Sunday, January 30, 2005

Torments of writers

Its about a blank paper and a mind - the scratch pad that has been written and wiped clean the umpteenth time. How do you know what you wanted to write was what you have just written? If you did agree, for the most part, are you sure you have written it right? Or how about the reader? How do you deal with your angst when it is laid out in front of a reader who matters to you?

Or what is it you want to write about? Its not just the inspiration that nudges you into writing. So many a time, you simply could not write because you captured the thought, idea in half-flight and there you lost again. Or you are mad at something, which you need a vent for, that can be channel led in so many different ways. But how does a writer converge his energy and conflicted mind to produce a work of art?

How did Dostoevsky sketch the pangs and torments of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment while he was braving terminal diseases, deaths, debt, and deadlines to finish his promised novels? How could writing be his leisure when he dodged death sentence by a whisker and was shunned as a low-brow writer by every critic of his time. Dosteyevsky wrote passages of Raskolnikov's long walk while his troubled mind battled self-loathing and alienation, to the murder of pawn broker. Was it cathartic for Fyodor? I hope it was.

Samuel Beckett was inspired by the vibrant Parisian literary circle. He began writing and found his books were not selling and publishers refusing his works. He spent most of his life in penury. He sat on his such books as Waiting for Godot for years to find if any one was interested at all. After his late success that ended with Nobel prize, raving readers, critics and play afficianados, he was uncomfortable with public attention. He spoke or wrote almost nothing about the monumental works that he did. Instead his life looked more of a brooding over words and its conflicted forms that may be mapped out to our commonplace lives. He used words to fill the gap made by words themselves. Here is an excerpt that probably attempts reasonably well to describe what he thought about life behind the words:"… you would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what it is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery. " -- from his book Molloy.

Yukio Mishima actually believed in the strength of his writing that he thought he was going to change the society for good. When failed( he tried to possess control of Military Headquarters), he committed hara-kiri like any other samurai in Japan.

William Sidney Porter wrote what looked like short stories when he was housed in Ohio Jail. He was found guilty of banking charges. He fled initially but came back for his dying wife. She died soon after. He found an alias to shield his tainted name - O.Henry. Next ten years he wrote relentlessly, showed how beautiful the life of ordinary people were. He died as an alcoholic, penniless and alone leaving the treasure behind for readers.

W.H.Auden once visited T.S.Eliot in his bank where he worked as clerk. He waited in the Manager's room until Eliot could finish the day's work. The manager asked Auden haphazardly - " do you think he is a good poet?" Auden replied - "Yes. Very."

During my university days my pals asked me to write a one-act play for the annual celebration, spoofing a few characters around. I stared at the blank a paper a few days and finally I dared to ask the million dollar question to my professor - How do I start? What do I write? Do I plan the events? plot? Do I note the pivotal dialog/monologue? He said positively - "These are the questions all writers face every time they looked at rest of the blank paper. Its you and nothing else matters".

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The meaning of a poem

Have you ever read a poem? If you did, wondered if it ever made sense to spend time to figure the "supposed meaning" out? felt out of place and remembered the torture you had to go through when you were to memorize the poems for school exams? well. you were not the only one.

I was one of those too who realized that many of us can't paint or dance or sing including myself. Poetry then was not even an option to think of. That would make me look even more ridiculous, I thought. But then I happened to watch a Satyajit Ray movie and it had Tagore's poem recited in the background. The poem recital, its meaning, images on the screen, the sound stirred something in me.

It was a revelation to me- that you could express yourself with words - as the vehicle to communicate an image, metaphor or a simile that can transport to extraordinary from a seemingly ordinary jumble of words and phrases. Poetry belongs to everyone. It builds a bridge between you and the unknown (not the poet who wrote) - That poetry should not mean but be.

It is like a shimmering lantern for you to look inwards as much as it shows the landscape outside. So an aesthete or a poetry reader like you and I should stop worrying if we ever understood what we just read, instead let the words lead us to the inevitable. In defence I am going to quote Archibald MacLiesh's Arts Poetica here:
Arts Poetica
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit
DumbAs old medallions to the thumb
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind -
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs
A poem should be equal to:Not true
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf
For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -
A poem should not mean
But be

-- Archibald MacLeish

Saving the World!

It came about in this way. During the children's revolt of the sixties and the seventies, I was just old enough to understand what t...