Finally the paper on me by Zeenath Ibrahim published in Singularities pp79-89. The best poets call forth the best critics and I am not surprised that destiny made her write the first paper on me - I could not have wished for a better study, one I know will be a landmark. The poet or creator is only as great as his readers make him and I am blesed to have been granted such a fine reader. Thanks Dr Zeenath, Arundhati Roy scholar, for this. The full text is given below for all of you to read and enjoy. All copyright reverts to the author and the text can only be shared with due acknoweldgements to magazine and author. Thanks to Reena Prasad for technical or technological help. Forgive the spacing mistakes, if any, they are mine made in copying and pasting. http://www.singularities.in/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/journal-pdf.pdf
The Dialectics of Being and Belonging:
An Analysis of Ampat Koshy’s Poems
Dr. Zeenath Mohamed Kunhi
Centre of Research and Advanced Studies in English
Farook College, Calicut, Kerala
The literary world of the twentieth century saw a revolutionary rise in fiction-writing, sidelining poetry, the once acclaimed genre. However, with the onset of the new millennium and the phenomenal spread and popularity of social networking sites, poetry writing and reading has gained renewed impetus. This one-time ‘endangered species’ which was limited to the syllabi of schools, colleges, universities, and probably to the few die-hard fans of poetry has found a productive platform on cyberspace, reclaiming its fading glory. A number of poets have stamped their marks, with a repertoire of excellent poetry in the rising number of online poetry groups and literary hubs. Such groups also stand witness to some mediocre stuff, but, what remains significant is that poetry is now read, enjoyed and critiqued like never before.
One of the most prominent poetic voices acclaimed and acknowledged by academicians,writers and laymen alike is Dr. Ampat Koshy, an Indian writer in English. He is one contemporary writer who has carved a niche for himself in the literary world of networking sites with his prolific outpouring of poetry and a commendable collection of prose works. His published collections of poetry include Soul Resuscitation and 2 Phases 50 Poems. His book A Treatise on Poetry for Beginners (now Art of Poetry) as the name suggests is a delightful discourse on the nuances of verses and verse-writing, and was chosen by Butterfly and the Bee as one of the best reads in India in 2012. His monograph of essays called Wrighteings: In Media Res and his doctoral thesis Beckett’s English Poetry: Transcending the Roots of Resistance in Language, both published works are proof enough of his astounding scholarship and erudition. A short story collection awaits publication by Lifi and his poem “A Shayira of Sorts” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for Poetry for 2012. His poems have also found prominence in many poetry journals, magazines, e-zines and anthologies in different parts of the world like USA, UK, Canada and India. He regularly contributes to The Camel Saloon where three of his poems have become editor’s picks, including “Africa” and “Hurt”. He is presently teaching English Language and Literature in Faculty of Arts, Jazan University, Saudi Arabia as an Assistant Professor. A versatile genius, he dabbles in art, music and literary criticism as well.
Writing is the quintessence of his existence and this passion for writing is well
articulated when he states: “I write, therefore I am. When I am no more, I won’t write anymore, of course, but when I stop writing, even if I am, I am no more” (terrestrian). Though he has experimented with various genres and has excelled in probably all of them, it is his poetry that has attracted a wider readership.
His verses are marked by a rare elegance that results from a blend of unmatched scholarship and eloquent simplicity. The poetic themes are variegated and are the products of a highly complex personality. His poetry also showcases experimentation in form and structure. Most of his poems deal with love, family, death, alienation, existential angst, meta-poetry and social issues. But mostly it is about a ‘quest’ for something: probably a quest forthe self, a search for wholeness, an insatiable desire for perfection both in art and life or an attempt to relocate his roots through memories from the past that probably provide him anchorage in foreign lands despite his rootless identity. The most intense of his verses spring mostly from his solitary life abroad, far from family and friends. This partly self-imposed exile and its ramifications find expression in most poems of Dr. Koshy.
The title and the opening line of the poem “I do not know what I seek” speaks volumes of his sense of nostalgia and his passionate yearning to be with his loved ones so as to add meaning to his exile:
I do not know what I seek.
In the midst of my island
This spreading pool of loneliness
engulfing every green thing
on this auspicious day,
overflowing its borders.
