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Interview of K K Srivastava by Patrick Sammut
article [ Interviews ]

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by [kksrivastava ]

2011-11-29  |     | 

Interview with poet K.K. Srivastava:
Patrick Sammut

K K Srivastava, born in Gorakhpur in India, in 1960, is a Civil Servant by profession. He is Principal Accountant General (Audit) Madhya Pradesh and currently posted at Gwalior. Ineluctable Stillness (2005) and An Armless Hand Writes (2008) are two books of poems written by him. His third volume of poetry is expected in 2012. I interviewed him which follows:

1.The best poetry is written when the poet is not sober. Poetry as delirium. Your reactions to such statements?

A:- A difficult question. My poems get shaped in a manner that gives an inkling into the working of my mind- a mind that juxtaposes two different sides of my experiences-the first the revealed one and the second the concealed one. There are overlappings between the two. Delirium represents these overlappings and from these flow the material for poems. Sobriety adds depth to poems; it makes them lasting and adds magnificence which in turn stakes a claim to permanence.

2. How does Srivastava reconcile his job in Accounts and Audit with being creative and poetry? Which of these two activities make you feel a useful human being mostly?

A:- Both are apart. Both are different. Pleasure from one is no substitute for pleasure for the other. I am fortunate: I am at ease with both the pleasures.

3.Is it true that the poet finds himself, who he is, when in extreme solitude?

A:- I agree. Solitude reveals hidden aspects of a writer. There, he is one with himself. It is there that he observes himself more closely giving a hard, dispassionate look at his perceptions, drives, rootlessness, alienation and a host of so many other things. There introspective process sets in bringing to the fore what fear coming out in situations other than extreme solitude.

4.One has to “lose his sanity” in order to discover more about his self. Can madness be considered as a kind of healing?

A: Madness is another extreme of genius. You know the relationship between creativity and eccentricities. Sanity, sometimes, hides more of insanity and reveals less of sanity. I agree with you to come to grips with self, one has to depart from his sanity. Real creativity and literature flow amid insanity.

5.Can one say that Srivastava tries to give order to chaos through his verse?

A: My verse is an effort to seek equilibrium through a chain of disequilibrium. Chaos, of course, is there (as I see in retrospect) in my writings but there is an order out there. I open it for the readers to visualise, conceptualize and establish that order.

6. Can one say that in certain instances Srivastava applies the principles of logic and economics to his poetry while in the process of creating it?

A: Yes. I do. Economics, logic and philosophy have old, well-defined linkages. Adam Smith’ magnum opus Wealth of nations is the first book that indicates rationality in human behaviour. Much of the writings by Prof A. K Sen, the Noble Prize winner economist have delved into the relationship between consumer behaviour, social welfare choices, human psychology and logic. My reading of economic literature has rendered it possible for me to factor in these inputs in some of my poems as my poems concern with what some reviewers have called,” unpoetic topics.” A Citadel of Arguments is one such poem.

7. In A Citadel of Arguments you write “Myself, me and I, the three inner voices”. What is the exact distinction between these three?

A: Hulme, Baudelaire and Eliot are the poets who used the technique of de’doublement which basically divides the self into parts but these are of the same. I have tried to introduce in some of my poems, longer ones in particular, this concept. “I” is confronted with it’s own persona and they talk to each other. In this particular poem, self assumes more than one form to give a logical flow to my thought process.

8. In A Citadel of Arguments Srivastava writes, “Go deeper there, where everything is awake and healthy.” Does this mean that reality is asleep and unhealthy?

A: From my student days, Freud and Jung have attracted me. All case studies by Freud are in my bookshelves. Freud rightly mentions two-third of our mind, like iceberg, is hidden, with our reach extending to only the first one third. It is this two-third that dominates us, that dictates to us what are our outer manifestations. Reality is definitely asleep but it is healthy. Most of my poems revolve around my acquaintance with Freudian/Jungian literature that has equipped me with mechanism to understand human beings/behaviour to a great extent.

9.How do you react to one saying that yours is also a poetry with a strong political content in the wider sense?

A: I am sorry; my poems have no political content.

10. According to Srivastava what is the relation between the poet and God; the politician and God; the economist and God; the intellectual and God? What may be the difference between being a poet, a politician, an economist and an intellectual?

A: Many intellectuals and politicians have been poets. Poetry can go well with everything. Poetry does not clash with any other discipline or category of people. That is the reason it is universal. God exists. I believe in God.

11.To what extent writers such as Shakespeare, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes and others have influenced your writings?

