QUOTES FROM MY PREFACES AND INTERVIEWS

ON THE ART OF POETRY WRITING

 

 


*I believe that the language of  poetry is  more compact,  energetic,   of greater intensity and emotional depth than the language of prose is and it  has  no room  for clichés and  unnecessary words.  Poetry  is   a  villa of glorious shape  where every   brick that is chiselled  in a unique way belongs  to its   exact spot.  Like other arts, poetry needs revisions for perfection and there is  more than one way to do that. Poets are professional  workers who keep polishing the tools of their trade.

 

The  tools  of an artist  keep  changing  while zigzagging down a labyrinth of  experiences. When it is said  that artists are  born with talent, this implies  to me that  they have a natural aptitude for particular skills. These aptitudes or talents  are  rough diamonds to be chiselled and polished to become hard, bright, precious and flawless gems.  Writing is a profession and the skills of every  profession need  to be  improved with hard work, patience and study. Constant revisions  were a way of  life of the masters, including  Dylan Thomas,  Nobel Laureate W.B. Yeats and  a host  of other poets. Artists strive to touch the highest pinnacle of  perfection, but perfection is confined  to Divine Being Who is the Creator of  the inheritors of  His spark of  creativity.  Prominence  is the result of years of labour in obscurity to find a market and an audience.

 

There is  no doubt that excellent poems  have been written also in the first sitting, even under the extreme of haste. As a rule,   revisions produce more satisfying results. …

 

For their  creations, poets use words as rocks.  History has proved it again and over again that words are the atoms of the nitroglycerin which are suffused with energy. The first  poet was God who created the universe with His words. God created humans in His own image. In other words, human is also creative. At the end of every creation, He said it is beautiful. The creation of a true artist is also beauty.

 

To me every creation is beautiful. Poetry is beauty. The other forms of beauty are also poetic, including dance, painting, fiction and all that one can name. But there is no beauty in terrorism and the violation of human rights…

 

Poetry is  to present my vision and my concerns and to conceive   peace in a peaceful way.  The compelling influence for my crusade is  the peace that is beauty-- the peace that is creative-- the peace that makes life meaningful. I attempt to illustrate  that peace in its myriad form on the rocks  of my words. These rocks shout that Lazrus buried under them longs for life.


 

Poetry is an art and I do not try to break rules of the art for the sake of the propagation of my views. I am a votary of   beauty and beauty is peace.  I use poetry also to escape.  I feel relieved  when I clean the glasses of the self to glimpse  a panoramic view of  a new  island.  I am at my best when my fingers tingle and my arms begin to cry.  That is the time when I feel happy  that I am able to  communicate better with the innerself  and give birth to my  thoughts and feelings.I call this process a type of spiritual liberation.      

 

I breathe in the fortress  of poetry  under the roof of security. Within its genial walls  I strengthen  the feathers of my pen  around the fire of beauty while the demons of  daily life surround its entrance of sacredness.  I have stopped drinking because of  my muse.  I have learnt to coexist with the pangs of the invisible enemies of tension.  Nightmares still bother me but poetry opens a gate to calmness  from the neurotic world that is  full of theatrical despair. Poetry opens a window  to breathe  the mystical power of  catharsis that purifies my emotions about the mirage of the images of my early life.

(Excerpts from author’s preface to Songs Before Shrine by Stephen Gill )

                                                           

 

*A poet cannot live in an ivory tower forever. If today Shakespeare is alive, it is also because he has produced in his plays social, political, economic, moral and scientific ideas of his times. He has proved that a literature which does not reflect the spirits of the time cannot be great and of lasting nature. Even in Paradise Lost, which is timeless, John Milton expresses the moral controversies of the Protestants and the Roman Catholics, which plagued the time and sent a British king to gallows.

(Excerpts from “Writers and World Peace” an article by Stephen Gill)

                       

 

*I do not belong to any school or era of poetry. My poetry  is the psalm of my soul. To me, a poet is a discoverer of unknown continents through the voyage of the self. A poet is also a priest who through the mantra of poetry reaches the god within.

(From Stephen Gill’s interview with Dr. Sarangi, published in The Atlantic Literary Review, July-Sept.2004)           

 

 

*A  poet  should  never be  tired  of revisions.  A  time comes when a poem would tell when to stop.  Sometimes  poets have to stop revisions,  because they get tired of what leads  them nowhere, even knowing that the poem needs extra work. In such situations, I put my poem aside to take it up some other day unexpectedly. This procedure works in most cases with most poets. Often poets will know themselves if a poem needs further work. It is like knowing when the stomach is full.  Another way is to consult an editor. Everyone needs an editor, even editors do.

