Sunday, December 18, 2016
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
Sunday, October 16, 2016
John P. Matthew
Why did you want to be a poet?
The decision was spontaneous, not one made as planned, or foreseen. I have a Mahakavi (Mahakavi Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan) in my family who wrote in Malayalam and naturally I ended up reading poetry. The real trigger was an English teacher in Secondary School who romanticised poetry and poets. This teacher inspired me to experiment with the poetic form. This led to more reading and contributing to a slew of magazines that featured poetry in those days: Illustrated Weekly of India, Youth Times, Mirror, Debonair, Imprint, Onlooker, Caravan, et cetera. Most of these magazines are extinct except Caravan. Today, when I think of those days, there was great interest in Indian poetry in English and there were many talented poets. I don’t know where they have disappeared.
Who is your model for your style?
My style is eclectic and I draw inspiration from a lot of poets. I write both rhyming and free-form poetry, and also classic poetic forms like Odes, Sonnets, and Villanelle. Recently I wrote a Villanelle in the style of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that night.” My poem is called, “If Death Comes Calling Tonight.” I am inspired by the romantic poets and also poetry of Whitman, Keats, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and closer home Tagore, Dom Moraes, Nissim Ezekiel, Jeet Thayil, etc. This is not by any means exhaustive.
What is the usual process you adopt before writing a poem?
To be honest, there is no process. I don’t plan to write a poem on this or that subject. I always carry a notebook and pen with me. Some of my best poems have come to me as whole stanzas on my morning walk and, I seize the opportunity and write it down immediately. Then the process of developing the rest of the poem comes, and it evolves into what I post on online social media and on my poetry blog.
How do you distinguish between poetry and non-poetry?
I agree that the internet has generated a lot of interest in poetry, I must also state that most of what you read online is not poetry. Many of them are expressing their internal angst and their obsession with the self by creating violent and disturbing images. I think poetry should move away from the self into neutral territory to be of true aesthetic value. Personally I think poetry – and all literature – should move out of self-obsession, subsume the self, and reflect the state of existence we live in. Our lives have become so complicated that trying to capture its intricacies has become very difficult. A novel, a short story, a poem has the potential to do that. However, interest in the novel, the poem, and short stories – three of my favourite artistic expressions – has been waning. When a writer makes a sincere attempt to reflect society, we should admire it, not denigrate it. However, we live in a standardised society which worships success and makes celebrities out of successful people. By successful people I mean actors, sportsmen, and politicians. The days when writers and poets were admired and revered are gone.
What fundamental misconceptions about poetry irritate you and how would you correct or refute them?
It is said that unlike prose – for which you have to work very hard – poetry should come naturally, like a star falling from the skies. And, I will vouch for this, when you are mature in your writing, whole lines, and stanzas will form in your mind without much effort. The problem is when a writer sits down saying; I am going to write a poem. Then the effect is laboured and full of artifice. And some of these efforts are un-editable and irredeemable. So instead of getting irritated it is best to let it pass and hope the poet realises where he/she is going wrong.
How does a poem come into being?
As I have mentioned, it can be triggered by a thought, something I pass when I am walking, or something I watch from my terrace. I know poetry, and its accomplice music, which I believe is an attempt to capture what is beautiful about this life, are eternal, and everyone has these fleeting inspirations to capture what is beautiful. So for me poetry exists all around me. In scientific terms, there is a point when the magma transforms into rocks inside the earth. That’s the point at which I make a note and, at home, I go through the note and decide if there is a poem in there.
How does the timeless appeal come to poetry?
Poetry of a time and age has a timeless appeal. No longer. At least, in India. Today, when I want to buy an epic poem written by my great uncle Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan, there’s nowhere I can get it. I have hunted it in bookshops and online, but they appear nowhere. I want to buy Nissim Ezekiel’s poems, Dom Moraes’ poems, I can’t get them anywhere, except, maybe, a few poems in some anthology. Like I said before, from the seventies to now, a whole generation of talented poets have come and gone. Today we don’t remember any of them except a few. Therefore, in the present context, in India, poetry has no timeless appeal.
What is the fundamental as well as essential nature of poetry? Does it change over time?
Wordsworth said poetry is, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity." I would go to say that everybody is a poet. Yes. Everybody has poetry and a poet in them. I have seen people humming tunes, people drumming tunes, people looking and exclaiming, “how beautiful.” The trained poet gives shape and form to this spontaneous overflow of feelings through skills in language and by long exposure to poetic forms. Rhyme is an essential part of poetry everywhere. Poetry in Kerala is rhymed on the first word, a word in the middle, or, the end word. For example here’s a verse from poet Kunchen Nambiar:
Nabi arennu chodichu,
Nabi kettathu kopuchu,
Now coming to the question of has poetry changed, yes, poetry has changed over the years. What was strictly iambic pentameter has become a loosely connected tapestry of vivid images these days. Punctuation canons are flouted, as poets see no point in wasting thought over it. The result is an amorphous collation of images, somewhat, personal and shocking in nature. Fixed form poems like odes, villanelles, and sonnets aren’t written these days, because they are rather difficult to write and takes weeks to perfect. The idea these days is to be spontaneous and never mind the form.
