Poetry of Expansive Consciousness
Barin Ghosal Interview (2008)
Santanu Bandopadhyay/Aryanil Mukherjee
Barin Ghosal, co-editor and a pivotal member of the Kaurab group, is one of the most innovative anti-mainstream Bengali writers of his generation. Fom his very early years, Barin focussed on alternative literary pursuits, rigorously experimenting with the structure of the modern Bangla novel, as well as contemporary poetic language. In the early 1990s, Barin wrote a series of essays in Kaurab and other magazines, introducing "Expansive Consciousness" (or EC) - a new literary theory that provides a novel semantic-semiotic analysis of poetic language and thought. He spent great energy identifying, analyzing, theorizing concurrent trends in contemporary Bangla poetry. This interview attempts to get a constructivist view of Barin's Poetry of Expansive Consciousness.
Aryanil: What was the idea behind the KAURAB POETRY CAMPS you and your fellow poets started in the 1970s ? Looking back, what do you think cultified the concept ? How did this tradition renew itself in the Bangla poetry world ?
Barin : During late 1970s, we realized that all we have been writing so far was trash- a mere repetition, remake and a remix of the old wine and under it’s seductive influence we boasted around in our small town, i.e. Jamshedpur. We began to think of doing more things in life than writing poetry. We should come out of all pretence with a refreshing new poetry, something that has not been written, else we should just quit writing. Our very existence as writers being at stake, we engaged ourselves in a deep-rooted soul searching process and tried to formulate a way out. We realized that we have to
1) understand the history of world poetic traditions with their breaks, turns and bends including that of Bengali poetry
2) critically attack and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our own work
3) assemble the homogeneous fractions.
To achieve this, we needed breaks from our mundane daily lives and deliberation for a couple of days and meditate together. We started camping out to remote natural spots - read, argued, fought, slept, drank, wept looking for that blissful duende. We would often take small rations of food/alcohol/daily necessities with us and camp in the heart of mother nature. We ventured out to forests, sea shores, mountains.
There was a famous publisher in Kolkata, Mr. D. K. Gupta, (you know him) after whose demise in 1980, a little magazine in Kolkata, called Bibhab instituted an award for the best little magazine of the year after Gupta. A distinguished panel of judges chose Kaurab to be the first recipient of that award. Imagine, an outsider like us, in Bengal’s cultural heartland - Kolkata, stealing away the prize for the best Bengali little magazine ! That spun our heads. We set ourselves camp-bound once every two months seriously motivated ourselves to find a new recourse to creating poetry that would transform what-is-called-poetry for the generations to come.
The nature-camping rendezvous is a myth now. Many commercial and non-commercial magazines, literary joints and organizations have tried to emulate it with short-lived success for about two decades now. The Kaurab camps ran for some 8 years and then waned as our work matured and were published as a book series labeled - ‘Kaurab Experimental Literature’.
Thereafter, in the beginning of the 1990s I became engaged with another young group of poets from Bengal, you being a member for sometime, who were soul searching for the same purpose. In me, they found a honeycomb to work and buzz around. This group came together under the banner of ‘Kobita Campus’ (Poetry Campus) - a little magazine of that name later on. We realized in these camps that ‘Antipoetry’ could serve as a meaningful first step of departure. Now, once the departure was established, the indoor poetry workshops of Kabita Campus practised through many years culminated into the idea of what we later called ‘New Poetry’ (Natun Kabita). This was a newer concept. For this, a new space for ideas needed to be created.
I came up with the concept of Expansive Consciousness (EC) which provided the space to write about something new. Something that did not exist. It stormed the young poet’s colony and within a couple of years poets from all corners of Bengal took part in it.
Aryanil: Your theory of Expansive Consciousness wasn’t a written manifesto. Nor is it seen as an instruction manual written to churn up a poetry movement. But it has become a must-read, quintessential item in the young poet’s survival kit. Let’s talk about it a little bit. How did the idea arrive ? What was the initial target ?
Barin: Since the word "manifesto" hints at a closure, let us annihilate it right here. I have written many essays on this topic that were compiled into – Atichetanaar Kathaa (On Expansive Consciousness) which you have referred to as "an instruction manual for younger experimental poets". But it was not meant to be that way. These are essays about my own experience, experiment, practice, understanding and realization in course of writing poetry in my very own way. You are correct though, when you say that I give no erudite instruction to the poet of the future. I only show how every individual should inquire about mainstream poetry to identify its bounds and search for answers to his/her own personal gratification. This will surely lead to a new path, to a free space called Expansive Consciousness by means of a scientific approach. I was a student of science and technology and have been taught into this particular process of research.