 

There is a myth that poetry strikes a poet like a flash, or it  is a divine bolt. For a serious poet, it may be bolt and divine, but mostly it is cooking. I believe there is beauty everywhere. That is what the Bible says in its story on  the origin of the universe. After every creation, God said beautiful. There is beauty in every object and so is poetry. Beauty is poetry and poetry is beauty. But  everyone  does not have the abilities  to  bring out  gracefully the god within. It is a poet who gives that god a shape with the beauty of the language. Language  is  a  media  between  an object  and  poet that gives life, as God did when he created the universe  with  his words. What is important in a poem is the arrangement of words. This is an intellectual exercise that needs dipping into the amazing  world of words. These efforts need the proper knowledge of the tools.

 

Poets are painters who use words, instead of colours, or  they are dancers, who use lyrics instead of using the movements of their hands, legs and facial expressions.  In addition to the arrangement of words, the most important feature of a poem is economy of expression.

 

Poetry is an unusual experience that  shakes a  poet thoroughly. A poem is by a human for humans about a deep inner experience  that is symbolized through a language. To describe or illustrate, poets need tools and the struggle to master the use of the tools is perspiration. Through images and the arrangement of words and other tools, poets convey their experiences to their readers. Poetry is not only to convey that experience to readers, it is also to convey it in a beautiful way and that beautiful way should also be something like a new  and delicious dish. That is where perspiration gets involved.

(From my preface to the Flame)

 

*A good poem will touch my soul, and a poem will touch my soul if it follows the rules of craftsmanship that includes the use of imagery, language, and fresh phrases.  Fat and over-used expressions are the pesticides that irritate me. A good poem is mostly bones and muscles.

(From “Stephen Gill with AN Choudhary”, interview published in Kohinoor (India), No.2, vol.4, June 2008)      

 

*:Poetry is a spiritual and psychic experience.  To give shape to this experience, poets need special knowledge in order to use images, tone, economy of words and other techniques. To weave a rainbow of beauty poets select and adjust words in different combinations.

 

Poetry is neither “emotions recollected in tranquility,” nor is it “turning loose of emotions.” Poetry is experience that can happen any time with or without reason. One element that is common in both definitions, and in most others, is the presence of emotions. I will call these emotions airy beings. With their tools poets catch the airy beings in the net of their words. It is like catching fish in a sea. Painters catch them in the net of their colours with the hands of their brushes. Dancers catch them in the net of the movements with their hands, eyes, brows and other body parts. These are different techniques that do the same work.

 

Poets train themselves to catch airy beings. I call these airy beings the robins of my art in my preface to The Flame.  There I say that these robins are not meant to be caged. They are the birds of freedom. They enjoy their freedom when poets send them to publications or present them in a book for the enjoyment of the reader.

 

In my poem “Oars”, I call them “naked creatures of waves.” A poet “clothes them with images / stitched with words” (p.36, Songs Before Shrine). Poets are wordsmiths, who have knowledge and education about the tools that are used to clothe these airy beings in a graceful way. This is an art. A person may be born with a propensity to be a poet, but that is not enough.  Propensity or talent is like a raw diamond that has to be chiselled and polished into a beautiful form. In order to acquire the knowledge of chiseling and polishing a poet needs work that I call perspiration. To me poetry is seventy-five percent perspiration and twenty-five percent inspiration or talent. Perspiration needs struggle to know how to use the tools of a poet effectively.

(From “Stephen Gill On His Writing And Diaspora”: an interview with Dr.         

Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal,  Contemporary Vibes, vol.4, No. 14, Jan-March 09)                                                                                                                                                                

*Poetry is a process of exploration. At the same time, poetry is suffering as is  the suffering of a mother when she gives birth to a child, or a candle that burns itself to spread light around. I enjoy writing poetry and enjoy also sharing it with others.”

(From the interview appeared in the book of Dr. Sudhir Arora, title The Poetic Corpus of Stephen Gill: An Evaluation)

 

*To bring out something that  is within  is  abstract. It is  in the form of ideas, experiences and notions. I call them the god within. To be able to paint a copy of  this god within, an artist needs skills. A poet uses his imagination and the skills of the language to use in different ways to paint the god within.

