Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A poet and a friend

One function of the poet at any time is to discover by his own thought and feeling what seems to him to be poetry at that time. — Wallace Stevens

I am not a poet. And, if one agrees with a poet's function as Stevens puts it, I am certainly not one. But then recently I have this urge to engage with poetry. Not read poetry but engage with it and of course that includes reading of poems. I wonder what is behind this urge. Perhaps it is a thought of a poet friend who has long left writing poetry and who now is moving out of this city. But as he shifts base, I sense the poet returning, or rather reawakening, in him. He feels it too and the other day we did talk, perhaps for the first time in thirteen years, at some length about his poetic self. And that poetic self is perhaps—I have my fingers crossed—becoming prominent once more. He is non-commital about being a writer of poems again. Even if it is so, I suspect that there will be a dash of the poetic in most things he does. Joel David published his first collection of poems, The Bowl of Silence, with the Writers Workshop in 1991. It is a slender volume of nineteen poems. Talking to him I realize how seriously he once persued the art and craft of poetry. He is an image of the poet Stevens had in his mind when he wrote that sentence quoted in the beginning. Stevens, as a matter of fact, is (was?)one of Joel's favourite poets. As an undergraduate commerce student in Baring Union Christian College, Batala, Punjab, Joel once gave a three-hour long lecture on poetry of Wallace Stevens to the postgraduate students of literature. In the recent conversation I had with him he spoke enthusiastically about his keen interest in the technique of poem and how he thought that one poem creates its own world beyond all theories about what poetry is. He is not preoccupied with that at the moment. But there's something else poets need. To be in touch with their inner selves. And Joel is lingering there. In solitude. That's the beginning of poetry anyway. The first poem in his collection gives the anthology its title and goes like this:


Where is the bowl of silence now
the one we dipped into so often, and emerged
with a sudden face brought up, upturned and lit,
speaking new words, words spoken, spent and born again:
food and drink you know not of.

When we but lisped, did we say and did we hear,
did voices come to us from flaming bushes?
Or, caught in the rush of words, did our stumbling tongues
pick and choose wrong ropes and tangles: did we know
food and drink the world knows not of?

To be born and be moulded—did we ask
for crafted lives, manufactured ideals—were we cast
in bronze—did we search our minds, sound our depths?
Now, floundering, blind in the floodlit blaze, do we eat
food and drink we know not of?

What of our souls, when in the troubled midnight watch
something rises like mist, clings and softly curls?
Invisible, barely felt, the hand of someone touches me.
Who comes? A gentle spirit longing for home, bringing
food and drink I know not of?

© Joel V. David