His sense of longing is triggered by his inability to belong and the resultant attempt to find meaning in a converging experience defines his sense of being. The overflowing ‘pool of loneliness’ and its consumption of ‘every green thing’ evokes in the readers poignant images of seclusion and emptiness. The image of the lone rock jutting out like an ugly tooth emphasizes the dilemma of the diaspora on alien shores. The recurring images of nostalgia and dislocation
that reverberate through his poetry are also indications of his ambivalent identity. Again, the poet’s attempts to escape or seek respite in fleeting ties are actually thwarted by his firm bonds of permanence that form the basis of his essence:
The fish too escape.
Only a lone rock remains
jutting out like an ugly tooth
splashed by black waves
in the dying rays of the setting sun.
It’s another love I spay.
The poet’s identity is marked by his multicultural exposure. The series of poems
published in Brian Wrixon’s anthology Tripping on Words: a Literary Atlas” is a mosaic of his variegated experiences that lie scattered over differing points in the space schema. The long poem is an attempt to recreate meaning out of a disjointed, disintegrated and dilemmatic life and personality. Each poem acts as a fragment of a coherent whole and at the same time exhibits an identity of its own. This poetry of assimilation is an exercise in the process of acculturation, integration and identity formation.
The section “Trivandrum” takes the readers to the by-lanes and alleys of his childhood and adolescence. Memories of immaculate nature and a non-corrupt world remain etched in his “mnemonic memory’s cartography” (ToW 112). A world of smells and tastes haunts the poet who is still on the lookout for “the elusive answer” to a question that he never framed, that has none.
The section “India” (ibid. 113) is the product of his indisputable love for his homeland – ‘Kafka’s father,’ as he states. The ambivalent attitude that he displays in the poem is the objective outcome of his deep love that comes from an insider viewing his world with an outsider’s lens.
The reference to Kafka is also an exercise in intertextuality, probably indicating the poet’s quest for the Kafkaesque womb!
“Bangalore” (ibid. 112-113) for him does not offer the idyllic charm of the Trivandrum mapped in his memories. It is only a world marked by disparities where the poet enjoys watching and critiquing the “rich lap up luxuries,” though he admits that he too was at times lured by the glitz and glamour of the ‘jaded metropolis’, when he states: “at such times/ you were the lover/ Iwanted/ to rape/ surreptitiously.”
“Jeddah” (ibid. 113-114) recounts the love-hate relationship with the royal port city. The ambivalence is marked probably by the ordeals of his professional life there and the brief hiatus of measured happiness in the company of his family and friends.
“Al Khums” (ibid. 114) is a poem about Libya where the poet calls to mind his dear and near ones even in moments of extreme happiness, anticipating them to partake in his joy in absentia.
Stuart Hall points out in his essay “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” that cultural identity in the diasporic existence “undergoes constant transformation” (435). Consciously or unconsciously the poet’s self too undergoes constant transformations, and that is probably the reason why the poet appears more composed and stoic in the section on Jazan. Perhaps the theme of longing here harps on the desire for change and movement. The eponymous city Jazan provides him with more hope:
…maybe you will be
in Arabia Asia,
you let me wander your crevices
the why yet to be revealed
amidst your minarets and muezzin calls
as if I’m waiting for my Damascus
The last line of his poem “Hope” from Soul Resuscitation sums it all up: “Hope is what we live on.” These different fractions of poems fit in like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, framing the ‘whole’ of the poetic persona where the joints bear reserves of some elusive meaning. The series both in texture and structure reflect the fragmented self and its attempt to attain completeness through unification or the multiples selves that seek to converge into a single purpose of existence. The scattered presences of the ‘self’ without belonging to any particular place interrogate his sense of being. It is striking to note that his idea of being and becoming is rooted in the quest for meaning underlying the very fluid nature of his existence where the only waterfront seems to be love and duty. These fractions also assert the poet’s liminality as a diaspora and his endeavour to assimilate his present and past; his host and home; the conscious and the unconscious and his self and the other. It is in these liminal spaces that the poet undergoes the individuation process of self-realization, i.e, “the process of strengthening,
differentiation and assimilation (integration) into consciousness of the various non-egoic parts of the psyche…” (Fiumara 178). The unified structure of this poetic montage is also a metaphoric assertion of the fact that “Individuation begins with a withdrawal from normal modes of socialization, epitomized by the breakdown of the persona...liminality”(207)..
The cultural plurality of his homeland reflects in the expansive use of his language and expresses itself in the sublime and grotesque array of words. The poem peppered with abuses strongly underlines his frustration and inability to coerce with the new cultural ethos.