 

Language is the product of the intellect that helps to paint  the intangible tangibly, using  the tool of comparison buttressed by symbols. In a way, every word that we use is a symbol. Take the case of water. The word water is not the liquid we need to quench our thirst. It is a symbol. No matter how hard we try, the word water cannot quench our thirst. 

 

When a poet says that “my love is a red, red rose” he is  trying to compare two things. This symbol or metaphor cannot stand for the actual object of beauty. The same  can be applied to the case of a potter. The actual pot is within the potter, who tries to give it a  shape.  The potter may try different ways to copy what is within. It depends on his education, training, dedication and several other factors to make the resemblance closer. Still the copy bears only a resemblance of the  exact object. 

 

It is a painful process of trials and errors for a poet to  paint indelible pictures hung within the walls of the poet’s blood. The process of this painting bears similarities with Carl Gustav Jung’s  theory of the individuation process that is the integration between the conscious and unconscious features of the inner self. The story does not end here.

 

A poet constantly faces the demons of dry spells  and depression because of his or her limitations to bring out what is within.  It is a painful reality of a poet’s life. Just the awareness of the survival of this god within the blood is  not enough. As a skillful fisher, a dedicated poet is constantly  searching for spots, ways and tools to ensnare the creatures of the water.

 

The god within, abstract, can manifest itself through unconscious means of dreams, visions, hallucinations and so on. On the other hand, the means of a poet are deliberate  to form a dialogue with the within. Formation of this dialogue or the  mastering of the tools  is painful—a hard struggle  even to catch glimpses of this reality.  This painting is a copy because it is manifested through symbols-- conscious means of a poet. To master and try these conscious means are painful.

 

These means become more painful when a dedicated poet  paints  in an individual way. His writing is tight without the use of cliché.  The process causes several  wrong turns before finding the right one. It is often  a frustrating process. It needs extraordinary patience, deep thinking, wider studies and more explorations. I have written about this sweating in search for fresh symbols in my prefaces of the collections of my poems.

 

It  becomes more painful when an artist tries to find time to paint while facing the demons of daily life. Turning ones back to the pleasures is itself painful. It requires sacrifices, adjustments and a total unshaken dedication that becomes an obsession even at a young age when the worldly pleasure are difficult to keep at a distance. Struggle and suffering are painful. 

 

Poetry needs dedication and dedication is a preoccupation that becomes an obsession and obsessions cause intense emotional and economic loss and where there is loss there is pain and suffering.  This painful process of a dedicated poet is like the painful process of a mother. A poet gives birth to poems that are full of life. I call them robins. When these robins are properly fed and nourished, their feathers become stronger to be able to fly independently in the borderless skies of freedom and beauty. This creation is an incarnation of the god within.  Just giving birth is not enough. To take care of them and let them grow to be independent is also painful.

 

There is pain in longing or desire as Buddha has said. Suffering and desire go together. One way to get rid of the suffering is to get rid of desire. A dedicated  being will not let the desire go away because that desire is his or her obsession. When a poet appears to be doing nothing he is still involved with his desire.  When Gautama Buddha sat under a tree for days and nights without eating and drinking, he was enlightened. He came to know that desire is responsible for suffering.

 

In another story, a Zen master was walking with his disciples along a river. A young disciple began to pester him with a question that was how to be enlightened. At one point the master grabbed the young disciple and held him under the water. The disciple began to throw his hands and legs in desperation to save himself. But the master held him under the water for a while. The disciple tried to free himself, but could not. When he felt that he was about to be drowned and die, the Zen master let him go. He came to the surface and began to breathe.

 

The master asked him about the thoughts he had when he was under the water. He said that first he had many. They disappeared at once when he was about to be drowned. He had only one longing at that time and that was  for air. The master replied that was his enlightenment.

 

I will call this enlightenment a passion or complete dedication or obsession. Obsession is the extreme of desire. When someone desires something with intensity, that desire become a passion that causes suffering. When the passion  becomes the goal of a poet, there is suffering or pains and in those  pains there is liberation and birth.

 

Passion is from the Greek word “pascho” that means to suffer. The Latin word “passio” refers to Christ’s mortal suffering.  For me poetry is a passion and passion is an extreme kind of attachment and attachment is suffering.

 

When a  poet is hit with the bug of  this passion, his or her suffering changes into the emotions of self-satisfaction  in that attainment. To paint the god within in one form or another needs energy and energy is never destroyed. It transforms. It assumes the shape of a poem and the poem is self-satisfaction, also called liberation or joy or peace.

