In September-October, 2017, Coldnoon celebrated six years of publishing, and travelling with you. To mark our anniversary, we got together with writers, intellectuals and stalwarts of the art of thinking (and travelling). Here is an interview with K. Satchidanandan.
We believe, in making travel arrangements, we subconsciously tend to eliminate possibilities which we deem unfit to perceived etiquette or norms, or occasions. Our understanding of travel is based on premises that define what travelling is not. Is writing for you a similar activity, where you are conscious of what writing is not? If so, what according to you is not writing?
I write across genres: poetry, essay, drama, travelogue, adaptation as also translation ( I consider translation writing too). I do not think there is one rule that governs all of them. I think of myself primarily as poet and, yes, I try as far as possible to remove everything that I do not consider poetry from my poems. I cannot and will not even try to define poetry; but I know that it expresses something that cannot be expressed in any other form of literature or art — say, fiction, essay, play, film, music…but can have in it the elements that constitute all of them, say, narration, thought, drama, montage, tonality. I call this the ‘inevitability’ of poetry, its ‘uniqueness’ as a dense, intense, unpredictable, playful, form of language use in which emotion, thought and word coalesce inseparably. I know any concept of poetry can be limiting as it is not a static art; it grows, evolves, changes and what was considered unpoetic in one age becomes poetic in another. The poetry of Nicanor Parra or Bertolt Brecht or Ko Un, for example, would not have been possible in the nineteenth century. It is often said of sculpture that you remove from the stone whatever is not the sculpture and there you have the sculpture; may be this is metaphorically true of poetry too: we remove from language whatever we consider not to be poetry. Other genres of writing may have different requirements, but yes, keeping certain things out, editing out the superfluous in the specific context and genre , is a universal rule for good writing.
Besides writing what would you most like to be known for?
Writers sometimes live under the pleasing illusion that they will be remembered for all time. This is a fragile dream for many reasons,: first, out of the crores of writers who have crossed our planet, only very few are remembered after their death and even fewer for at least a few centuries; second, we have no control over our life after death , third, even centuries are only moments in time’s eternity and fourth we are not sure even the human species will survive for long and it is already on a suicidal path; this may be true of the small planet where we live too. I have a short take on this in the poem’ Immortality’: “Thousands of poets wrote poetry /and were forgotten./ Only one was remembered./I would rather be forgotten/ with thousands of companions/ than be the lone immortal.” So what I care for is how I a perceived when I am alive and I would like to be seen not necessarily as a great writer, and not certainly as a clever one which is the norm these days but as a writer of integrity , refusing to compromise his ideals for small personal gains and ever honest to his experience, feeling and imagination even when his writing may not qualify as being the best of the times.
In 1794, the French author, Xavier de Maistre, wrote the renowned book, Voyage Around my Room, during a month and a half of solitary confinement, in consequence of a duel. Besides being a satire on the contemporary literary culture of voyages and adventures of colonial sailors to prospective new worlds, the book proved to be a demonstration of how an individual is almost always travelling, but perhaps does not recognize the value of their domestic travels, mobility or even touristic acquisitions. How do you see or understand travelling? Do you think it is a necessary activity for a writer?
The writer is a traveller in more than one sense. Metaphorically all writing, creative writing in particular is travel as the writing is a travel through imagination as well as language and as such is an adventure too as it has in it exploration, discovery, surprise, charm, return. Empirically, yes, all writers undertake short travels in their own villages or towns and within their state and longer travels into far corners of his/her country and of the world. All the epics of the world — Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavata, Odyssey, Iliad, Divine Comedy and great novels and plays including the plays of Shakespeare — have travels in them and sometimes travel is central to them as it is to Homer’s Odyssey, that gets internalised in Joyce’s Ulysses. Travel has inspired a lot of poetry; the issues of Coldnoon themselves stand testimony to this. Kshemendra, the 12th century literary theorist in his Kavikantabharanam clearly advocates travel as essential for poets who he says should learn the shape of leaves, make people laugh in gatherings, grasp their true nature, understand how oceans and mountains, the Sun and the Moon are in themselves, his mind should enter the seasons and he should travel in many lands, among diverse people and learn their languages. Travel broadens one’s mind, enriches one’s perception of life and things and relationships and stimulates creative imagination — this much I can say from my own limited experience of travel within the country and across continents and the several sequences of poems I have around my encounters in India and China, the two Americas and the various parts of Europe.
Your favorite or most striking lines by another author; or if you will, any composed by yourself?
This indeed is a hard question to answer. From the beginnings of many great novels to the ends of several great poems I have at least a hundred favourites. So I shall confine myself to a few ordinary-looking lines that carry the truth of poetry for me from Octavio Paz I often quote in my lectures: ‘I am history/ A memory inventing itself/ I am never alone/ I speak with you always/ You speak with me always/ I move in the dark/ I plant signs.”
Do respond to the following words: “
“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” ― George Carlin
We speak to ourselves as part of our larger conversation that we have also with others, with nature and with the universe or God if you choose to call it so. And I know that even when I think I accept only answers that come from myself, I know my self contains a multitude of universes.
What do you think of Coldnoon?
Coldnoon has been unique in many ways: one, that it focuses on the variations of a single theme: travel; two, that it has never disappointed a relatively discriminating and responsible reader alike, which means it has seldom made compromises in terms of quality and three, a little magazine, that too with a single theme, is extremely hard to sustain and the way Coldnoon has sustained itself is nothing short of a small miracle.