Simultaneously a part of him is sensitive to the changes and makes a constant effort to fit in.
Self-imposed or not, displacement does act as a stimulant to Koshy, as some of his best verses spring from his diasporic sensibilities.
The lines from the poem “Birds” again emphasize the intensity of the poet’s sense of nostalgia and grief at the thought of his separation from his beloved ones:
I never knew the face of death
has lips one longs to kiss
give death a miss!
next year die of surfeit never stop
even an instant to think
of how those faces that face
you lost are tearing you up
The reader may be taken in to believe that the poet actually seeks to forget those bonds from which he finds no escape by indulging in the ‘cup’ of copiousness. But it is again his ‘childhood dreams,’ the ‘blue sky’ and ‘white clouds’ that he seeks solace in. A deep sense of his death marks his poetry and the poet in fact tries to brace up his ties by embracing his pain and anguish that keep his dreams and memories animated: “sleep and dream/ and mayhap find peace.” The poem redirects us to childhood memories and questions of being that the poet is now conscious of and inspired by.
“(After Rilke): An Explanation” the first poem by Koshy in Soul Resuscitation is one of his best and as the connection to the German poet implies, is a fine exercise in “impassioned monologue.” The obvious take off is Rilke’s first Duino elegy which takes Koshy’s theme of alienation and isolation to existential dimensions, attempting to make occasional penetrations into the phenomenon of existence. The poem which abounds in symbolisms and allusions is characterized by an ontological chase creating meaning out of residues nonentities.
In the poem, memory and past images accentuate the poet’s solitude and it is his sensitive consciousness that compels him to seek answers to his existential dilemma. His philosophy of living is rooted in love and faith and this forms the essence of his being:
you are that being
each atom beyond grasp
unexpected sweetness pierces him
when he passes a window
and hears them play “in summertime”
The allusions to Bob Dylan’s “Covenant Woman” and “In the Summertime,” in fact,
unveils man’s desperation to achieve anchorage through the sublimity of love which he often feels eludes him. The mystery and elusiveness of love is as obscure as the phenomenon of existence itself. The oxymoron “murderously sweet” reminds one of Yeats’ “terrible beauty” which again is highly eloquent in Rilke’s line from his first elegy- “beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.” Love for the poet does not rest in the magnetism of physical forms of
elegance but is something transcendental, a sublime entity that may even find expression in little acts of kindness and unstinting commitment to causes as the men in Yeats’ poem. It is through this medium that he aims to find answers to his ontological quest and connect to the Unknown.
On an autobiographical note, it could be argued that the poet’s self- imposed exile which may partly be pecuniary in disposition, something not driven wholly out of materialistic ambitions, and as the introduction to 2 poets 50 poems suggests, is something nobler: “His greatest desire is to build a village for people having autism where all their needs are met. He runs an NGO called “Autism for Help Village Project” with his wife for this dream to come true.” The poetic persona waits for the Lord to “rebuild” him and “fill him up” so as to save him from the vacuity of a purposeless life. The line separating his becoming and being seems to grow fainter at times. The idea is elaborated in the poem “When I consider how my life is spent” from the anthology 2 Phases 50 Poems:
I beat my wings against a pane of glass
behind it the light that would kill me off
this is living death. I neither die nor live
only one thing is clear. there is nothing called love.
To begin with, the pun on the word ‘spent’ is striking and antithetical. The idea of spending one’s life points directly to questions of ontology and the meaning of spent when taken as ‘wastes away’ reflects on the possibilities of damnation. The paradoxical nature of existence is conveyed by the clever play on words.
Again, in the poem “(After Rilke): An Explanation” physical beauty is merely transient and lacks essence as the hair that “false/falls across your face,” just a symbol of terror that points to the pseudo existence that mankind generally indulges in. The war images of “a cobbled street full of dead bodies” and the “small white wild flowers” littering the street take the readers to world of futility and terror. Man is obsessed with self-love and such narcissistic tendencies propel him to revel in a sense of false security, which eventually culminates in his own destruction –both physical and spiritual:
it only wants security to establish what one calls love
this is the secret
fear rules the city and her
and me and him (After Rilke)
Death and destruction leave man with residues of meaning to rebuild and reform his sense of being. The poet, probably see in ‘nothingness’ and ‘void’ the rationale of reformation that may carry one to the metaphysical realms of purpose and being. But man is yet to come to
terms with the essence of his existence and penetrate into the secret of eternal happiness:
the little robin red-breast sings outside her wings
each and every atom of hers
is still beyond his reach (After Rilke)
The speaking persona, unable to comprehend the selfless song of the robin red-breast
cries out in existential angst:
why do you love when such terror inhabits the world
that horrify us with their longevity? (After Rilke)
The bird is reminiscent of Hardy’s “Darkling Thrush” with its “full-hearted evensong/
Of joy illimited.” For both the birds, hope in humanity and love forms the basis of their living.
