We are starting a new interview series where we ask few questions to people who are making a difference, it can be big, it can be small it doesn’t matter what matters is their contribution to our society. It can be anyone from any walks of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.
Dr. Stephen Gill is a poet laureate of Ansted University and an Adjunct Professor of European-American University, is an expressive voice of Canada, India and Pakistan. He believes strongly in a democratically elected world government and peace through peaceful means. Global peace and social concerns are the main areas of his interest.
1. Tell us something about yourself.
A self-exiled poet, novelist, literary critic and essayist, I focus primarily on peace because peace leads to personal, national and international health and prosperity. I firmly believe that peace is the legitimate child of peaceful means. I also believe that the Divine Omnipresent is peace and love in Christian and Hindu thoughts and this belief often manifests in my writings. I was born in Sialkot, now in Pakistan, where I spent my early childhood and grew in India. After teaching in Ethiopia for three years, I migrated to England before settling in Canada.
I have authored more than twenty books, including novels, literary criticism, and collections of poems, and my poetry and prose have appeared in around one thousand publications. I write usually in English. Occasionally, I write only poetry in the Urdu, Hindi and Panjabi languages. Some of my Urdu/Hindi poems have been performed with music by prominent singers from Pakistan and India in four albums.
I have also written and published book reviews, and research papers on writers, in addition to literary and social essays. I often examine doctoral dissertations in English Literature to supplement my income to sate my passion for writing. I have been the subject of numerous literary essays, books and doctoral studies.
I have not said much about my early life, because that is to reincarnate the silent wrenching pains. However, I have described some gruesome realities of these silent, wrenching pains in the prefaces of the collections of my poems, including Songs Before Shrine, and Shrine as well as in the introduction to The Flame, my modern epic on terrorism. I have also touched those gruesome realities in my interviews and depicted them here and there in my novels The Coexistence and The Chhattisgarh. It is the bitterness of the water of the early life that runs in the arteries of my writings. This bitterness in different forms often emerges in my dreams even now. I do not want to see that bitterness in my life again.
I would like to add that I am symbolic of Trishanku, a Hindu mythological character, and I still hear the sound of spring in the stillness of the autumn.
For details, readers are requested to Google and visit my web sites:
2. What is the importance of poetry in human development in your view?
Poetry is as important for human development as the roots are for a tree and a tree is for its leaves. Poetry is the Lotus of the beauty and beauty is truth and truth sets a human free, leading to meaningful development. In order to blossom properly, the human spirit needs freedom. This freedom needs energy from the air of truth to receive carbon dioxide and adequate sunlight. Humans need the moon, the stars and the waves of the ocean, because they are the manifestations of beauty. No human can live by bread alone. Humans also sing and dance and make musical instruments, which provide bread for the spirit. Humans embellish their treasures and bodies with visual arts to drive aesthetic pleasure. This aesthetic pleasure comes from beauty and beauty, as I have mentioned earlier, is poetry. Any development without arts impoverishes humanity.
Development depends greatly on a means of effective communication. The main difference between humans and non-humans is communication through language. The benefits of poetry in the arena of applied linguistics are phenomenal, because poetry offers a unique use of language, form and a new outlook. Because poetry is read with the eyes and ears, it opens the vista of a wide variety of experience. Its reading and writing develops reflective faculties. Poetry is used by caregivers to treat some types of mental ailments. It has been used as therapeutic means for healing, just as music has been used successfully. Poetry and music belong to the same family.
Even advertisements designed entirely to make money have to offer some beauty and grace to attract the attention of readers. The active role of poetry in the spiritual realm is widely recognized. In nearly every religion prayers are offered in hymns, including incantations of mantras in the Hindu culture. Poetry keeps civilization from destroying itself. The societies which are in decline lack poetry, which is the carrier of human developments. Matter is soulless without poetry. I would like to re-stress that poetry is beauty and beauty is truth and truth is the insatiable hunger of human zeal. The destruction of this hunger is the destruction of the Babylon of aspirations. We know the era of the Mughals from the Taj Mahal of India and the past of Egypt from the Pyramids.