 

A deep attachment or obsession itself is responsible for pains. Dedicated poets are  attached to their  creative process. They are as drowning individuals who long for air. As long as such poets are  drowned in the waters of creativity, they suffer, longing for the oxygen to complete the process. There is joy for them in hope and in the anticipation of completion. That joy provides energy to move forward to finish their  works. It is like the suffering of the birthing of a new life.

 

When someone asked Buddha after his enlightenment what he gained from it, he said he instead lost. He lost his ignorance and dreams for the sake of enlightenment that gave him bliss.  There is also pain in physical exercise, but also joy. In the same way there is joy in the creative process while going through the pains of the exercise of the creative process to give birth to a being that is poetry.

(from the interview with United Minds for Peace).

 

* NKA: Wordsworth defined poetry as spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. Whereas T.S.Eliot went against the emotions and exclaimed: "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotions, but an escape from emotions". What is the best way? Should a poet be subjective or objective? Or, should there be a perfect balance between the two? Which path do you prefer in your poetry? Please communicate.

SG:  Poetry is a spiritual and psychic experience.  To give shape to this experience, poets need special knowledge in order to use images, tone, economy of words and other techniques. To weave a rainbow of beauty poets select and adjust words in different combinations.

 Poetry is neither “emotions recollected in tranquility,” nor is it “turning loose of emotions.” Poetry is experience that can happen any time with or without reason. One element that is common in both definitions, and in most others, is the presence of emotions. I will call these emotions airy beings. With their tools poets catch the airy beings in the net of their words. It is like catching fish in a sea. Painters catch them in the net of their colours with the hands of their brushes. Dancers catch them in the net of the movements with their hands, eyes, brows and other body parts. These are different techniques that do the same work.

Poets train themselves to catch airy beings. I call these airy beings the robins of my art in my preface to The Flame.  There I say that these robins are not meant to be caged. They are the birds of freedom. They enjoy their freedom when poets send them to publications or present them in a book for the enjoyment of the reader.

In my poem “Oars”, I call them “naked creatures of waves.” A poet “clothes them with images / stitched with words” (p.36, Songs Before Shrine). Poets are wordsmiths, who have knowledge and education about the tools that are used to clothe these airy beings in a graceful way. This is an art. A person may be born with a propensity to be a poet, but that is not enough.  Propensity or talent is like a raw diamond that has to be chiselled and polished into a beautiful form. In order to acquire the knowledge of chiselling and polishing a poet needs work that I call perspiration. To me poetry is seventy-five percent perspiration and twenty-five percent inspiration or talent. Perspiration needs struggle to know how to use the tools of a poet effectively.

NKA: What are the major themes of your poetry?

SG: The major theme of my poetry is peace. Peace is the absence of war or fear of war and bloodshed. My poems about peace are about the definition of peace, in favour of harmony, against war and bloodshed, and to condemn terrorism. I believe that peace is the legitimate child of peaceful means. I deal with subjects such as war, bloodshed, harmony, human rights, and democracy.  Some poems about peace from my collection Shrine include “Peace of Mind”, “To a Dove”, “Flight of a Dove”, “My House of Peace”, and “My Dove”. From Songs Before Shrine, I would like to include “Peace” , “Dove of Peace,” “My Name is Peace”, “Seeking the Dove of Peace”, “Harmony and Peace”, “Evening of Harmony”, “Rays of Harmony”, “When”, “Harmony”, “Muse of Peace”, “Where are They”, “Prince of Peace,” and “Domain of Peace”. These poems are directly related to my major theme. The poems that condemn terrorism include “Religious Fanaticism” and “Terrorists” from Shrine. My long poem, The Flame, that is of 152 pages and divided into sixty two cantos, is about terrorism and peace. In addition to these poems, there are references to terrorism in other poems.

I have written and published poems also in Urdu and Punjabi against terrorism. I have a number of poems on other social concerns, including AIDS, children and discriminations. Notable poems to condemn war include  “Talking of Peace,” “War Fever”, “Arms Trader”, “Hounds of War”, “My Beliefs,”  and “Last Dance”  from Shrine.  “If There Be a Third World War”, “A Question”, “To WarMongers”, “War is Fraud’, “About War” are a few notable poems from Songs Before Shrine.