A: None as named by you. But I have read Eliot, Muktibodh, Kafka, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Bergson and a few psychologists. I have dealt with, at length, their influences in twenty two pages long preface to my second book An Armless Hand Writes.

12.Yes, I have read that. Coming to another aspect, mockery, especially in relation to the upper middle class, is a primary element in your poetry. From where does this originate?

A: Snobbery, intellectual lethargy, muddle-headedness, duality of personality really upset me. I shun parties and gatherings where people in possession of these traits roam around and rule the roost. I know a gentleman who was fond of throwing very late night parties, particularly on weekends, serving imported scotch there, playing a perfect host but then on making forays into that gentleman’s activities, I found him indulging in immoral activities. Behind his benign smile was a dark past and present. His emptiness was fitly matched by emptiness of his surroundings as he perceived these. Saturday Dinner Party in my first book is primarily inspired by my observations of functioning of some of hypocrites and flatterers in late night parties thrown by this gentleman. So you are right; upper middle class is a subject for me and will continue to be that.
13.That of Srivastava is not only poetry through words with a meaning, but also through words with particular sounds, at times also cacophonic. What do you say about this?

A: Some reviewers like Patricia Prime and Bernard Jackson have found musical sounds in my poems. If music has to come in any poem, it will come on it’s own and not ask for any extra efforts on the part of a writer. These things happen, just happen. I have never made any extra efforts to create music or any specific sound in any of my poems.

14.Reality, in its best and worst, as fascination for poet Srivastava. Your reactions to such a statement?

A: Reality is inbuilt into any writer’s regimen. You cannot wish it aside. It will compel itself onto you. So is the case with me. Reality as captured through my observations is a fascination for me and I use these observations in my poems.

15.The mind as an unlimited space to explore and also as a world which is continuously creating images, reflections and more. Your reactions?

A: I brood, keep brooding. My mind is a restless creature. It is never one with itself. I introspect for long hours to decipher issues, problems, concepts and behaviour. Through my poems I reflect on events and human behaviour around me. There are times I spend two/three sleepless nights. My mind, then, is my biggest enemy.

16.Is Srivastava’s poetry a way how to react against “foredoomed truths, in prevaricating falsehood” (Disembogued Stirrings)?

A: I am glad you have spoken about this poem. Disembogued Stirrings, An Unidentified Person, An Unfinished Journey are three of the poems which some reviewers found complex and the approach complicated. A poet from Zambia wrote a review of my first book and described what he noticed as “ghosts” in An Unidentified Person. I think there are influences of Spinoza and Leibniz on these poems. In this particular poem, truth and falsehood have been woven together and thrown on a kaleidoscopic ground. This aspect of the poem was dealt suitably by Patricia Prime in her review for Poets International, a literary journal.

17.Paradox is a very strong element in Srivastava’s verse. Why is this?

A: Paradox is a great riddle for me. You walk a road hoping to meet someone and you meet someone else. You expect some good news and get a bad one. Unexpected happenings create paradox. Jerky movements in life create paradoxical situations and I as a writer am aware of these when I write. An Unidentified Person and Of Frederick Nietzsche’s Superfluous People are two of the poems where I have consciously or unconsciously dealt with paradoxes or paradoxical situations. In parties I normally notice a lot of such paradoxes. And ultimately, you will agree, paradoxes also create literature.

18.Poetry as a play on and with words. But also daily reality relies on words many times uttered without the necessary thinking process needed especially in a world where pluralism in the media dominates. What does Srivastava think about this?

A: Poetry fuses ideas with words. It is ultimate manifestation of unison for any writer. Poetry is one of the highest forms of literature. It soothes poets and readers.

19.Srivastava describes history as anarchy. Why is this? Is there an alternative to such anarchy?

A: Many writers find anarchy in historical movements. For me too, there are historical absurdities leading to anarchy. World peace and world community are things poets aspire for through their poetic creations. I am with such poets.

20.At times your poetry is hermetic, cryptic; on other occasions it is crystal clear, sharp, direct. Who is the ideal reader of Srivastava’s verse?

A: Readership normally does not bother me much. Nor marketability of my books. I am a writer, if I am permitted to say so, and not a businessman. Serious poetry I write and am happy that there are serious persons like you across the globe who read such poetry. A writer must never think of his target group. Literature paves the way for itself. It seeks out it’s way-sometimes smooth, sometimes rough and fluctuating. I believe in letting my books go the way time desires them to go.

