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Losing My Way: Poems

Shiv K. Kumar

Kumar, Shiv K.;

Losing My Way: Poems

Peacock Books, 2008, 64 pages

ISBN 8124801797, 9788124801796

topics: |  poetry | indian-english

This is a recent volume from the veteran Indian English poet Shiv K. Kumar (b. 1921).


Kumar is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, London (1978) and Padma Bhushan (2001). He grew up in Lahore, and moved to Delhi after partition (subject of a 2013 novel, Train to Delhi).

Kumar did his Ph.D in English Lit at Cambridge on "Bergson and the Stream of Consciousness novel" (1950). He lives in Hyderabad, where he has been with the English dept at the University of Hyderabad and at Osmania, and has worked on european fiction, and on British romantic poets / Victorian literature. He has also visited Yale (1962), Marshall (1968) and the U. Northern Iowa (1969).

His first collection of poems Articulate Silences was published from PC Lal's Writer's Workshop in 1970. In 1977, five of his poems were included in Pritish Nandy's passionate anthology, Strangertime. Other volumes of poetry include Cobwebs in the Sun (1974), Subterfuges (OUP, 1975), Woodpeckers (London, 1979), Broken Columns (an autobiographical poem publ. 1984, but appearing in Strangertime in 1977) and Trapfalls in the Sky (1987). The last volume won him the Sahitya Academy Prize for English in 1987.

The poetry of Shiv K. Kumar

In the anthology, Gathered Grace (1991), K.R. Ramachandran Nair describes Shiv Kumar's poetry:

	The major themes in Kumar's poetry are love, sex and companionship,
	birth and death and the sense of boredom and horror arising out of
	the anguish of urban life experiences. He adopts the ironic mode of a
	confessional poet especially in poems in which he explores the self
	through interaction with others. Like Robert Frost, he often selects
	a simple and unpretentious fact or incident and develops it into a
	meditative experience. Indian Women, A Mango Vendor and Rickshaw-
	Wallah illustrate this aspect of Kumar's poetry. ... 
	With a rare insight into the ridiculous aspect of a situation,
	experience or fact Kumar digs at follies and pretensions as seen in
	poems like Poet Laureate and Epitaph on an Indian Politician.

As an example of his ironic attitude to sex and companionship, consider
A mango vendor, where the emphasis is on her other attractions: 

			Through the slits
			of her patched blouse
			one bare shoulder
			two white moons
			pull all horses
			off the track.
		The old man's eyes --
		Idle birds
		peeking at the mango-nipples.

In New York, he does not find the atmosphere very congenial: 
		The white of the negro maid's eyeballs
		is the only clean thing here. 

You can read his work at book excerptise: 

   * Contemporary Indian poetry ed. Kaiser Haq (1990)
   * Modern Indian Poetry in English ed. Ayyappa K Paniker (1991)
   * excerpts of his translations of Faiz in 
	The true subject: selected poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz by Naomi Lazard (tr.) (1988)
   * Ten 20th Century Indian Poets ed. R. Parthasarathy (1976)
   * Strangertime, ed. Pritish Nandy (1977)
   * Contemporary Indian Short Stories in English ed. Shiv K. Kumar (1991)

Losing my way

Losing my way is Shiv K Kumar's seventh volme of poetry.  The poems here
are on more prosaic themes, but many of them develop a simple act into
a broader meditation.  Thus, in Feeding the pigeons, 

		Gingerly they come, hopping toward
		my palmful of temptations. ...
		A white-feathered creature has already
		hopped onto my palm for crumbs.
		Emboldened, I caress the nape of its neck,
		the rondure of its bosom.

		Sly are the ways of temptation.
		Birds with grains, children with peppermints,
		and brunettes with bracelets.

Peacocks mating also has a subtle emotional connect.  However,
some other poems seem overly direct ("vultures whose spiked / beaks gobble
down dead bodies"). On the whole, craftsmanship and succinctness carry
most of the pieces. 