There is a complete section to condemn war in Flashes, a collection of my haiku. In addition, I have edited two anthologies of poems, titled Anti-War Poems, volume one and volume two. Volume one was released in 1984. It has one hundred and twenty contributors from seven nations. Volume Two was released in 1986. It has over one hundred poets from seventeen nations. In both the anthologies, poets condemn war.

We are breathing in an exceedingly perilous atmosphere that is deteriorating at an alarming speed. One single factor that is responsible for this impending peril is nuclear warfare, hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles to destroy us all. Scientists so far have not been able to discover any other civilization anywhere else in the universe. If by any chance the nuclear giant is out, even this single civilization of ours will be wiped out, leaving the sun, the moon and the stars to appear and disappear without anyone being to enjoy their sight. It has taken centuries to build our civilization and it will take minutes to annihilate the same. Obviously, it would be an inexpressible tragedy.

The poems of antiwar anthologies are related directly to war and peace. In addition to these poems, there are several more that have references to war and bloodshed. I have also written several poems condemning war and bloodshed in Urdu and Punjabi languages.

I have also tackled the problem of war and peace in my prose. There are several articles to condemn war and bloodshed.  I have given talks and interviews on radio and television.  Some of these interviews have been collected in a DVD, titled Interviews of Stephen Gill.

Writers and poets are involved with every aspect of life, including news media, and creative arts. The heart is the seat for peace. If the heart is at peace, the world around can also be impacted with the radiance of peace emitted by eyes, tongue and actions. .

Poets are involved with many aspects of life, like writing lyrics for songs and speeches for politicians and business executives. Lorca and Byron gave their lives for the cause of liberation. Among the written documents, the Vedas, the Bible, and the Koran have a great impact on the minds of people. Lately, Pentagon papers concerning the Vietnam War have changed the thinking of several Americans, and a book titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stow was partly responsible for the liberation of the slaves in the USA. I hope that my writings about peace will cause change in the thinking of my readers.

There are different aspects of peace, including terrorism, human rights, bloodshed, and poverty. I deal with them in an art form. This art form is as important to me as is the theme. To write a good poem on peace, I concentrate deeply to select the right words and tone, and to weed out excessive fat.

Writing is also therapeutic to me. In order to give light, a candle burns itself. That is what a poet does. I write to disseminate my message in an art form. This is a process of burning oneself or going through the pains of a pregnant mother.

A poem should not be predictable, and it should not be constructed on the trodden path. In other words, the emotions should be caught in the meshes of a style that is devoid of emotional clichés and redundancies. The word clichés refers to expressions that have been used excessively and become stale. In other words, a cliché is an idea, a metaphor or an expression that has lost its freshness because it has been used frequently. Such expressions are often heard and read and a poet is likely to lose admirers.

I try to use fresh language and images; I am cautious to use allusions that are hackneyed. Trite expressions are often used in Indian English Literature, such as Ram Rajya,  apple’s eyes, at a stone throw, a faithful friend, Mother Nature, leave no stone unturned,  wear and tear , axe to grind, nip in the bud and many more. These are worn out phrases.  Sometimes, original expressions may be obscure to the reader and may prove enigmatic.  It is sometimes baffling for me to choose between a private image that is original and trite expressions that are over familiar. However, there are times when it becomes important to use a cliché for brevity or clarity. Such incidents may be rare. It is not easy to put emotions into words and images that are imaginative and inventive. All these requirements need revisions.

I also pay a special attention to tone. Tone is the voice of a speaker that tells if the speaker is angry, preachy, scornful, and so on. Just a simple sentence "I need you," may have different meaning to different listeners, depending on the tone of the voice and if the speaker has a smile or any other expression on his voice. The tone can be understood but difficult to interpret. It can be soft, loud, whispering and even scornful.

Tone is the prevailing spirit, or the moral attitude, of the poet towards his reader. A poet conveys the tone in his poems through words and expressions. It is difficult to express it in a poem. In order to convey the right tone, a poet needs revision to select the right expressions.

Poems that are preachy are not admired much. One can be preachy without being obvious. If I have to preach something, I use prose. Poetry is an aesthetic art and I want to keep it that way. I use peace as a subject matter and toil to handle it as a piece of art. Art is beauty. When I read a poem, I look for aesthetic qualities, not for information and knowledge. For knowledge or information, I will read books in prose. This is what readers expect. Therefore I avoid being preachy in my poetry. I believe that to achieve peace, the best means are the peaceful means. If I have to preach, I will use the media of prose, where I can use logic and reasoning to get my message across.

