / things around me? / Is it my business? / We wouldn’t alter; change is not / our forte.” An interesting variant occurs in “Escapist,” in which the poet advises us “to go beyond your fears.” The 3-part “Phenomena” takes as its topic the answers that lie buried deeply beneath a veil of questions: “What you call void and what you call/ full happen to be full and happen to/ be void;/ phenomena, creations all happening/ and unhappening all the time.”
“Shadows And Lost Relations” (a 6-part poem) tells how the poet carries within himself a variety of emotions and feelings, which he draws upon when writing his poems. These may be feelings of
happiness, love or sorrow or, on the other hand, those of hatred and viciousness: “Sooner or later,/ I will be in a strange whirlpool,/ a whirlpool that neither/ will let me in or out,/ for at the door, ajar,/ will sit my feelings;/ my emotions,/ alive and fresh,/ dried and dead.”
In this collection we see much of the modesty, but perhaps also something of the steel, reflected in this poet’s verse. Journey through the thoughts, aspirations and reflections of Srivastava’s creative life, and you will emerge with a better understanding of his aims and aspirations.
• Patricia Prime is a poet based in New Zealand. She is
the co-editor of New Zealand haiku journal Kokako and Reviews Editor of the ezine Stylus. She was honoured with the Poet of the Millennium Award by the International Poets Academy in 2001. She has collaborated with fellow New Zealand haijin, Catherine Mair, on two books of linked verse, Sweet Penguin and First Rays of the Sun. She has written essays on contemporary Indian English Poetry and on Australian poetry.