Poetry is vibrant in every culture and is the drive for human development. Where there is no poetry, there is an aberration of beauty. Terrorists are the prime example. They find beauty in their walk on the carcasses of children, innocent mothers and guiltless citizens who have nothing to do with their agenda. Terrorists kill any person who does not belong to their camp. Just to get an easy passport to heaven, they are ready to butcher mercilessly. There is no beauty in their butchery. Human development is the visible evidence of the development of science and technology which have reduced the world to the size of a city. Terrorists, the assassins of beauty, misuse the products of human development for their abhorrent design.
Human development brings out the beauty found in the centuries-old ideology of live and let live that is more challenging today than it ever was. There is beauty in live and let live, but negative forces have been blinded by the fog of dogmas. Because of their myopia, they see beauty in the ugliness of killing. This is the misuse of the products which human progress has created for the betterment of citizens. Prometheus, a Greek hero, stole fire from the gods for the good of humankind, but the misled section of humanity exploits it for destruction. This is a delusional or deviated way to look at beauty or poetry that is indispensable in every corner of human thought. If there is any activity without poetry that activity should be boring, unproductive and meaningless.
I would like to repeat a few words from my interview with Dr. Peggy Lynch, a renowned poet from Texas. This interview was published in several media outlets and also in Poetry in the Arts, in January 2001:
…History has proved again and over again that words are the atoms of the nitroglycerin which are suffused with energy. The first artist or poet was God who created the universe with His words. God created humans in His own image. In other words, human is also creative. At the end of every creation, He said it is beautiful. The creation of a true artist is also beauty.
To me every creation is beautiful. Poetry is beauty. The other forms of beauty are also poetic, including dance, painting, fiction and all that one can name. But there is no beauty in terrorism, violation of human rights and bloodbaths. There may be beauty to the perpetrators of those destructive activities—I will call such activities the aberration of creativity and beauty.
3. Which is your favorite poem and poet?
I like The Flame, my modern epic, because of my ideology against terrorism that I present here in a fresh way. It took years for me to complete this epic poem. I also like another modern epic, Amputee, because I have been able to present my view here to produce a healthier generation of peaceful citizens. Both these long poems are to serve peace in my own poetic way. I worked genuinely hard at both and both shall remain close to my heart. The Flame is about the destruction caused by maniac messiahs and Amputee springs from my deep conviction for the need for formal education from the day a couple decides to raise a family. Both illustrate the culture of peace.
I have noticed that The Flame attracts the attention of literary critics more than Amputee. Dr. Sudhir Arora has edited an anthology of articles and research papers, titled The Flame Unmasked. He has also written a thick book on my poetry, titled The Poetic Corpus of Stephen Gill which contains several chapters on The Flame. There are several additional papers on The Flame which have appeared elsewhere. It seems The Flame is my prominent attempt in poetry, though I like both equally.
From my novels, I would select The Coexistence, because the subject is close to my heart and also because of the soul-sucking hours I have put in to draw a blueprint to live and let live. I would select also my novel The Chhattisgarh that also focuses on peace though in a different way. But The Coexistence has attracted more attention in the form of articles and papers.
My liking is from the perspective of the author, but readers have their own perspectives. I think again about John Milton who liked his epic Paradise Regained, but he is known today for his epic Paradise Lost. I would like to repeat that time is the best judge. Every child is dear to his or her mother for one reason or the other.
For the second part I would say that Stephen Gill is my favorite poet because he knows what to say about love and peace in his own individual voice.
4. Have the internet and technology taken people away from literature and poetry?
My answer is no. Instead of taking people away from poetry, internet and technology have been producing more of them. Poetry is not dead and shall never be. It gives aesthetic pleasure and humans are born with aesthetic pleasure. The Supreme Omnipresent is the source of aestheticism. He shares this quality with every new-born. The inheritance of aestheticism and sensualism will never go away
Aestheticism is devotion to beauty, though every individual shares it with differences in degrees. Sharing may differ, but beauty is present in music, dance, or a flower or poetry. It is because the Creator is the source. The destruction of poetry or beauty is the destruction of life itself.