Art is a way of expression that can assume the shape of visual, performing or literary art. All these arts express culture that can be personal or collective. Expression is life-breath — the palpitation of a nation or an individual. Poetry is an art of expression and expression differs as does the appearance of individuals. 

When a person perceives an object—beautiful or ugly—it produces a reaction or feelings. Those feelings, reactions or sentiments are formless. A poet expresses those formless objects in a sensible form. One can use a cliché that is easy and needs no effort, but there is no inventiveness in its use. One can find new ways and modes to express the object.  That needs real effort. That is called individual approach—a distinctive element—fresh memorable piece of art. Such a treatment needs intellectual exercise.  A poet has to manage an unmanageable horse of emotions that needs skills, guidance and control to be able to achieve smooth efficient operation of a poem. In order to achieve this object, a poet needs time to work in different ways to bring those feelings out. In other words, it needs revisions. Let me also emphasize that poetry is  as demanding as any art is. It demands devotion, skill and professionalism.

NKA: You have authored a haiku collection entitled Flashes. What are your views about this type of poetry?

SG:  I became interested in haiku in 1988, when I began to study poets from the point of their form and style. Some of them had been haiku writers. Haiku enamoured me as I went deeper in its study, savouring its delightful simple presence though its simplicity is deceptive.

By its very nature a haiku is an unfinished poem, written in telegraphic language. A traditional haiku is of three lines, and has definite syllables of five, seven and five respectively. It also suggests a season. All that I can say is that haiku is mostly the bones of an experience or revelation.

Haiku was born in Japan and is still admired there. Several new trends, particularly in English haiku, have been introduced over the years. Haiku also strengthened the symbolist movement in France and Imagists in English literature between 1912 and 1918. Notable imagists were F.S. Flint, Pound, Amy Lowell and John Gould Fletcher.  They attacked the emotional and excessive use of the metric verse of the time.

Because of its brevity, a haiku can be jot down in short intervals. Moreover, haiku poets do not have to be tied to set rules. They can write on highly unusual as well as on ordinary aspects of life. A haiku does not have to be about special moments.  What can be more joyful than to be able to find beauty in everything around without waiting for something rare to happen.  This element turns haiku into daily bread, not a feast to be enjoyed on specific occasions. For the writers of haiku, the well of imagination never goes dry. They do not have to go to a library in search of material, nor do they have to shut themselves in their rooms to explore the chambers of their minds. This is because the material is right in front of them, even when they look into the mirror. To illustrate how easy it is to catch these ideas from daily life, I will quote my two haiku: 

Dishes clutter the table

light smiles from above

house is silent (Stephen Gill)

 

       The above three lines sketch an ordinary scene from ordinary life. This scene from a kitchen suggests a family get-together, when all the guests have gone, leaving the dishes on the table to be picked up for washing. It is late evening, suggested by a light, and the silence indicates that the hosts have gone to bed because they may be tired. They may do the dishes the next day. Here is another haiku of mine:                                                                                                                

Without you

I am a leafless tree

love is the sap (Stephen Gill)

 

       For haiku writers material is everywhere. They find material even in the most mundane situations.  To them style is a dress as it is for humans. A poet may say that he or she has no problem finding material; it is the choice of words or diction they have to struggle with. For haiku poets such distinctions do not exist. They use ordinary language to present their ordinary life. Many haiku poems appear primarily prosaic, like Basho's diaries.

Several English haiku writers have used rhyme successfully, but its use is not essential. Over the years, a vast body of haiku has been produced, and still is being produced, in which rhyme has been used rarely. This choice makes the job of haiku poets easier.

Haiku has been free enough to adjust itself to the needs of poets of every succeeding age under different circumstances. For instance, in Japan, Yosa Buson (1716--1783) introduced a more personal style. Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) introduced a popular note, using haiku to portray human misery and absurdity and to evoke compassion for man's weaknesses. In modern times, haiku has received fresh waters from Masaoka Shiki and Takayama Kyoshi.  In the West, haiku has influenced poets in different ways. As the Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics states, Western poets interested in it knew no Japanese, and therefore produced results which often had little to do with haiku.

Haiku entices the poets who dislike original limitations, particularly concerning the use of syllabic versification, reference to season and terse language. Temperamentally, I cannot develop a love for something that is chained.  I like to be free like nature itself.  That may be why the wind and dove in various shapes appear in my poetry. Moreover, I do not perceive much creativity in work in which a poet has to struggle to conform to the established norms. Haiku offers freedom to freedom-loving poets. For them, there are vast possibilities for adopting new techniques.

