"In Harness"--A Scholarly Appreciation
Before critiquing In Harness, the poetry anthology of A, N. Nanda, I would wish to expose myself neither as an honest broker nor a window-shopper of his poetry having certain fixed notions who is supposed to build a bridge between him and his readers. Rather I am an inexpensive reader who has secretly been turned amorous towards his muse and curves of harness.
Nanda, a bureaucrat having a multidimensional academic career, a short story writer, discovers his urge for poetry that features his true vocation and way of life, assuming a continuous flow and an integral part of life. Poetry is elusive for him but writing a poem is comparatively easy. His poems are related to one another forming an organic whole. His verses pose him pre-occupied, conscious, engaged, involved and extremely cautious and the last appears as a breach in his spontaneity and fluidity. The poet is still evolving, his poetry is in ascendance and the best is yet to be upheld.
In Harness brings out his fine sense of structure, a thematic evolution step by step and progression from start to finish. The poet assumes a double aspect as he moves between two extremes- the introspective contemplative and the outward active. Nanda’s poetry is based on conflict and contrast of opposites and he tries his best to reconcile the opposites. This anthology also brings out his psychological interests, and his unusual gift of sketching individual portraits. From sketching the portraits of others, he again and again returns to his own self.
In Harness has immense variety, it shows a widening of the poet’s interests, and organization of material, the craftsmanship, is much superior. A number of influences from native and abroad have gone into shaping of these poems. Nanda has not yet found his authentic voice; echoes from other poets are too many, though they might have crept in unconsciously.
The poet is not over-ambitious; his objectives are modest. Nanda is a poet of human relationships, and writes poems which might be useful in the ‘common hour.’ Human relationship has remained his chief concern throughout this anthology. In Harness shows Nanda’s gift of verbal portraiture at its best. He brings a person alive through the use of ordinary and commonplace words, and often the conclusion is ironical.
Nanda is a poet of the body; and an explorer of the labyrinths of the minds, the devious delving and twisting of the ego, and the ceaseless attempt of man and poet to define himself, to find through all the myth and maze a way to honesty and love. The poet sounds impulsive, intuitive, contemplative and gratified. His poems are a healthy release of his choked passions. His compositions show him being inspired from within, avoiding the inanity and stuffedness. Nanda’s poetry is not all inspiration; it is also a difficult craft, mastered with trying and painstaking efforts. His poems are written with metrical accuracy and hunting rhythms, displaying a fine structural unity and organization.
The poet favours an integrated personality, a perfect fusion of body, mind and heart. There is a fine incantatory refrain that lingers long in the memory, as also a perfect integration of verse-movement and theme.
This anthology is remarkable for its fusion of sound and sense. Nanda, as a mature poet, finds his art demanding again and again that he synthesises certain powerful and apparently opposite forces within himself. In Nanda, the synthesis, which continually had to be made, is that between the ever-abstracting intellect and the concrete irreducible experience of the senses in which, if there is not the comfort of symmetry and system, there is substance of life itself. If the lift of the senses confronts us with the constant spectre of incompleteness, it also opens to us the doors of endless discovery, balancing the climax of consummation against the abyss of what lies beyond. The age-old conflict between mind and heart could not have been better presented.
It is not always that Nanda succeeds in handling the ordinary. His failure is due to several reasons. Primarily it is the lack of urgency of feeling. For pressure of experience is the essential condition for perceiving significance in the ordinary, which paradoxically makes an extraordinariness. There are instances when the tension of growth is lacking. We find in many poems the impending chatter, which leads to journalese…too frequent and repeated stress that results in certain triviality and banality which could have been easily avoided. But there is the deepening of psychological insights and widening of interests, as well as a fuller command on language and versification.
It shows the poet has acquired a certain perfection, and there is much greater metrical skill and music and melody. The slow incantatory music leaves a permanent impress on the mind. The anthology is the poet’s affirmation of life, his everlasting “Yea to life”.
The social themes with its ugliness, neurosis, loneliness and frustration are realistically and intimately rendered in the poems. The poet had himself experienced that life and so his rendering of it is characterised by authenticity and immediacy of appeal. The poet seems to have developed greater tolerance and accept these notions of the society in a spirit of calm resignation. In cases Nanda seems to be nursing his own despair and frustrations though it is clear that there is no question of the intense self-lacerating despair of Baudelairs’s Exam de Minuit but rather of a courteous, self-deprecatory uneasiness. Nanda has considerable sympathy for his well-intentioned persona. The poet is very much scrutinising, never employs a projected self to engage in a dialogue.