What is most important in poetry? What makes a genuinely great Poem?
Take for example Wordsworth’s Daffodils, Frost’s The Road not Taken, and Dylan Thomas’ villanelle Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night, Keats’ Ode upon a Grecian Urn. These are great poems that have withstood the test of time. A poet these days need to experiment with form. There are a few poets in India who are experimenting with form, and I love to read them. I must admit they are quite few in number.
What is the relationship between poetry and truth?
Well, to me poetry must be the truth, because if you write something false the insincerity would be quite obvious. Poetry is not something you fabricate as you do fiction. It has to occur naturally, through a vision of truth and beauty, delicately woven by the poet into words.
What is the relation between tradition and innovation in poetry?
There have been many traditionalists in poetry and many innovators. Among traditionalists I include the romantic poets, sonneteers, ode, and villanelle writers. Innovators are e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, Allan Ginsberg, Shel Silverstein and others who showed us that poetry can be written in a different format.
In India, in my mother tongue Malayalam, poetry is still sung and is not recited. Malayalam poets almost all have great deliveries and singing voices. They don’t mumble like some Indian-English-language poets. Poetry reading is an art and poets must cultivate this art.
Can poetry counter the paralyzing effect of globalization?
I don’t know. Poetry may have been the agent of change many years ago, but its role has diminished in the use-and-throw world. People are no longer drawn towards poetry the way they were used to. We have globalised very fast, but poetry hasn’t kept up. We have these literary festivals in which hardly any poets are featured. Of course, there are poetry slams and poetry readings, but the audience has been dwindling. Maybe, poets should reinvent themselves for their art to survive to the next century.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Saturday, September 03, 2016
Take a look at this discussion about how our reading habits have changed, how it has been curtailed by the oppressive mainstream media. We have been deprived of the following:
1. Book/music/art reviews
2. Engagement/Events column
5. Short stories
6. Letters to editor, etc.
Instead we have paid PR news about:
1. Which star is in bed with whom
2. Leggy models at parties and fashion shows
3. Which marriages are breaking up
4. Holiday destinations of stars
5. Who bitched what about whom
6. Ghost-written columns by stars
7. Which star punched whom
8. Which celebrity is rising and which one is falling.
Is this responsible mainstream journalism. The newspaper publisher in mainstream media seems to be saying:
"We don't care fuckall for your five rupees. We get enough from the PR agencies. Your readership be damned, take it, or, leave it. Take your five rupees and scram. Your opinion is worth shit compared to the celebrities we have on board."
And, the readers seem to be saying, "If you are not careful, mainstream media, you will soon be dead as dodos. We know how to get news from the social media. You aren't doing us a favour. So, rest in peace, Mainstream Media."
What do you think?
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
|Gutsy and humourous!|
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Recently, around 110 Nobel laureates came in support of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). They signed a memorandum endorsing GMOs and especially Golden Rice which is a product that the GMO-giant Monsanto has been developing over the past 20 years, without success. The endorsement has been spearheaded by one Nobel-winner Richard Roberts who is the chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs. New England Biolabs according to its website is, “a recognized world leader in the discovery, development and commercialization of recombinant and native enzymes for genomic research.” In fact, it is closely related – for comfort – to the GMO manufacturing companies in the scope of its research and products.
Roberts has succeeded in getting the 110 Nobel-laureates to believe that those who are opposing GMO rice – in this case Greenpeace and other NGOs – are entities which aren’t scientific, and who do not follow scientific thought. For example sample what he says:
“We’re scientists. We understand the logic of science. It's easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science," Roberts told The Washington Post. “Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause." What made the GMO-producing company choose the head of a laboratory of a similar research company to garner signatures of so many Nobel laureates? What’s not clear is who funded the signature campaign Roberts initiated, and who funded the special-purpose website which was created to tom-tom support for the GMO, golden rice. No, Roberts wouldn’t spend time and money to do it himself, if he had no monetary incentive given to him.