Contrary to the prevailing state of Hinduism in India and in Bengal, my use of the word "consciousness" has no spiritual or religious meaning as it is generally misunderstood by the mainliners. It simply means total awareness of knowledge, experience and information at a single instant of time. An alertness of one’s own existence in a known and given surrounding. When the poet looks into it, he experiences enlightenment. But when he looks into himself, he comes across all the tragical elements of surrealism that have dominated poetry written all over the world during a good part of the 20th century. If the poet begins to look from the center radially outward, centripetally, like the cubists did, he ends up at various surfaces/walls around himself since he is disciplined by the language, form, subject and sociology of his time. He starts writing about these walls over a τ-dimensioned wall which helps collaging/layering images and metaphors.
The form so far, held together by the pundits of grammar, was broken down by the postmodernists. Language breaks down as the poet looks at his masters, eye to eye, since his own language is a pet-tool handed over to him by this politicized force. When the poet is made or becomes conscious of this political capital of the mainstream, he begins to attack their language. "Death of Subject" was a much awaited outcome after “The Capital” had shrunk all the ideologies of the world into basically a null and void. Therefore, instead of hobnobbing with clichés, i.e. traditional poetry, for the sake of an illusory end throne, the poet will now break it to gain access. Access to what ? New Poetry or Natun Kabita.
So, when he breaks open the barriers of his well-lit consciousness, he steps out into an unknown darkness. As he realizes his bearing, it becomes illuminated and known. It’s like a pathfinder opening up a new trail in an unknown terrain. This is the Expansion of his Consciousness. I believe, like the ever expanding universe, human consciousness is also expansive. And only after that realization is attained, can one find an empty new space to play in with sounds, words, and feelings. This freedom instigates, conceives, births and nurtures New Poetry. The argument of breaking and gaining access to EC did catch up like fire. All over the world and particularly in Bengal, I have noticed a general depression among younger poets who seem to be waiting to gather courage to jump into that unknown darkness I call "Quark Area of Life and Being". A lot of young Bangla poets have trained themselves in this kind of an approach towards poetry writing. There is an initial chaos though. The chaos of randomness. Overplaying with the language. But the dust settles soon, I have seen that.
So yes, there was an initial goal. If I didn’t want to walk the path laid down by mainstream poetry, which by the way, has such a high public profile in Eastern India, particularly West Bengal, I had to create my own stream and enjoy the freedom. That’s what I preach.
Aryanil : We would like you to cite a few early examples of poetry written in the 1990s which you used to elucidate your theory. Please explain their dealings with "Expansive Consciousness". What corollaries derived off of it in the coming years ?
Barin : Look, you cannot use or apply the theory of Expansive Consciousness to explain any body of poetic work that follows mainstream tradition, even if it is good/well done. To realize it’s application, the elements of common usage, (to be called Old Poetry from now on), will have to be identified for proscription. Some of these are : -- history, philosophy, narration, commentary, plot, news, subject, slogan, description, babble, morals, meters, symbol etc. Several other poetry elements like metaphor, simile, lyric, imagery, syntax etc. also need to be greatly refurbished. Same rules apply to emotion and time server items. I shall site few examples of such work created during early 1990s when we were just beginning to talk about EC.
Grounded tree is inflamed, deception in river water
Motionless after so many days, just silent
Not a single secret could be revealed to han(d)sel
About strapping boots on whichever
the first-foot man stops
Too many skirmishes cannot enjoy so many cheers
(Where as Silent/Kamal Chakraborty)
Juxtaposition of the word ‘motion’ has reduced logic and anarchy into near-insignificance. This is prompted by EC.
You and I come back home. We wake up in
Our movements, garments and love makings
and the loving sound slowly appearing on the office door, and stairs
or lift and chairs ; the type writer on the side --- incessant noise of keys, soft push-ups
on papery abdomen bloom the children --- men’s brightness. Crouch and watch the drowsy
and nail-toothless that blackish cat.
(The Cat/Dhiman Chakraborty)
Whatever surreal nausea was there mixed and tossed with the ins and outs of urban life suddenly appear illuminated and beautiful through EC.
I have called you much
Like beyond that noon a bus-mate shouting at the Prachi bus-stop
Throws up to heaven his uvula, hands. Empty seats
deprive him of food, in lovelessness. Inside me
rice boils throughout the
(My prayers/Ranjan Moitra)
Here trace builds the backtracks until love and food are made possible by EC. A back tracing vector can be noticed.
Woods are returning from ashes
This will again deliver green fruits
Be scent and stalk once again
Those fireballs came back.
