May 20, 2010

Poet Ravi Shankar and the world in his words

In Ravi Shankar’s new slim book of poems Seamless Matter: Thirty Stills, published by OHM Editions and available through Rain Taxi, he begins with an epigraph from Wallace Stevens’ poem “Description Without Place”:
Description is not revelation. It is not
The thing described, nor false facsimile.

It is an artificial thing that exists,
In its own seeming , plainly visible.

Shankar illuminates the stunning quality of the work to follow with that quote. As the world in his eye shines in the detail of the word, he reminds us that the word is metaphor and the word creates a world of its own, plainly visible. I choose here my favorite poem of the collection to show you how in this collection he brings together the keen eye that provides a world unto itself with the ruminations of the mind, how he reveals with restraint the feeling that can pulse from the world he observes, and, yes, creates. All the poems are held in the tight frame of twelve lines (four stanzas, each three lines):
The Well

Granite-willed, a wall encloses the well
where a rusty bucket teeters on a hook,
its bottom blooming with algae patches.

Years since anyone lowered the bucket
or there was drinkable water, yet as mute
testament to another time, a marker

of those who once tread the field among
cattle and square bales of hay, no shrine
would better suffice than this old tool

burrowed though topsoil, loam and sand
to tap an underground stream: whatever
we were and are now, such water knows.

With the turn in the last lines: “…whatever/ we were and are now, such water knows,” Shankar takes the observed detail and places it into the framework of a human world with limits and a seamless world of matter where all we are or wish to be is known, taken in, submerged. Here thought and detail come together to create the plainly visible detail in the humility of existence and its limits.

Aptly, Shankar asks us to take our lead from Stevens who in 1943 describes the role of the poet in the essay “The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet”: “In philosophy we attempt to approach truth through reason. Obviously this is a statement of convenience. If we say that in poetry we attempt to approach truth through the imagination, this too, is a statement of convenience. We must conceive of poetry as at least the equal of philosophy.”(1) He then confirms that he is, in fact, creating his own world: “Summed up our position at the moment is that the poet must get rid of the hieratic in everything that concerns him and must move constantly in the direction of the credible. . . . He creates his unreal out of what is real.”(2)

As to whether Shankar and I would agree on my use of Stevens here, I’ll await his comment.

In the meantime, I urge you, dear readers, to find and read this collection of stunning images that will make you think and think again. And what more can we ask of the poet?

1. Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951), pp. 41-42.
2. Ibid., p. 58.