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Volume 1 | Issue 1 | March 2006 | 

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 is finished?
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 that?
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 poetry?
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 cudgeled into.
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 me.
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.









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