The resilience of the birds, not altered by corrupt thoughts is contrasted with the “crumbling” humanity which disintegrates into a state of nothingness. Koshy demeans human life and diagnoses the limitations of mankind by the contradictory images of the selfless bird and self-obsessed man. The references to Kahlo and Diego implicate the ‘false’ notions of love as perceived by the ordinary. Kahlo’s liaisons with Josephine Baker (Hubpages) and Diego’s infamous and incestuous relationship with Kahlo’s sister Christina (Fridakahlo fans) reinforces
the images of Eliot’s moral wasteland where love is mechanical, vacant and transient. Man’s inability to find real love, to move beyond superficial sexual gratification and his obsession with momentary indulgences are congruous to the dissolution of his very essence, his purpose of life and his sense of being. The ethical degradation and moral decay prevent man from attaining
ubermensch or ‘superman’ status. Violence, war and power are all consequences of man’s self-oriented objectives that further belittle his existence, forcing him to degenerate from nothingness to nothing:
outcast other killed forever voices stilled
gone under the earth forever
will mine too?
In addition to the theme of existential angst, this poem can also be taken to be an artist’s hunt for meanings, his/her attempts to trap “abstractions” in the permanence of his/her art and his/her urge to be heard. The bird mentioned earlier is as mortal as the speaking persona but it is its song that becomes the insignia of its essence and permanence. Perhaps the poet’s intentions in alluding to Kahlo are manifold. As writing is living for Koshy, painting was Kahlo’s essence. She states: “…I am happy to be alive as long as I paint” and “The only thing I know … is that I paint because I need to” (Fridakahlo fans). The act of painting and writing can be translated as the essential media for achieving what is ‘beyond their reach’ (After Rilke).
The poem “Son and father” is yet another poem that borders on the quest for ideal love.
The poem set in a conversational mode begins with a question posed by the father: “why does your heart ache, my son?” The failure of the son to meet his soul mate is deftly drawn in the son’s answer:
I longed to meet someone
in the journey who’d make me blossom
and someone I’d do the same for
I still haven’t come across such a one.
The title is fraught with biblical connotations and definitely, on a more sublime level deals with the discord and disparity that mankind is doomed to be in. The mistrust, guile, deceit and treachery behind the crucifixion, now operate at a wider level and the poem ends on a note of dystopia. The same theme is extended in his poem “Nirbhaya” but his philosophy of life rooted in Christian existentialism is more hopeful of the consequences:
then what a good thing
heaven and hell are separate
and a great gulf is fixed in between
His poem“Yekaterina: A Russian folk story retold in verse,” at the outset, comes across as
the poetic adaptation of a simple Russian folklore. The poem recounts the tale of a poor girl who was alienated by her step parents and given asylum by the moon. The moon which acts as a saviour in this poem is shorn of its mask in the sequel poem “the girl in the moon.” The ‘moon’ here functions as the metaphoric representation of the illusory gleam offered by his life abroad:
till later her laughter
by the orange
of a rising sun, changed to sorrow
Loveless reality on alien shores dawns on the persona as the ‘moon’ finally melts away “hiding
in the sky’s forests.” Even though he finds respite in divine faith, it is not done at the sacrifice of his worldly duties. It is love, duty and conscientiousness that form the core of his existence. As he sings in the poem “O Rumi”:
intoxication with the divine
is not the only way
the way of the senses
is not the only one
It not sensual love either, but a love of a higher order, borne out his sense of trust and responsibility that opens the “unending vistas / of Keen Delight.”
The poem “Hunger” is powerfully intense in its portrayal of the poet’s sense of exile and solitude. The reference to Marcel is noteworthy, especially in the context of this study. The allusion to the Christian existentialist and philosopher is obvious. “What defines man are his
exigencies” claims Marcel (34) and the poems of Koshy as portrayed are the products of his ontological exigencies. If the first name is to be considered, the ‘Marcel’ in question may be a reference to the French novelist and critic Marcel Proust. This leads one to the intertextual conclusion that the indication may be to his famous work In Search of Lost Time (previously translated as Remembrance of Things Past) which recapitulates certain past events as an attempt to anchor on to memories, which, again is a recurrent theme in Koshy’s poems.
