He Who Writes Thus...
Thachompoyil Rajeevan is a winning poet and a flourishing poetry publisher in a country where poetry doesn't sell. He is so full of life and energy amazingly diverse, as his poems show. Interviewing him was like an expedition to his psyche.
He lives in Kerala and is PRO of Calicut University. He is the editor of Yeti Books, the first international imprint from Kerala. His works have appeared in several anthologies and he writes fortnightly columns in The New Indian Express and The Hindu. In addition to his two poetry collections, he has a collection of essays in Malayalam. His English poetry is represented in various anthologies such as the The Promise of the Rest (UK), The Midnight's Grandchildren (Macedonia), The Green Dragon ( South Africa) and The Brink (India). His poetry has been translated into Italian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Rumanian, Tamil, Hindi Telugu, Kannada and Marathi. He was an official invitee for the International Poetry Festival held at Struga, Macedonia in August 2003.
His vision encompasses themes ranging from the ordinary to the outer space, and it flows like poetic mediation. Rajeevan asks small questions and addresses ordinary issues.
As he spoke, curiosity shone in his small eyes; there was almost a shy look on his sturdy face. Here is a glimpse of Rajeevan's world. The burning, reassuring and irresistible world of poetry unrivalled.
Since most interviews begin at the beginning, why don’t we begin with what is happening now? I am fascinated by your new collection of English poems titled He Who Was Gone Thus. It’s been widely reviewed and greatly appreciated. Can you tell me about it and then about your poetry?
He who was gone thus is an inversion of Thathagata, which means ‘he who has come thus’ - the Buddha. Poetry, for me, is a means, which, at the same time, is also an end in itself, to communicate with the world within and without, and an act to cope with my perennial loneliness. As a child, though born in a rather big family, I was terribly lonely. And, sitting alone in some desolate corners of my mother’s house where I grew up, I developed a habit of talking to myself all that I wanted to say to others. The audience of those interior dialogues included trees, animals, plants, birds, and, sometimes, even the ghosts I have read about.
He creates a kind of trance in which we, as listeners, are lifted away. As we can see with this short poem.
In the burning street
I flare open
a burning door.
On the burning cot
I lie down burning.
The night burned out
but not the cot
nor the door
or the street
Lying on earth
When did you turn to writing poetry?
It was after reaching my father's house at the age of 10 or 11 that I heard the word ‘poetry’ for the first time in my life. My father was a poet, he didn’t publish much though. My initiation into poetry was through him. What fascinated me was not the meaning, but the way words created an unexplainable effect when uttered in a ritzy style which I later recognised as rhythm. And, it became my habit to render my self-dialogues in the same way, patterning and ordering words so as to get a tune and rhythm out of the combination. I was not aware of what I had been actually doing. Still, I don’t know what I do when I write a poem. To a certain extent, meaninglessness or aimlessness always delights me. I didn’t put down any of those dialogues on paper.
The first poem I wrote was about a charismatic girl who was my classmate in high school. I wrote all I wanted to say about her in more than five pages, describing her, singing all to myself. I kept it in my note book for many days. One day I showed it to my father, saying it was by a friend of mine. He read it carefully, looked at me and said: “This is a love poem, but full of mistakes.” I couldn’t write love poems after my first abortive attempt. After about three decades, now I have begun to write them, like a dead tree sprouting and blooming again from nature’s grave.
His poetry is a moving away from the world of reason, our limited range of accepting-we have the sense of swimming underwater towards some kind of light and open air that is sure to be found. Read ‘Fishing:’
In the morning as usual
off I went fishing
in the sea that writhes
like fish out of water.
Entangled in the weed of the deep
piercing itself in the watery thorns
and hooking itself in its gills
from the depths
threw up to the surface
the net eyes of water
a hidden fish.
“I have not written anything that I haven’t experienced,” he says; his poetry is always humorous, candid and honest. A few lines from ‘Kannaki’:
Where are my breasts?
I haven't plucked them out and flung them
to burn the cities to ashes in revenge
Neither were they severed for cancer
Nor loaned to the lady next door
for wearing at a wedding.
Where are my breasts?
Similarly, his is a kind of prose that enters your life, wanders through your space and somehow overwhelms you. A new world view. A catalysing experience. Here is an extract from an essay in his collection in Malayalam, Athey Aakasam, Athey Bhoomi (The Same Sky, the Same Earth).
“There are certain memories that persistently resurrect however much we try to bury them. Such memories are invariably connected to the evil acts and sins we committed, rather than to joyous ones. When we sit quietly for a moment, when we listen to a favourite song, when we talk about good things with our dear ones, that memory will get out of the dark hole of the past, and, its body covered all over with wounds and thorns, move about, as if on a sightseeing round. After shattering our peace and quiet, it will return to that old dark, netherworld.”
(‘The Relevance of Memories’)
Yeti Books' international editorial vision makes it one of the best poetry publishers in English. Can you tell me more about Yeti?
Young writers face blatant negligence from publishing magnates. For a new writer to find a publisher is more formidable than creating a good work. The situation is quite disappointing for poets as even the established ones get their manuscript back by return mail with an apology: we don’t read poetry now. Isn’t there a way out? Its obvious answer led fifteen Keralites living in different part of the world to think and act alike to launch a publishing house. ‘Yeti’ is the Abominable Snowman of the silent Himalayas. The mythical creature that leaves big foot-prints on the snow and vanishes to nowhere. A poet is someone similar. A book a month is Yeti’s publishing schedule.
Besides poetry, we publish fiction and studies on aesthetics. Our next project is a children’s anthology, the expected outcome of an all-India poetry competition we are announcing soon. Another is Dancing Feet and Blisters, a women’s poetry anthology.
Rajeevan is one of the most intense writers of his generation. He is a responsive poet with a steady, clear, confident language. Mostly he tries to stay focused on how things remain naturally and complete in themselves, no matter how others view them. He tries not to judge what comes out of him and simply lets it flow. In many others, emotion slips into corniness, but here is a fine balance; his lines sing to one another.