"Shadows of the Real" by K. K. Srivastava is Reviewed by Patricia Prime


Shadows of the Real is K. K. Srivastava’s third volume of poetry. The book includes a lengthy Preface by the poet called “Poetry: I love to talk of darkness.” Here he writes: “Writing poems is a way to survive. Poets feel deeply and those who feel deeply need to survive too. Through life’s thorny thickets one searches for a royal road at the end of which one meets a resting place: a fuzzily defined amalgamation of perception, cognition and analysis.” The poems in this volume seek to do just that; the poet works through his emotions to reveal the layers beneath that provide an insight to his thoughts, feelings and attitudes.
In this collection of poetry, Srivastava investigates signs and portents, the elusiveness of divine providence and the fickleness of human life. In the first, lengthy poem, “Our Being Us”, Srivastava’s investigation is a literal and spiritual quest for the roots of what we are seeking in life. As the poet says: “The world / fascinates us, perturbs us / quizzes us, mystifies us;” and I would argue that this poem is the highlight of the collection. There is a beautiful layering and metaphoric blending of seemingly different realms of experience that reveal an organic unity eluding the casual reader of landscapes and poetry.
​We survive in this one-eyed world,
​a clash between memory and memories,
​You see a thing
​and you don’t see a thing,
​A child sees the world as a shining sun,
​An old man as collapse of all hopes,
​neither being nor becoming
​secures us an immunity from
For an explicit reference to the concept of stubborn wisdom, “Between Night and Morning” reveals itself as a source of perception for the poet:
​Sometimes the hours past swear
​to abandoned failures
​purloined treasures
​have inherited
​magnificent questions
​dredged from such failures.
In another lengthy poem, “Time’s Emptiness”, the speaker examines the futile search for the source of life: he says, “Beyond you / there is no world, / no givers, no takers / we kneel.” This source can neither be reached not named. Yet, at this particular moment of failure a greater truth reveals itself: that life is a game to be played out until the bitter end:
​All is a game
​it is misty, hazy,
​nebulous, incomplete
​a man exists,
​but in futility of his existence
​his shadow serves his opposite
​his shadow and he have been
​through each other,
​a game whirls over.
There is neither beginning nor end. Understanding is, first and foremost, going back and forth and around in circles of time, experience and eternal renewal. It is a painful process of learning the principles on which civilization is founded. It allows the speaker to bring experience under control and to cautiously reflect on the “Absurdities / of time.”
“Sins” and “Mental Asylum and Poetry” are seemingly mutually exclusive activities. In the speaker’s opinion, “night replete with aromas / frees me of all my sins” (“Sins”) and “In facing life / one faces death too.” (“Mental Asylum and Poetry”). Though there is no security as “Diverse voices percolate / leaving / unsettled identities.” (“Nothing Left To Tell”), there are anchors, marks on landscapes and people that endure as reminders, as objects imbued with significance. It is the quest for these tokens of permanence that provide guidance for the poet by their living or emotional energy. The poet wavers between contemplation and action; his self-imposed limitations frighten him as much as their perseverance and resourcefulness inspire him. “Contemplation”, for example, marks a reconciliatory comfort:
​Idle questions’ wretchedness
​fulfills his moments; his joys, his sorrows –
​Inconsequential ones
​Representing elegiac pathos of
​his contemplation:
​He feels like contemplating
​It hiccups.
In “Decisions”, Srivastava deals with the “Hopeless convolutions / idiotic silence” in which people are immersed, unable to make the right choices or to make sense of the world. “Success” is an impressive achievement; the poem tackles the “questions” that “make no sense”. This theme has an overpowering presence in the poet’s mind. “Sealed Remembrance” relates the experience of the speaker’s spiritual and actual memories. We are alone in this world, he says, searching for the colourful life that will bring some ease:
​My eyes have learnt a difficult lesson
​shun other eyes in the night,
​in the dimmed rays,
​on the light-laddered waves
​You travel alone in that intense form
​welcomed by caged alienation.
“Depression” presents the poet’s own “darkness” which continues to haunt him:
​Darkness outside
​Nothing has changed
​neither the source
​nor the expectation.

In another lengthy poem, “Human Illusions”, Srivastava extends his investigation into the relationship between what is real and what can only be imagined:
​their grainy images
​visioning their un-self
​that plays with its echo.
​Let illusions pass through
​the filter of our morbidity
​We continue
​unable to cope with the verisimilitudes
​of reality.
Another poem on contemplation, “Contemplation at 11.30 P.M.” states:
​The day closes
​its chapter
​Despondency grips me,
​guiding me to its deepest repository
​Insane questions raise their heads –
​Can you live without us?
But “Reflections” takes the reader into nighttime, where
​Night, like
​fatigued kings and queens
​sees a life of something else
​where swells none of its reflections.
In this collection the poet achieves one of the phenomena of the poetry written in extremis, that is the phenomenon relating to producing some images tainted with bitter protest at the “darkness” which accompanies his everyday life. This “darkness” can be attributed to the absenteeism practiced by the world against the self, whether this world is a country torn by the realities and anxieties of life, or the person that is tearing out the concept of belonging and depriving the self of the bond of identity. The final poem, “Nietzsche’s Poet”, which is in three parts, begins
Early morning hours,
​radiant hours
​And in those radiant hours
​strolls the crowd,
​non-believers; no God for
​they think without God
​they move.
Srivastava strongly demonstrates his perceptions of life in the final lines of his poem “Nietzsche’s Poet” and the poem ends on a more somber note:
​Later, curious crowd finds him
​declaring the places God is harboured
​as the graveyard of the poor; the poet
​has been buried there
​because of us – we murderers of all
With a language that is charged with the symbols of sadness and with images that call for the values of life to overcome disappointment, this book is a rich addition to Srivastava’s achievements.

(Patricia Prime is New Zealand based poet and reviewer. She is co-editor of the New Zealand haiku magazine Kokako ans reviews editor of Stylus and Takahe)

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