You can see the coming back. The current and it’s rise and fall
Birthward smell is returning
Green bicycle, tunes and styles of syrups.
(Birthward smell/Shankar Lahiri)
EC reminds the green here.
a desolation stands firm and fenced
amidst a shade and garden untouched by the sun
when heat is spoken it doesn’t necessarily work
maybe fruits are plucked from a variety of
elevations or in a mild wave runs through the blades of grass
an animal fruit in a lightening instant
in a moment that’s itself unstill
transforming into what is still unclear duality
no work records at this time in the
observe their changing levels
keep eyes on the glass
it’s consciousness is borning remember
heat makes energy and they aren’t duals.
(Isolated System/Aryanil Mukhopadhyay)
From an antique joint or from molecules breaking down into atoms, inside an inner brightness, an entropic energy, the poet observs travels between shifting forests through EC.
The EC so far described in the above poem pieces are just chance occurrences and not conscious applications of the idea which had not quite matured or come into currency at that time, desisting its users to desert mainstream poetry altogether. The switching over was slow. A much more complete application could be experienced in the following poem written around the same time. Here can be seen a number of essential departures from manners once glorified by Old Poetry. At the onset, it is necessary to presume that a ‘word’ doesn’t mean anything. It has no function other than referring to a particular object, state and thought, or its representation. Humanly articulated sounds are symbolized in letters and words all put together.
Done with fevers etc. the rain slipped out into the garden
From there it outgressed up to the rail-yard beyond town
This noise occasionally sounded on beggar’s pan
`bout twice from those letters
enticed in cunt and arse
Lava it’s outcry was luckily used to foreign lands
Boarding a train an anarchist’s forgotten shoe
behind on board
and there was a man with robbed up face
it rains on far lands on marbles shirts & all over burnt
The angry man ultimately wept down even there
Blunt with dishonor barbed with the commas of 1990
Rail-lines after lines crossed over
A nontransparent train running
through turbid rain
Written over again
And thereafter silent are stories of the
(After it rained/Barin Ghosal)
The subject-to-be, "Rain" has been put out at the onset. Since the poem builds rapidly it does not allow any particular image to last. The noise from the beggar’s pan doesn’t serve as a simile. All the fast moving images disappear after their first impression and do not reappear. These images unlike that in films are unthreaded. The poem does not get a concrete shape. It rings a succession of sounds in resonance with the poet’s mind. If this piece, by any means, does trigger a spark in ones mind, the poem is perceived, and only then does it have some bearing Most of the time it flows in vain in the absence of a proper receiver. When you read alone you play both the roles of a donor and a receiver at the same time.
The poem "After it Rained" breaks the barrier of consciousness as soon as ‘rain’ is characterized. It walks off into distance leaving behind lumps of unfamiliar noise. There is mention of lava without a volcano in sight. Mention of a left over shoe linked to an anarchist or a non-transparent train, a man with a robbed-up face, angry man weeping…..all these uncanny things are lightened with out-stepping into darkness, which were rationally not to be there. This is how I would describe EC or Expansive Consciousness. Once articulated, they begin to sound like bells and are more easily detectable. The reader spares my poem at this point and starts making his own. The poem, now, is said to have been communicated fully.
Santanu : You have said once that the poem is originally written inside the cerebral cortex of the poet - what got transferred on paper is an incomplete version. The poet, then, very often, tries to ascertain the poem on the whole and writes another one. Along similar lines, others have said that a poet writes only one incomplete poem during his entire career. Well, one could argue that the poet, throughout his life, composes certain texts made up of some kind of reading material and never actually writes a poem. What’s your view of that ?
Barin : I think you got me wrong here. What I said is that as long as the universe and components exists naturally, and the human system is seen only as its reflection, one may be ready to receive poetic sparks. Let me acronym SPARK as Spontaneous Power Activated Resonation Kinetics – that might make it easier to understand.
Poems are signals that are constantly occurring and dissolving in the brain. They need to be perceived by a sensitive chance observer/thinker/reader/poet. First it takes to feeling, then an abstract matching experience from one’s mental store gets dislodged and it emerges like a spark or a flash of light. All this happens in those magic moments when one’s mental capacitance is just conducive enough to receive the spark. This is what I call germination. You see, once a single poem through a spark is able to germinate one’s mind, the poetry building process gets started. At this point, the poem has occurred in the mind. All poets do that. They usually get a secondary or a tertiary poem triggering in them while reading or listening to another poet or from nature or an event, a personal experience etc. But the release of the primary poem awaits a self-triggering (by a self-motivating process) The poet is now under pressure.
