A talk with Joop Bersee
| ( Full Text of Email dialogue between c.p.Aboobacker
and joop bersee. )
- Q. How does a poem evolve in
you and how do you know when the poem
- A. Sometimes I will be reading
and a word will jump out at me, or there
will suddenly be a title out of nowhere.
Then I will try to write a poem. At other
times I will just sit and write. There
are also times that I cannot write. When
I have that I do not even attempt to write
as I have to make things up and that is
not the way for me to write. It is a feeling,
just a feeling. The length of the poem,
the subject of the poem and the contents
of the poem reveal themselves to me as
I write them down. At times it will be
done quickly, just writing it down and
it is as good as finished. But sometimes
I rewrite it many times until it is finished.
Even then I may change a poem a year later,
so even completed poems may change. I
once worked 18 months on a poem and then
I decide to discard it. I just couldn't
get it right. And when is it finished?
You just know. It doesn't always have
to end with a clever sentence.
- Q. Do you think that psychology
is to be totally eliminated from an assessment
of poetry? And when the poet composes
a poem, does not your 'id' reflect in
your writings? I find your writings to
be somewhat devoid of sexual implications.
If there are any it is most spiritual
in treatment. Is this reflective of your
'id' and consequent personality?
- A. Most of my poetry somehow
writes itself. I sit down and start writing.
So yes, if you want to call that subconscious
or using my 'id' that is fine, but I do
not sit there and examine my feelings
or thoughts. I don't like to get involved
in theoretical discussions about the subconscious,
rules of poetry etc, I don't like talking
shop. That has never interested me. I
stay away from all theory as much as possible.
I do not write by examining my id. A lot
of what I do write about comes about because
I read or see something on the news or
in my community that touches me deeply.
I suppose you can say it is my way of
dealing with what happens around me. As
far as the lack of sexual connotations
in my poetry - again that is not a conscious
decision on my part. A lot of my poetry
deals with Life & Death, but readers take
other meanings out of it - politics etc,
that I never intended when I wrote the
poem - but if the reader is touched, encouraged
or challenged by a poem by what they read
into it then that is fine by me. Poetry
is an art form and just with abstract
paintings the viewer can see different
things in a painting, in poetry the reader
may understand different things in the
words. That is alright by me.
- Q. Do you think that grammar
is a hindrance to poetry?
- A. No. I don't think grammar
is a hindrance. A poet has the right to
do anything he likes. To hell with the
rules. No I never see grammar as a stumbling
block. On the other hand if you stray
too far away from the grammatical rules
this can distract from the poem. Then
breaking the rules becomes the goal. But
still, to hell with them.
- Q. Good individuals ready to
sacrifice a little for society constitutes
a good society. How do you respond to
- A. I don't think that there ever
will be a good society. I don't think
that we are able to do that. We behave
ourselves because if we don't we get a
parking ticket, embarrass someone or go
to jail. Man in general is greedy, and
selfish. I am trying not to be a Calvinist
here! There is not a country in this world
that does not have problems like racism,
poverty, or religious persecution to some
extent, etcetera. No political party will
ever be able to sort out all the problems
as no political party yet invented is
broad minded enough to encompass all of
man in his humanity. We won't get any
further than selfish attempts. So there
are only good and kind individuals. But
as soon as you put them together there
is this looking for the leader. Then there
will be a leader but he or she should
point back to them.
- Q. You say you are not bothered
about society but every poem you write
reverberates with a call to mankind and
human society to be sane, to be loving,
to be caring, and to be considerate. I
think about that image in your poem 'Unknown
Child', the people fleeing the poor, the
begging children, in their cars. All your
poems testify to this. How do you explain
this inconsistency between opinion and
- A. I don't believe there is
any inconsistency at all. I try not to
be pulled into the superficial aspects
of what society says is normal. But of
course when you read my poems you will
see that I am concerned about the injustices
of life, and yes I write about it. So
I say to hell with those who fill their
pockets. This president of South Africa
who thinks that AIDS is caused by poverty,
a poor diet or something. Perhaps it'll
go away when they start brushing their
teeth. A minister of health not fit to
wash her own arse. I do not join any political
organisation. I feel I canít do it with
a clear conscience.
- Q. I don't think you are very
western in your outlook. On the contrary,
your idea of good individuals comes from
Gandhi whom I adore in spite of the fact
that I happen to be a communist. It is
neither western or eastern, but it is
and must be the universal ideology. But
you don't like ideologies. Ideology is
a frame, where many wouldn't like to be
- A. I do not belong to any political
party or ideology - as I have said before
there is no political party that deals
with humanity as a whole; they are biased
and crave for power. Their alliance and
allegiance are most often a marriage of
convenience.. It is not up to me to judge
another man, just to lend a helping hand
if I can. Love. I have to say that I really
don't mind if my way of thinking fits
into any ideology or not. I just hope
that people will not force me into a 'camp'.
It would show that they do not understand
- Q. The world is full of tragedies.
But are there no rays of hope?
- A. I believe in hope. Perhaps
almost everybody does. If you don't, what
stops you from jumping into the ocean?
Certainly there are rays of hope. I believe
that there is some kind of balance. But
where it comes from or where it leads
to I can't say. I don't know. I think
that a lot of people, including me, get
bogged down and depressed by all the evil
and war in the world because that is all
we hear on the news, but people forget
about the surgeon who has just operated
on a newborn baby heart and saved the
life. Or what about the person who cooks
a meal for their neighbour who is ill?
There are many good things in this world
to rejoice in. We have to find them and
if we can't then maybe it is time for
us to create a good work ourselves! Don't
wait for an opportunity, create an opportunity.
- Q.What is your expectation when
a translated volume of your poems are
published in Malayalam?
- A. I am very excited about this
book. It is so wonderful that I can talk
to you in your own language, with some
help of course. I hope that those who
read my poetry will grasp it and that
one way or the other it might add something
positive to their lives. Art can make
you more aware of life.
- Q. How far do you believe that
the translator would be able to convey
your poetry to Malayalam audience? Upon
what guarantee you allowed him to continue
the translation as it was a task taken
up by himself, not assigned by you?
- A. I have read some literal translations
of the translations into Malayalam and
they gave me faith in the capabilities
of the translator. I have also read his
poems in English and I can say that he
has written some beautiful poetry. The
fact that he knows how to translate, that
he is a good poet, plus that we discussed
any doubt about the meaning of a word
made me feel very comfortable about the
whole project. I do not believe that anyone
else could have done a better job of translating
my work. He is not doing me a favour or
something. And if I would have had any
doubts I would have stopped the publication
of this book. But I believe in it and
I hope that you, the reader, like it.
And that at some time in the future you
might read it again. That is what I hope
and that you are doing well.
- Q. Any last words?
- A. Are you going to shoot me
then? No, just a joke. Well, all I can
say to the readers of Malayalam poetry
is how wonderful it is that we can meet
this way. You must love art or else you
wouldn't have bought this book and I hope
that you will enjoy my words. If you are
a poet I greet you from one poet to another
and wish you many moments of inspiration,
and if you are a reader I hope that you
will enjoy reading my art as this is one
of the most important things in my life.
I also hope that you will continue to
read the work by good Malayalam poets.
It is important that you support them;
they write for you, the reader and fellow
poets. The translator, who I can now call
my friend, has convinced me that poetry
plays an important role in your society,
unfortunately much more than the one I
live in. Much more than any country I
know of. But there is always hope. So
I keep on hoping.