Aestheticism or the sense of beauty differs from person to person and era to era. The modern era is different for poetry, as is the era of Shakespeare considered the golden era for poetry and dramatic works. Queen Elizabeth 1 , who reigned over England and Ireland, recognized the importance of the arts to life. She patronized theatre which produced the most prominent playwrights. The invention of the printing press further flourished the arts. There is no equal to Shakespeare in the area of playwriting. But I do not like his sonnets, particularly when he uses them to moralize. His sonnets irritate me when he blatantly ignores art for art’s sake. He is famous as a sonneteer because of the sheer number of his sonnets and also because of his genius as a playwright and his dexterity with language. With the passage of time, the form and subject of sonnets changed. I have my own format for my sonnets, called Stephenean by some literary evaluators. My sonnets do not divide in a conventional manner, are of 12 lines each in 12 point font size and contain from 90 to 100 words. It has its own discipline.
I would like to add that time shapes the format of poetry. The 21st century is shaping its poets and their creations. There are more poets and musicians these days than there ever have been. It is because of the easy accessibility of knowledge, greater availability of leisure and more opportunities to share creations. The technology of today has put more free time in the hands of citizens also because of the welfare states who take care of the basic needs of every citizen. Additionally, there are government agencies and businesses to sponsor artists. Some businesses in some democracies can list the funds they use to sponsor artists as expenses. There are also more musicians who need lyrics. These factors have produced more poets in the 21st century.
It is said that a wide crop of poets and the work they produce are worthless. My answer would be that time is the best judge of the worth. There is no doubt that some mediocre poets are skilled in exploiting the social media in their interest. In the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Browning was better known than her husband, Robert Browning, was. Now the situation is different. Before them, Milton was prouder of his epic Paradise Regained. There are readers who do not know that Milton wrote it. He is remembered for Paradise Lost. Literary history is replete with such cases. Time is the best judge for the quality of poetry. This is what I said in 1975 to Margaret Penny, staff writer of the Daily Standard-Freeholder. This interview was published in the October 19 issue under the title “Time is True Test for Writer’s Ability.” I added, “The best test of writing is time—if it is truly great, it survives centuries.”
I remember answering almost the same type of question to Koketso Marishane from Africa for the United Minds for Peace Society. It appeared in A Selection of Stephen Gil’s Interviews, edited by Dr. Anuradha Sharma, released in 2011 by Orinetalia, New Delhi. A few line from that interview are below:
The renaissance of poetry will flower further in the twentieth-first century because of the digital technology that has made it easier to bring out even unpalatable dishes to a much wider population. Some will admire those unpalatable dishes for one reason or the other. It will not produce many prominent poets but it will certainly produce a number of poets. In this jungle of numbers, it would be difficult to know who is worthy and who is not. Those who are aware of the tools of the digital technology shall win for a while, in spite of the fact they are not good poets. This festival of poetry will keep flourishing.
At the same time there will be serious passionate poets who will keep working like others who have worked in every age and nation in the past. Some will be like the seeds that fall on the rocky land and do not grow. Some seeds will fall under bushes and those bushes will not let them grow. Some will grow in the open air where visitors seldom step. It will take time, but eventually they will come to the attention of serious visitors. (127-128).
5. Your message to our readers?
My message to the members of my own tribe of poets and writers is to work and work to give the best to their fans. Human development is to make life more productive and meaningful and that is not possible without entering the valley of truth. It is hard but not impossible. I would ask the people of my own tribe to continue their struggle to know truth because truth gives freedom and freedom will take them to the zenith of success. The Supreme Power is nothing but peace and love, and the only way to know His gifts and to prosper in the valley of truth is by putting these gifts in action. They should remember that in order to be a good poet, they should read good poetry that has stood the test of the time. Also remember that the atmosphere that is created through terrorism and violent means is of fear, not of peace.