Weeds p.4

Long, thin and brittle.  Like the strands
in an old infidel's beard.
They stand under the waters
of a lake -- stagnant and muddy,
like an obsolete ritual.  But they
seize by the leg anyone who
dares transgress into their domain.

Or, one may see them hooked out
of a lawn as parasites.  As pustules
on a fair skin.  But nature doesn't
disown even vultures whose spiked
beaks gobble down dead bodies...

Purity of blood-- the thin line
that divides Bermuda grass from
weeds -- is a myth created by
those whose vision is impaired
by jaundice.

Peacocks mating p. 28

Even if he offers to bring the constellation
down to the rubies in her eyes,
it doesn't work.  A cold, blank
stare.  Like Cleopatra, her desire
transcends the skyline.

But as he places his crown at her feet
and breaks into a serenade,
unfolding his feathers to all the tints
of the coral sea, she stirs.
Sways her body to the wind's rhythm.
All the eyes in her spangled plumes
now awaken to the body's rapture.

Two flames swing round each other,
seven times.  Two prisms converge
on the same point on paper
to set it ablaze.

But no commitment.  Next spring
another mate, another dance.
Pain is born when the honey-
bee returns to the belly-button
of the same sunflower,
again and again.

Words p.55

They lie dormant in a shark's pouch
till it is harpooned by a poet's quill.
Relaxed, cleansed and baptized, they're
now ready to be strung into verse.

A solitary word is a foetus that floats
rudderless on the womb's sea.  It's an arc
sliced off a tangerine that looks
like the lip of a Nigerian woman.

A poem is born when words wing down
from the sky, chorusing like nightingales
with holes in their throats.

Don't cough out words.
Just let them out softly, like seals
rubbing their backs on a beach
off the Mediterranean coast.

Feeding the pigeons p.62

A flock of visitors on my lawn --
freedom of the air on their wings,
the earth's greenery under their feet.

Gingerly they come, hopping toward
my palmful of temptations.
Assured of trust, they're now
within my reach.  Do they move
in pairs, I wonder.

A white-feathered creature has already
hopped onto my palm for crumbs.
Emboldened, I caress the nape of its neck,
the rondure of its bosom.
It's drinking it all in.
Has it abandoned its partner for a stranger?

Sly are the ways of temptation.
Birds with grains, children with peppermints,
and brunettes with bracelets.

The way to catch a star
is to keep your palm open.


Sunday Morning, Shimla 
Ruins at Agra
Adam to God
The Sun's Eye
Losing My Way
Vandana Weds Ramesh

Wall clock 								
	In the muffled light of my bed-
	lamp, I hear a heart-throb on the mantelpiece --
	tick-tock.  Time's footfalls down a dark hallway.

The Garden
Déjà Vu
A Nightmare
Walking in the Rain
Two Strangers on a Train
Whisperings of Immortality
Listening to Shiv Sharma's Santoor
As He Lay Dying
Casino at Las Vegas
At the Circus
Birth of a Poem
The Snail
The Coconut Tree
Peacocks mating 						
Bhishampitamah to Yudhishter Dharamaraj
The Moving Finger
Learning to Walk
The Survivors
Lying Low
Street Children
On Reading Dostoevsky's 'Notes from Underground'
A Tiger Skin at the Country Club
In memory of Begum Akhtar 						

A circuitous road 							
	I'll never come this way again.
	Harding road, round Summerhill,
	circuitous like an argument, never
	unwinding -- a rattle-snake that coils
	around its own tail.

Paper Boats
Riding a Horse
Telling Beads
Crossing the Street
A Love Letter to My Wife
An Anonymous Letter

I'm still waiting for you 						
	It was a child's love for you.
	I stared at you with a teddy bear's
	button eyes...


The Mist 								
	All other tints muffled
	except steel grey that has shrouded
	the earth, this winter morning.  Each tree
	a cloaked assassin, each branch a dagger
	raised against some phantom, and each wall
	a hangman's scaffolding.

A Poets' Meet
A Letter to Kabir
I'm Afraid of Tomorrow
A Cock-fight
Feeding the pigeons 						

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This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Jul 23