In fact the activists opposing GMOs have always been repeating the very same thing. They have been stating again and again that they are for scientific discussion and discourse on GMOs based on third-party scientific research, which GMO companies like Monsanto are firmly opposing. Monsanto has been researching and arriving at its own conclusions, which, according to another hoary Indian saying, is like appoint a thief as the guardian of the treasury. Monsanto has it going smoothly as most of the top functionaries in US’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are people who have been associated with it in some capacity. Michael Taylor, a Monsanto director, was appointed in 2010 as commissioner of FDA. The current chief of FDA was Monsanto’s vice-president for public policy. This also applies to US department of agriculture (USDA) where most of the top people are linked to Monsanto as executives or lobbyists.
India has had a record of GMO use since the eighties with its approval of BT cotton, which is grown in the cotton-growing areas of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Increasingly, the farmers who have been using BT cotton seeds have been committing suicide because of the high cost of seeds and the weedicide Roundup which goes by the chemical name of Glyphosate. Glyphosate is known to destroy gut bacteria, which helps in digesting food and assimilating nutrients into the body.
It’s this weedicide Roundup which is causing more problem than the GMO seeds itself. It is a carcinogen and has been found to penetrate human bodies, and is found in the blood, urine, and milk of humans. Moreover, it pollutes aquifiers and causes trans-gene pollution of other crops. The delicate ecosystem of Vidharba’s cotton-growing areas have been so compromised by Glyphosate that farmers who want to return to traditional cotton cultivation are finding that the soil has become fallow and unproductive.
Even the produce of the GMO seeds is questionable. As Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London School of Medicine in the UK states:
“Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields.”
Monsanto is like the Microsoft of genetic engineering, wanting to control and hold its market to such an extent that it wants nothing but world domination. Like Microsoft it will brook no interference in its way of functioning and policies. It saw a window when the present dispensation in India announced its Make in India initiative. It came with a big bag and promised so much investment to appease those in power, the rider being that its products would have a smooth introduction into the Indian market. It seems, an unsuspecting public that has tasted the fruits of GMOs (BT cotton) is being force-fed other GMOs with the delusional argument that they are scientific and, therefore, good for people.
So, now, in addition to BT cotton a whole lot of products like okra, brinjal, mustard, rice, etc. are going to come to India in the near future if their introduction is approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). Proponents of GMOs are fighting tooth and nail for its introduction saying it will end hunger from our midst if the GMOs with magical properties are approved. Activists and right-thinking people who know the perils of GMOs have been opposing it. The problem is that once GMOs gain entry it would be very difficult to make them leave, as the GMO-producing companies will use every trick in the books to stay. The fight is evenly balanced now and there’s no knowing which way it would tip.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Monday, August 01, 2016
This time it will be complete re-write. Yes, every word will be re-typed. I know where I have gone wrong and how I can correct it. I need to take it away from the writing desk, into more intimate spaces, such as the terrace, and the perch by the window. Writing, sitting at a desk, makes us dogmatic, didactic. A novel is not that. A novel is a fresh new look at things, from a wholly new perspective, which is why I want to move away from the desk.
Reading Nabokov and Thakazhi has helped. I consider Thakazhi one of the greatest writers of our times, undiscovered, because no good translations exist. He has written around 25 novels, 200 short stories, and a few autobiographies. All his novels are exceptional, his writing characterises the human condition better than most over-hyped writers of today.
However, I am not as talented as Thakazhi. His range and canvas is immense, varied and unmatched. In talent he can match Shakespeare and Cervantes and in range he can easily beat Marquez. But why is he still considered a regional writer and ignored? I think the Sahitya Akademi should translate all his works and then put it to the world to decide on his greatness.
Reading an interview I learnt that Thakazhi wrote in the night. Even his daughters were surprised to learn that he wrote at all, under cover of the night, when all was calm. After a tiring night of writing he used to drop in to the local bar (kallu shappu) for a few drinks of palm wine. The writer who went to interview him at home was told by a wayfarer, "He must be in the kallu shappu." I think during the day he read and thought deeply about contemporary issues to put them into words in the night.
Already I have sacrificed a lot of time on this novel. So, why not sacrifice a little more. After all, as a friend said, "It's only the good things - writing - that matter, the rest can be forgiven." So, friends, wish me luck, if you see this in a kindly light.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Them bastids want to take over our country, heard?
No way, mate. We take them back with what they call Brexit. It means exit from what those arseholes call EU.
Cor blimey! What the bellend is EU?
Some blighters, want to take our beers and our chicks.
Bollocks! I don't want nothing to do with them Twonks!
Then vote Brexit, I say.
Yay! I am bloody Brexit, myself!
Friday, June 17, 2016
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
Friday, April 29, 2016
Saturday, April 16, 2016
A survey in today’s Times of India states that 58 per cent (Bombay) of youth have considered committing suicide. Only 26 per cent in Bombay have told their parents about it and discussed the reasons with them. This is frightening and shocking, at the same time. What is going wrong? It also says that the reason for contemplating suicide is because of depression. Whatever, however they are, parents love their children. I am yet to meet a parent who says he/she dislikes his/her child. (With the exception of a celebrity who allegedly killed her own daughter recently.)
