By Gilani Kamran
Poetry with / without destination
(Saadat Saeed's first poetic collection)
The generation of New Poets, which had entered the literary scene in 1958, with a theoretical basis and enthusiastic poetry reading functions, has grown old by now. And in between, Urdu poetry has met many ups and downs, numerous fluctuations in taste, and very many crises on the ideological level.
That generation has grown old along with its own readers; and, it is obviously natural that young men with claims to creative skills should have, by now, appeared on the scene to replace the old familiar voices, with equally ambitious attempts to open a new era in the history of modern Urdu poetry. Since 1958, hardly any young poet had come forth with any literary intentions to give a new orientation to poetry writing. In fact, the tradition of Urdu poetry had continued to flow in the channels, which were provided by the poets of 1958. But with 1988— thirty years after the first poetic break through in post-Independence era, a new stir in poetic creativity has become apparent with Saadat Saeed's first collection of poems, called the Dark Wood.
This young poet has openly stated in private discussions and conversations that the time for new poetry has come and the old view of poetry should give place to new thinking. In order to support his views on the topic, he has added a detailed introduction to his poems and has said that the present times need a new poetics, which must be relevant to the demands of a changed emotional and intellectual environment.
In the introduction to his poems Saadat Saeed has heavily drawn on the academic resources of literary studies; he has, therefore, invoked Aristotle as his primary authority on the definition of poetry. We also meet Goethe, Karl Jaspers, Kierkegaard and Sartre in his introduction to the Dark Wood. And in spite of the brilliance of the great names, the underlying shades of Saadat Saeed's theoretical basis do not, get illuminated nor the path to this supposed destination is made any visible by this time-honoured device. In his zeal for enlisting a new chapter of poetry for himself, Saadat Saeed has played down his immediate predecessors by pointing out that they had, in their time, ignored the social and political reality, and had, on the contrary, attempted to create a private world of their own. He has also held that idealism in poetry is extremely misleading and, in social terms, this attitude is both harmful and dangerous for creative activity. They, who regard poetry as inspiration and assume no responsibility for their poetic utterances, are simply unwanted and, in consequence, forfeit the right of being a part of modern' human situation. This kind of literary fascism, which, has its origin in Plato's thinking is most unhappily restated by Saadat Saeed in our time, and more happily it fails to find any support even by his own poems. Nevertheless, it is yet to be decided whether poetry has anything to do with inspiration or it is just a mechanical and calculated experimentation with words. Poetry is a matter of the language, and, as such, it must have an objective reality and must also exist as an empirical objective fact. Saadat Saeed has drawn his strength from such views. But while elaborating them he has overlooked the conditions, which make poetry exist as an objective fact, and also the point that poetry is not a matter of the language only. Unfortunately the academic culture, which has lately affected our postgraduate departments of Urdu studies has been responsible for a wrong appreciation of concepts drawn from modern European sources. One such concept, which has misled some of our modern poets, is that of the linguistic pattern. Probably, as meaning differs from one critic to another, the linguistic pattern is supposed to be the key to the poetics of a composition. The poet seemingly speaks to his audience through the devices of such patterns. This view recalls to mind the havoc done by structuralism to the art of poetry, and which had made poetry a matter of pure and simple rhetoric. Thus, misguided, first Iftikhar Jalib in 1962 in his poems, and then Anis Nagi in 1966 in his ambitious critical work: The linguistic pattern (Lisani Tashkilat), and now Saadat Saeed have attempted to make poetry an exercise in linguistics.
But, apart from this theoretical pitfall which has given the difficult poetry of Iftikhar Jalib, an opaque thinking in Anis Nagi's criticism, and now a very unfamiliar phraseology in Saadat Saeed's poems, the theory of poetry, as expounded by Saadat Saeed, has something really important to convey to our times. He has made the modern unhappy environment (social and political determinism, power-psychosis, exploitation, etc) the basis for the freedom of the poet. The poet (any imaginative writer:) must transcend this unhappy environment by his consciousness and vision. Of course, there is hardly any ground to disagree with this. But, the moment Saadat Saeed reaches these premises of his theory, he is bewildered by the possible mechanism of proposed freedom of the poet and of the emancipation of man. His formula for the freedom of the poet only tells this: create linguistic patterns; these patterns will save you and your world. Yet the patterns created by the poet do not directly reach the audience. One must have a dictionary at hand to understand the words, which have been forcibly yoked together in the patterns of Saadat Saeed's suggested poetic vocabulary.
The poems in Saadat Saeed's collection (in Urdu called: Kajli Bun) represent contemporary environment and, thus, share a common ground with all those who feel unhappy about the things around them. But as poems, they simply represent pictographically. The Dark Wood is, thus, an ugly museum of distorted human images. There is suffering, torture, dead bodies, blood, and shadows of death and darkness. The title of the book: Kajli Bun, brings to mind the mythological jungle of Kathiawar (now in Bharat) which was so dark that the light of the sun could not enter it. This jungle was, in the mythological times, notorious for its wild elephants. When I asked Saadat Saeed about the title of the book, he told me about the Sunder Bun in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), which was famous for its tigers and crocodiles. “But what about that”? I protested. He complacently replied: but that is what I want; protest: Very brilliant though: Yet what makes things less brilliant is the latest trend among our writers—perhaps under the influence of Intizar Hussain, that they have made it a point of creative honour to go back to the mythological subcontinent to discover symbols from that ancient world. Intizar Hussain has drawn on Aryan folklore, Anwar Sajjad has made a mythical version of his progressive vision, Jamila Hashmi selected the title of her last collection of stories (Rang Bhoom) from Hindi bhasha; Saadat Saeed has, in his turn, while giving us his theory of poetry, gone to Kathiawar to discover a title for his poems in Urdu. Does it mean that in creative thinking our writers are facing a crisis of commitment. Or in order to be contemporary, they have an inner urge to invoke an international readership within a landscape of wild elephants, tigers and crocodiles. What, however, distresses is the feeling that in the name of creative writing our poets and fiction writers have chosen to tread a land of no return. Even Saadat Saeed has lost his way in the Dark Wood in spite of his hopes and ambitions contained in the Introduction to his poems.
Thanks : The Nation Lahore 6 April 1988.