A critical comment on INELUCTABLE STILLNESS: By Patrck Sammut

Why Ineluctable Stillness? Does the title of this collection of poems refer to the place from where the poet Srivastava observes the world’s spectacle and writes his poetry? A place where everything is still except what is happing in the mind? Or does it refer to daily routine which is always the same and thus unmoving in all its superficial movement? These are the questions which came to my mind after reading the present collection of Indian poet K.K. Srivastava. He is the one who manages to jump out of humankind’s never-ending race and watch the others from outside. In this privileged position (but also a painful situation) he reflects, uncovers what is always around us but unseen by us mortals, and finally reaches rest (or stillness?) through the creation of words. He writes while in trance or semi-trance, thus being capable to see our reality from “the other side” or from above. In such a situation Srivastava poet and human being manages to experience dimensions which are inhabited by other beings, some divine, others sensual or devilish. In these moments Srivastava transcends all physical dimensions and becomes a voice which is nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It is a voice which reflects continuously, faces different threats, emotions, experiences and enigmas. All this happens during the voyage of self-discovery while Srivastava reacts to both external and internal stimuli.
At times his poetry takes the form of a thousand year old tale which may have its origins before the creation of mankind. During his search the poet encounters numerous presences which may belong to our known world or to unknown worlds such as that of dreams, thus delving in dreamlike spaces or dimensions. While captured or navigating in his dreams Srivastava manages to pass numerous doorways which take him to a multitude of levels which go deeper and deeper in his subconscious, thus giving shape and meaning to distortions. Thus imagery is many times surreal to reach special effects.
Moments of tension, tyranny, terror, chaos and frightening sounds alternate with others of calm, silence, and benevolence. The latter are moments when Srivastava is one with infinity. In A Citadel of Arguments the poet writes about arguments and stretches the theme till he reaches the grotesque and the farcical. Here Srivastava writes in detail about today’s renewal of “obsolete ignorance”, “inverted intellectual dimensions”, “illusory wisdom” and “the triumph of folly over arguments”. The numerous repetitions in Saturday Dinner Party convey the monotony and artificiality (“It is a party, attended by men,/ With womanly qualities./ And women,/ With inhumanly qualities.”) of such upper middle class occasions. The poet observes from a distance and analyses with clinical detail every move, feeling, vice or virtue, and behaviour of humankind with cutting edge irony. Srivastava is the observer who describes in front of the world-stage where human beings (the social classes which live in comfort) are actors acting artificially. Other human beings (such as the old sick beggar and his bitch in Renewed Bonds) in their physical misery act only human but are more natural and happy than the rest.
Srivastava’s poetry is loaded with symbols with the help of which the poet tries to find meanings regarding the real world (also “the meaning within” as in A Citadel of Arguments), for sure not a simple one but one very complex and paradoxical. The reader asks which is the simpler of these two: the real world or that of dreams - the latter made of mythical, even ethereal presences – where all presences and images have a meaning? This enigma creates a lot of pain in the poet. Srivastava’s verse sheds light on the “utter folly of ultimate unrealities of human existence” (An Unidentified Person), and this is possible also through continuous dialogue between the poet’s unconscious and subconscious. During his voyage Srivastava poses innumerable questions, even though answers are not available. Two important questions posed by Srivastava are, “could I get in dream what I lost in reality?” and “Could you get in reality what you have not seen in a dream?” (Discontented Dreams). Words and their manipulation are infinite. Does this create more chaos or introduces order to our world of unanswered questions?
Srivastava’s poetry utilises also prose rhythms. From the perspective of linguistic registers Srivastava draws from politics and economics. A big part of his rhythm in poetry is made up of assonances, alliterations, play on words such as paradoxes, oxymoron, chiasms, and various repetitions, all placed in its proper place. He uses direct discourse, while long lists of adjectives strengthen the descriptive dimension. Some backgrounds are reminiscences of Dante’s Inferno or Paradiso.
Through language – which in Srivastava’s hand is fluent, flowing and flexible, but also beautiful, sensuous, provoking – he makes the reader feel what he cannot feel thanks to routine and the weight or distraction of daily and monotonous chores. Words are like soft clay in the hands of the poet, ready to take any form, sound or meaning he wishes. Adjectives, nouns and verbs are three pillars on which Srivastava make his poetry stand. Description and the surreal, solid reality and action (within and without, positive and negative) are behind all this.

PATRICK SAMMUT lives in Malta, is Vice-President of Maltese Poetry Society and a prolific writer.

This interview originally appeared in

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