I am not among those poets who finish off several pieces in a single sitting.  Rather I am a slow but steady producer.  My first draft is a diamond in a rough shape. I polish and chisel a practice that is against the teachings of Basho.

Bashu Matsuo, the first great master of haiku, was born in Japan in 1644 and died in 1694. He was influenced by a 4th century B.C. philosopher, Tchouang-tsen, who believed that the real value lies in useless things and the right way of life is to accept and follow the laws of nature.

Distractions do not pose serious problems for haiku poets, though all writers hate them no matter how deeply they are in love with writing. Interruptions are unable to irritate haiku poets because they only need a few minutes to jot down three lines, anywhere, any time. The novelists and poets of other genres may envy haiku writers for this very reason. Even if writers inform the other members of their families not to interrupt them at certain hours, the family may not know what this means because distraction or interruption has different connotations for different people. When a writer goes to the washroom or to the kitchen for a glass of water, the spouse and children may think that the writer is now open for conversation. This sort of problem does not bother a haiku writer.

One way for a poet to make the best possible use of any available time is to get hold of a pocket- sized tape recorder. Inspiration comes as a flash, a revelation. A poet should put it  into words immediately. Otherwise, it will fade or evaporate sooner than water does in a tropical country. Such flashes happen seldom. They seem to be a result of the poet's unconscious acts. Priceless gems, which are the works of this unconscious mind, may be lost by procrastination. I have lost many gems.  In my long drives, I keep a tape recorder within reach to pick up for recording. It is small enough to fit in any coat pocket, and is easy to operate, without even looking at it. Anything recorded can be revised and polished later. What can be more fun than catching daily scenes and random thoughts in three lines. It is a different matter if a poet happens to be too lazy to pick up a note-book and a pen. If this seems to be a problem, I would advise such a poet to keep a mini tape recorder all the time in his or her pocket. If they cannot even do this, then, I would ask them to look within, to know if they are eligible suitors for the muse. Maybe, they will do better as plumbers, or at the grocery store, than as priests in the temple of haiku.

Everyone likes short cuts, no matter where he or she goes. So do writers, to save time. Fortunately, haiku poets do not need these short cuts. Haiku itself is a short cut to writing full poems of several lines. Haiku is one of the oldest forms of poetry and therefore it has had a long time to mature, going through several stages of experimentation not only in Japan, where it was born, but also in the West. Haiku has become flexible enough for new temperaments, modes of thought and expressions. A poet can adapt it to suit his or her personality and philosophy.  Haiku has become a hat which has lost its original shape because it has been worn on heads of different sizes. Yet it looks new and attractive. With a few adjustments, this hat can be worn by any poet.

To study my views about haiku further and from another angle, I would suggest reading my introduction to Flashes, a collection of my haiku.  This introduction is also on my web site: www.stephengill.ca

(From the interview with Dr. Nilanshu Agarwal)

 

*I write about peace and peace-related subjects. To convey my message in poetry, I have drafted some rules. I call my poems robins, as I have mentioned somewhere also. I prepare food for them with the following four truths. My four basic truths are like the four hands of the Indian mythological goddess  Sarswati who is considered consort of Brahma, the god of creation. These four basic truths on which the theory of my poetry is based  can also be called the four sisters of my creation.  Listed below,  I have discussed them  in different forms  in my prefaces:

 

(1) Spirit is the first truth.  Spirit is  an immaterial force within a human that gives life to the body. One can call it dedication or passion or an obsession for writing. It includes editing to give life to my poetry. Editing is the outcome of passion or obsession.

            I test my poetry in the furnace of editing to get rid of anything that is dross.  As a  poet I  try not to be tired of editing to take out extra and redundant words, though I do it in prose also to a lesser extent.  

            While editing,  I try to find out if there was a clear reason for writing that piece. In other words, there should be one main message or theme in  the piece. A lack of clarity about the theme or message shows that the poet is not clear in the mind. I believe that a poem should revolve around one idea at a time.

            All these attempts are to make the spirit more energetic.

 

(2) The second basic truth is imagery because it is the highest form of metaphor.  It is a tool that  helps a poet to represent   the god within.

 

(3) The third basic truth helps me to get rid of anything that is stale.  I am an enemy of  overused expressions that have lost their freshness.  It is artistic to use an expression or imagery for the first time, but its subsequent use shows the laziness and ignorance of the poet.