In Harness is an inspired work and the poet achieves a laconic precision in which every word drops casually into place, yet fits perfectly into a strict scheme of rhyme and metre. There is the strong virtuosity and technical brilliance and we find the same deft precision, the same mastery of a colloquial idiom, the personifications and generalised efforts, the stock phrases in new contexts, the juxtaposition of the commonplace and the erudite, the same compactness and startling appropriateness.
Nanda seeks poetry in the ordinariness of most events. He sometimes gets tedious and trivial. Most of his poems reveal new insights and newer capabilities. His interest in the human relationships and human situation continues, and in the process of universalising and idealising, he tries to elevate the commonplace and raise the prosaic to the poetic through his controlled and disciplined treatment and succeeds substantially. Telling details and conflicting incidents provide tensions, suspense, and a hectic drama, ill showing the hand of a skilled poet.
The same human concern and the same exaltation of the trivial is screened in consecutive sequences, and Nanda’s ability of making poetry is indeed immense, he gradually attains his authentic voice, and this gives new strength to his poetry. In Harness also canvases the poet’s simplicity without affectation or artificiality and the stress is laid effectively and intentionally to end all pretensions and affections. This volume also shows the poet’s interest in the difficult, the obtruse and the complex in thought. The poet does not avoid the profundity of philosophy and treats the complex in an intricate process. It exposes the poet’s love for metaphysics and the cold lucidity of logic, but ultimately poetry is exalted over logic and philosophy. The world of cold abstractions is rejected and the warmth of human relationships preferred, and the denial of natural human instincts and impulses is mocked at.
Through a clever association of ideas, the poet shows that good poetry is also a process of long waiting like lovemaking. Nanda waits and watches for the right moment of inspiration and the right word like the lover and his beloved. He speaks only when his spirit moves, when he is really inspired.
In Harness is remarkable in many ways, but it, too, has its faults, stressed by too much occurrences, unsuccessful avoidance of woolly terminologies, doctored words and phrases and being swallowed up by the poetic fallacies.
Nanda’s poetic device is some form of linguistic embroidery such as nonsense syllables, radical diction, wide-ranging analogies and ambiguous figures of speech. In fact, his verbal ingenuity is more often a stumbling block. Poetry does not consist merely in exhibiting one’s linguistic skills, or in sedulously aping popular imagist patterns or informal craftsmanship without the shudder of genuine feeling. Perhaps Nanda is conscious of his own insufficiency.
Here, a victim of impulses and indecisions, the poet’s worst oppressor is his own self and yet this oppressing self is also the source of his poetry. The poet struggles to control the hamlet-streak in his personality, which has a penchant for ruminating on all-inclusive solutions to life’s varied problems. He yearns to identify the dilemma and work for its resolutions. There is the alienation from the pressures and tensions of immediate experience committing an inadequate feeling. There is multiplicity, apparent diversities and contradictions, resolved later on. Nanda is a very Indian poet also seen in problem. There are too frequent descents into banality and triviality that could have been avoided by careful and painstaking revisions and excisions.
The recent verse shows that the poet is a man varied tastes and preoccupations. Indeed he has too many irons in the fire, has little time left for poetry but there is no decline in standards. A study of his poetry reveals his gradual evolution and gaining in depth and intensity with each successive poem. The poet is frank and his criticism and rejection in guise are not superficial and unjust. But constantly there is the urge to transcend and rise. Remain therefore an unattainable aspiration, absorption, true commitment and invariable effort. The poet is completely bare with a transparent veil to see through. His poems are pregnant, affluent, visual and suggestive with a kind of rare perception. The imageries, devised are vivid, graphic and kaleidoscopic. The images swarming in succession engage the attention of the reader till a completion emerges.
Nanda’s poems are very much accommodative, compatible, attributive, disseminative and transmittable. There are also cravings, disillusionment and hollowness. But one thing is clear that the poet is gentle and cautious but lacks the guts to express his sensibility, honestly and sincerely, without any reserve or inhibition. But no critic can claim that Nanda’s poetry is sterile, impotent and not vital. In Harness has such an intensity and urgency, enough to cast a spell on the readers. It is conventionally unconventional, ebullient and impetuous.
In Harness is acutely alive to the readers, skillfully shaped, conditioned and conveyed.
(Dr. Soubhagya Pathy, Avanti, E-49/1386, Phase.II Bhimatangi, Bhubaneswar-751002, Tel.+91 674 2590212/2592895 E mail:firstname.lastname@example.org)
Labels: Book Review