Something is wrong and, obviously, seriously wrong. So I decided to go a bit into the problems faced by children. What is causing this huge resentment in children? We, as middle class parents, want the best for our children and work hard for it. In the process, we also forget something about the modern world in which children grow up.
Here are a few pointers, because it concerns us, most of all, because they are the future of society and of the country.
1. They don’t understand what is going on.
Yes, they don’t. They don’t read newspapers, they skim through the news. They would watch some reality shows or competitions rather than a few good news channels. Parents should encourage the reading habit in children by buying them books appropriate for their age.
2. Easy availability of sub-standard entertainment (video and audio).
I mean, I listened to some of the songs young people listened to and was appalled. There isn’t music, just beats, and the lyrics are just horrible, except for a few catch words repeated, “Waka, waka, yeh, yeh.” Is that lyrics? That would make the youth more frustrated because entertainment should also address human issues: love, longing, nature, and incidents. Songs about love and longing is acceptable but not music videos that are provocative, such as Lady GaGa’s (She isn’t a lady, is she?).
And, most importantly, pornography is easily available, leading to a growth in desire, but not respect for the other sex. A person who views pornography cannot and will never respect the other sex. As a corollary he/she may not get respect from the opposite sex, leading to depression. Thoughts about unnatural sex forms a barrier between a boy and a girl and that could lead to misunderstandings and fights. That might be the reason behind most cases of sex offenses and crime.
3. Mobile phones.
Parents give mobile phones to children to know where they are, and to find out if they are safe. However, the sad fact is that these high-end mobile phones are misused and most youth exchange pornographic videos on them. That was not the intention with which the phones were given to children. Being in a very impressionable age, they would be tempted to experiment with sex, a bit too soon. I think youth should shun pornography as unnatural, thereby obviating a market for obscene videos.
4. Income disparity.
Though you may give the best you can afford to your child, they are not blind to the income disparity between you and parents of their friends. This could upset them and depress them. Suddenly, all the love you give them may seem meaningless, though you may be working very hard to give them what they want. Parents should make children understand their financial background, so they wouldn’t make unreasonable demands.
5. Marital discord
Some parents do not get along which each other, resulting in fights, which may really depress the child. Parents need to understand that their fights would affect the child, and that should make them careful before fighting before their child.
6. Children should know how to speak to strangers
Parents teach children not to speak to strangers. But they should also be taught to speak friendly, non-threatening strangers, or, adults, with respect. They should also know how to discourage unwanted people from talking to them. They can demonstrate this by taking children with them for outings and letting them learn from your own behaviour.
Learning should be an overall, personality developing activity. A child should develop musical, athletic, and social skills. They should also respect and appreciate the art and culture of their parents and their ancestors. Put them in touch with these early in life. Just hankering after good grades and percentage is not enough, he/she needs to be an overall champion. So what if he/she is not on the merit list? Being on the merit lists has its on problems; it puts pressure on children and youth. Many merited children have failed subsequently, and non-merited children have excelled also.
8. Being depressed doesn’t help
Psychoanalysis is a science that deals with the working of the mind. It isn’t really a medicinal science (it prescribes medicines in chronic cases) in that it goes into the working of the mind to suggest what can be done. Having positive thoughts, being with positive people, and being occupied by positive activity can cure most cases of depression, which is what I strongly believe. A firm belief in one’s religion can help, that’s why I encourage children to believe in whichever faith they belong to. Faith doesn’t teach children to hate anybody (except maybe the fundamental ones). The very act of singing songs and chanting can heal a troubled person.
Young people idol-worship certain movie stars forgetting that they are humans and, therefore prone to failures. When these idols fail, or, rebuff their advances, they become depressed. Youth should never worship another human being as being infallible. They have their own weaknesses and fallibility.
Waking up every morning thinking how awesome the day is, loving the nature around you, loving the birds and animals can cure you of depression for the entire day. Recently I read somewhere (A Facebook post, I think.) that a single positive thought as soon as you wake up can carry you through the day and make it a big success. So wake up thinking “how beautiful is today.”
There is a lot more to share. So watch this space, as they say.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
|Dr. Thomas Cyriac (Right) Presenting Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan's Biography to writer Ravi Varma Thampuran.|
I have often felt a need for a published biography of Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan. That seems to have come true with the publication of his biography by Dr. Jose Parakadavil. Here's a photo taken at the launch of the book by Dr. Thomas Cyriac (former Vice-chancellor of Gandhi University) presenting the said book to writer Ravi Varma Thampuran (whose novel Shayyanukamba was published recently).