 

(4) The function of the fourth basic truth is to differentiate poetry from prose. A poem should be reasonably more tight and compact than the prose. I take out unnecessary, redundant words and details. I believe that economy of expression is more important in a poem than in prose because it lends grace.

 

To give birth to something is liberation from suffering. Before the birth takes place there is desire or longing to give birth. This extreme of desire is suffering. To get rid of this desire is to give birth and this is liberation. It is an experience of joy. I have discussed it in detail elsewhere. 

(From the interview with United Minds for Peace)

 

*QUESTION:  Does your poem the ‘Flame’ bear some autobiographical suggestions?                              

A. Artists combine personal experiences with the experiences of others and also something from the imagination,  adding and deleting, to get across the message. In this struggle nothing remains pure-- neither autobiographical nor non-autobiographical experiences.  To try to separate both is like trying to separate milk from the water that is added. The best way is to read the biography or biographical writings of the poet,  including interviews, to know his or her life. I try to explain some reasons in my prefaces that lead me to my creative work.                                    

In a way every poem, every article and every word of a writer is autobiographical because it represents the way he or she thinks and that  way of thinking is shaped by the family and social surroundings. This leads to the fact that humans are products of their environments. World literary masterpieces  are filled with fine creations  because it is not difficult for a poet to find painful material  from life. To find smiles from the treasury of life is difficult because often they are not there. An artist  has to manufacture those smiles in the laboratory of imagination.  The manufactured stuff is not lifelike.   I am also a product of the environment in which I grew up. Many literary critics have shed light on this aspect.                                                                      

Sometimes, I have to adopt  a persona to separate the poem from the poet to conceal self-identification. Often poets need symbols to hide themselves. This is to create the objectivity of a play to some extent.  To illustrate my point concretely, let me quote a few lines from the Flame that is the subject of this question. These are from canto sixty (60) which is often compared with a poem of Tagore:

Where love is not suffocated

            Or another canto, number 53:

If the pangs of separation

ever prick me

I shall clap the soul of the night…

            Or when the poet talks of  himself in canto 52:

Receive me eagerly

a battle unending

I need support.                                                                                                                   

Cares me carefully

a rose tethered                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

I need tenderness.

The above lines  have a persona that may suggest something about the frustrating experiences of the poet because of the social and religious environments or things like that. These  poems talk about love. The pronoun I is involved in these  poems. To express experiences,  real or imaginary, a poet adopts a persona. The poet  uses this technique as a veil.  It is  a forgivable deception for which the art is often used  to hide the truth from the reader. Persona, a word from the Latin that means a mask,  conceals the actual face of the poet. 

*QUESTION:  In which category of the poets you put yourself-- Romantics who take refuge in poetry, Modernists who are perplexed by the way of the contemporary life or to some other category?

A. I don’t think I belong to the pigeon hole of any school or category of poets. As a creative writer, my job is to write without paying attention to any category.  I have written an article, titled Symbolism With A Special Reference To My Poetry. On this subject. One can Google to find it.               

 

However, I have discovered some similarities of my poetry with the nineteenth century French symbolist poets. How much similarity is there is anyone’s guess. I believe, some literary evaluators will write about it some  day. I have stated in this article:

 

Symbolists also refer to a major literary movement of the second half of the 19th century from  France. The movement  has received different labels, including decadence, aestheticism, neoromanticism and imaginism.  Its followers  include  Mallarme, Verlaine, and Rimbaud. Their  main aim was to represent ideas and emotions by suggestion rather than description. They  reacted  against the prevailing school of realism and impressionism that expressed emotions or abstractions without comparing them with the visible world. Symbolists influenced painting and music as well  as English writers like Poe,  Swinburn and W.B. Yeats. Symbolists wrote in a highly suggestive way to express the intangible truth or conditions. They became more evocative than descriptive

                                                                                                                                                           

I would like to add that the subject of my writings is peace. The problem that has been  posed by terrorist groups in the twenty-first century  assumes different shapes. Modern terrorism is a new phenomenon. I can say with confidence that no poet in the world has written so much about peace and social concerns as I have. There are poets who have written good poems on peace and even terrorism. But no one has given his or her entire  writing life to this aspect.  Most of my  talks,  interviews  and writings  are connected with peace.   To  isolate peace from my poetry is isolating  roots from tree.
(From an interview with Anuradha Sharma)

 

=========================