To avoid this delay I needed to expand my consciousness by breaking barriers and stepping out of that unknown darkness. One doesn’t have to write a single poem a thousand times over with recombining and permutating the same words. A whole poem can never be brought out since there is nothing like a complete poem. A poet is not copying or retracing anything, even if it may seem invisible at times. He is constructing a poem that matches the mood and exploration techniques his process has called for. I have nothing to comment on what other people from the Old Poetry domain have said. I have self-exiled myself from all that.
Poetry needs to be living. Only then a distant reader can communicate with it. From it I should expect to get a completely new kind of word-assembly - sub-altern to marginal to classical, meters and cantos missing or mixed at random, without a traditional beginning or end and providing a "total" meaning.
A poet can never bring out a "total poem". A reader can never wait to finish reading/listening to a complete poem-to-be. That is the fate of a good poem. There is no start and no end. And it is communicated before it is completely read out. A primary poem is always able to germinate or spawns off a new secondary poem in another mind.
Yes, a poet constructs a reading material which does not mean or resound anything unless it becomes a true poem. He, who never writes a "poem" but provides some text as reading material, is not called a poet. He might be a philosopher or a sophist in disguise.
Santanu : If we assume that a complete life-cycle of a living being is an assemblage of every facet or phase of its life woven together, why can’t poems likewise, of a single author, be considered "a life cycle of his poetry". "Poetry" is analogous to "Life" here and not a single poem. What do you think ?
Barin : We all know that poetry is the practice of writing poems. To perceive, conceive, seed, germinate, grow, ripe, and produce: this process is called poetic practice. As one slowly grows and matures in experience and intelligence in a life time, so does his poetry. Likewise his output, his poems can also depict his timeline chronologically. I hope I have answered you.
The reader is also a poet. The reader, during the reading process, receives a similar mind-spark that triggers another poem, and only then is the poem successful and cherishable. A successful poem, to me, is one that is capable of seeding another poem in the reader’s mind. The poem is loved if it has such a re-germination capacity. But that cannot be the goal for a poet.
Santanu: Today we experience an acute shortage of time – to read and to write – true for both the poet and the reader. Given such time constraints, if the poet aims for a bigger audience, plans to reach out to a madder crowd, shouldn’t we discount or even dismiss his work as "popular" ? What is "popular poetry" to you ?
Barin : Time is a notion defined and limited by your own clock and a shortage of it is a bad practice. It means one’s time is occupied with unenjoyable things and activities. To a poet, there is all the time in the world to run his internal process. If he has a goal to feed a bigger audience and begins to dilute his work accordingly, he ceases to be a poet. It is the reader who comes to a poet to fulfill his own need. Poet doesn’t need to be a marketing strategist. When we approach a probable customer to sell a book of poems, we act like a salesman and not like a poet.
You know, I always say that there are at least two different kinds of lives one experiences in a lifetime, including that of a poet. The first one is influenced by the left cerebrum, which is used up for worldly business. The second one is influenced by the right cerebrum. The poet enjoys this second life. And what you call a popular poet enjoys the first one. He ceases to be a poet, may be for the time being.
Santanu : Ok, let me paraphrase it. If a poet chooses to express the conceived idea (the poem) in different way, i.e. in a non-conventional way, for example, lets say through some new "sound movement" or some new "visual effect" like hoardings, posters, banners etc. and this eventually becomes popular, reaches out to broader masses, more than what printed books can achieve, would you still be inclined to denounce it as "popular" ?
Barin: Anybody has the liberty to produce anything and call it poetry. We know of sound poetry and visual poetry. These are done in different media, like that in painting, sculpture, cinema, dance choreography, etc which are sometimes attractive and encored, I know. That’s fine. But we are in the business of creating poems with words. Now a poem has a one-to-one approach and does not have a mass appeal. In a poetry reading session, 100 people attending, the poem touches 100 different minds in 100 different ways. Everybody might appreciate the reader but all of them will start writing different secondary poems if inspired. A given set of "meanings" become popular in a time-server or sloganeer write-up. Hoardings, posters, banners don’t look for a poet, they look for an advertisement party to book that space.
Santanu: If one presumes that poetry is controlled by our sense and sensibilities, one might deductively state that through public campaigns, poetry could be used to instigate, mobilize, motivate or pacify the masses. Would you defy that? If so, why ?
Barin : Poetry can be regulated, yes. And a good poem might control and influence your life. And for mass dealings, Old Poetry did provide these sloganeers. Why need a poet for that job ? People like Mr. M.K.Gandhi, Herr Hitler, V. Lenin, Subhas Bose or Madonna could do that better.