The process of ‘rememoration’ found in many of his poems often functions as an antidote to his sense of isolation and aids in his strong urge for belonging. It is in his sense of belonging that he finds meaning. In addition to his endeavour to accommodate change and movement, he also makes an attempt to come to terms with his hybrid sensibilities – postmodern, diasporic,
Indian and sometimes even feminist. Milton Singer had remarked about A.K. Ramanujam’s poems as having “double self” composed with the components of Eastern and Western epistemologies (Singer xiii), but Koshy’s poetry points to the “multiple selves” that compose a complex personality. In spite of his sense of diaspora, it is not the physical places that matter to him but the “Real Spaces of the Mind” (ToW 114) where “places become driftwood” and residual experiences shape his being. “I did not find you in mandir or masjid” (2 Phases 30) is yet another poem that explores the inconsequentiality of physical spaces.
While most of his poems are retrospective in nature, the poem “Heart” is introspective and reflects on the desertion within. While his physical form experiences a floating existence, it is his heart that chains him to a ‘shape’ and this probably alludes to his love, his roots, his past, his God, his ideals or even his ideology. The ambivalence reflected in the line “I hate you for
chaining me to a shape” echoes his heightened sense of existential angst. The dialectic of being and belonging is seen to run through most of his poems, sometimes explicit and at times implicitly woven.
Koshy’s is a voice resonant with the anguish of living and loving. In an interview to
Copyleftwebjournal he states : “I bleed red tears on to paper, mainly, and they become words
and birds and fly away.” The flight of his imagination and poetry is triggered by the politics of his identity, pain of separation and the recurring memories of a past that provide leverage to a conflicting present. It also marks a consciousness that is in constant struggle with the self and the external world where he tries to spin meaning out of the ensuing pain, anguish and dilemma.
The adroit use of arresting allusions and images also points to the multi-layered nature of his verses and the possibility for further exploration of themes and forms. Borrowing the words of another noted poet and author of Ekalavya Prathap Kamath, it can also be said that Koshy’s works are “the products of a mind that is restless and vibrant, with a micro-fine sensibility, down to earth humility despite its mind boggling scholarship and an eye that sees a detail always left unnoticed by others.” He is definitely a distinctive and potent voice in the sprawling FB literaryscape. His postmodern sensibilities, adept use of English language, ever expanding intellect and sensitive approach to life put him across as a writer of extraordinary calibre.
Fiumara, Romana. “The Psychology of the Individuation Process and Group Analysis: The Role
of ‘Pronominalism’.” Group Analysis, 22(2), 1989. 177 – 187. doi:
10.1177/0533316489222007 . Web.
Kahlo, Frida. Qtd. Fridakahlo fans. 1 Jan. 2008. Web. 5 Oct. 2013.
Hall, Stuart. 2006. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” The Postcolonial
Studies Reader. Ed. Bill Asheroft, Gereth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. 2nd ed.
London: Routledge. 435-438. Print.
Homans, Peter. Jung in Context: Modernity and the Making of a Psychology. Chicago:
University of Chicago, 1979. Print.
Koshy, Ampat. The Camel Saloon. 3 May 2010. Web. 20 Sept. 2013.
. Copyleftwebjournal. Archive of Alasdupur. 7 Sept. 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013.
. Slideshare. Terrestrian. n.d. Web. 25 Sept 2013.
. “Tripping on Words: A Literary Atlas. Ed. Brian Wrixon, et al. Brian Wrixon Books,
Koshy, Ampat and Gangane, Gorakhnath. 2 Phases 50 Poems. Ontario, Canada: Brian Wrixon
Marcel, Gabriel. Tragic Wisdom and Beyond. Trans. by Stephen Jolin and Peter McCormick.
Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973. Print.
Meredith, Angel and Koshy, Ampat V. Soul Resuscitation: A Poetic Journey. UK:
Destiny to Write Publications, 2013. Print.
Nicole, Corinna. http://lifeofanartist.hubpages.com/hub/When-Frida-Kahlo-Set-Her-Eyes-on-
Rilke, Raina Maria. http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/rainer-mariarilke/elegy-i/
Singer, Milton B. “Introduction: Two Tributes to A.K. Ramanujan 1.”