Ananda Bormudoi explores the many facets of Joy Goswami, the poet who turned critic with Gnosaibagan
Noted Bengali poet-critic, Joy Goswami, visited Dibrugarh recently and interacted with poets in Tinsukia, Duliajan and Dibrugarh. The poet was overwhelmed to see that his poems were read and admired in Upper Assam where he knew no one or had no acquaintance. The discovery of his literary friendship with people about whom he knew nothing greatly inspired him. He was pleasantly surprised to see that in the poetry reading sessions at Guijan, Satyajit Gogoi’s house, Duliajan and Dibrugarh University Guest House, the readers were carrying with them collections of their favourite poems.
A man reveals himself while talking about others and Goswami does exactly that. He has written two volumes of poetry criticism titled Gnosaibagan. It started as a Sunday column in a newspaper and the title came from a ghost story that had gained popularity at that time. Just as a ghost is never clearly seen, poetry is also never fully understood. The same great poem may have several independent interpretations.
To him, poetry cannot
be consciously and
It comes like a dream
Goswami takes up a poem or a few passages from poems and reveals the most striking feature of the poet. This feature is invariably a celebration of life and the world. His personal observations often come close to theoretical points in literary criticism. A keen awareness of human suffering and a positive assertion of human values have been central to the essays of Gnosaibagan. The poets are of different ages, the poems depict different situations and events, and the invariant core of the essays is a keen human concern of the critic.
As a critic, Joy Goswami is not guided by names. He concentrates on the poem and not on the stature of the poet. One brilliant example is the discussion on Basanti, a poem authored by young poet Chandranil Bhattacharyya, which is pretty long. The comment that precedes the quotation reads: “We may not be used to the thoughts and ideas of the new writers. But I can understand that the words are uttered from the centre or the core of life”. The poem, as Goswami observes, captures the essence of society. It deals with the middle class, especially lower-middle-class Bengali girls. Literary critics in general are a bit more rigorous in indulging young writers, but Goswami judges a work on its merit.
In the mid 1970s, the editor of a little magazine that published some poems of Goswami, had asked him to consciously launch a poetic movement against the style of Shakti-Sunil that started in the 1950s. Goswami’s reaction to the proposal – recorded long afterwards in Gnosaibagan – addresses serious issues relating to literary creations. His arguments can be summed up thus: Shakti and Sunil are not writing in one style. Shakti himself has written poems that are quite different from one another in style. He also wonders whether the poems of Alok Sarkar, Utpal Kumar, Alokranjan Dasgupta, Binoy Mazumdar, Tarapada, Pronobendu or Shankha Ghosh can be put in the same category – as poems written in the same style. In this context Goswami raises a fundamental question regarding the creative urge of a person. Why does a person write? Does he or she write to get rid of a turmoil or fire burning within or to escape from a sense of impotence while watching men killing men? The writing may not alter the real situation but the writer feels relieved of his or her suffering. WH Auden had said, in his poem written in memory of WB Yeats, that poetry makes nothing happen.
Joy Goswami knows that those who launch a new poetic movement must break with the poetic preconceptions of their predecessors. He also raises questions about the freedom of those poets who may not share the manifesto of those who consciously launch a new movement. This notion of the freedom of the writer comes very close to what George Orwell says about the freedom of a writer in Inside the Whale. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer did not refer to the big international events of the time but the novel created its own environment. The novelist enjoyed full freedom of staying comfortably inside the whale. To quote Orwell, “The whale’s belly is simply a womb big enough for an adult. There you are, in the dark, cushioned space that exactly fits you, with yards of blubber between yourself and reality, able to keep up an attitude of the complete indifference, no matter what happens”.
In discussing a few passages from Mallika Sengupta and Manibhusan Bhattacharyya, Joy Goswami draws a very significant conclusion: “Within the commonplaceness of our daily life, it is possible to be blessed by an unusual touch of heavenly happiness”. He has assigned to poetry the task of healing the wounds of the suffering hearts. Poetry can very well be a nurse.
While discussing a poem of Alokranjan Dasgupta, Goswami says that poetry often tells us white lies. This is another way of saying that poetry need not deal with historical truth. The law of profitability is all that matters. Goswami reveals his own poetic beliefs through a comment on Alokranjan Dasgupta’s poetry: “His poetry transforms distrust and disbelief into trust and belief”. This is perhaps the task of all great literature.
Joy Goswami is respectful to his readers and seriously thinks of the problem of communication with them. He wonders how he can know what his readers want, and it is just an accident if a poet can express what is on a reader’s mind. About the actual creative process, he says something very interesting. A spirit called ‘Karnapishas’ talks to the ear of a poet and the poet notes down what the spirit dictates. This idea about the creative process resembles the idea of automatic writing that many modern writers talk about. Joy Goswami approximates poetry to incantation by talking about ‘Karnapishas’. To him, poetry cannot be consciously and deliberately constructed. It comes like a dream. However, regular exercise has an advantage. If someone sits regularly to write poetry, the person can produce lines generally accepted as poetry. If the person is an established poet, the lines get printed. Regular practice gives technical perfection to a poet.
In an essay, Goswami says that his pain as a poet is his inability to find the exact word for an emotion. It is unjust to call ten different emotions by one name. It is an insult to them all. This shows how careful Joy Goswami himself is in his search of verbal equivalents for emotional states in him. To solve such a problem of verbal equivalents, poets like Mallarme, Baudelaire and Navakanta Barua were assiduous readers of dictionaries. Goswami may also be one such.