[(essay date 1993) In the following excerpt, Kanaganayakam studies the changes in content, tone, style, and form in Ghose's poetry from his earlier poems to more recent endeavors. Kanaganayakam notes Ghose's growing sense of displacement and makes a distinction between changes in Ghose's poetry and changes in his fiction.]
Zulfikar Ghose began his literary career as a poet with the publication of his first collection of poems, The Loss of India, in 1964 (hereinafter cited as Loss); his fifth and most recent collection of poems, entitled Selected Poems, appeared in 1991 (hereinafter cited as SP).1 The latter, like his previous collection, A Memory of Asia (1984), contains previously uncollected poems and a selection from his earlier writings. Granted the provisionality of neat classifications, one could still assert that, taken together, his five volumes, including Jets from Orange (1967) and The Violent West (1972), reflect the changing phases in the author's poetic career, the movement from an autobiographical, didactic, referential, and traditional verse to a personal but more discontinuous, open, and contemporary poetry. They depict a movement away from an active engagement with historical and cultural realities to a poetry that is more self-reflexive, sceptical, and indeterminate. Significantly, the changes in Ghose's poetry constitute a paradigm that serves as a model for an extended study of his fiction, which runs a parallel course with his poetry, moving from realistic referential narrative to metafictional and magic-realistic modes.
It would be inaccurate to pretend that each volume of Ghose's poetry reveals a self-sufficient phase or that the thematic and stylistic components of one phase do not spill over into the next. Ghose's poetry hardly conforms to a predetermined agenda, and recurrence coexists with evolution in his work. In fact, the overt preoccupation with native-alien experience surfaces, in various forms, in all his phases, establishing continuity and providing a basis for unity. Even structurally, some of the early poems, such as "Poem towards Sanity," which resist continuity and closure, anticipate the complexity and obscurity of some of his recent ones. However, the emphasis in his first work, as the title The Loss of India suggests, is on poetry that draws its strength from biographical and referential material, and that emphasis, in some respects, accounts for the strength and weakness of this phase. While most critics and reviewers seem to agree on the primacy and relevance of autobiographical and social material in his early poetry, some have argued, not without justification, that the obsessive treatment of personal life and the close correspondence between the early poetry and the autobiography Confessions of a Native-Alien (1965; hereinafter cited as Confessions) is potentially damaging in its solipsism and stereotyping.
However, Loss is a fictive reworking of autobiographical material, and even when Ghose draws on personal memory, his use of metrical patterns and poetic techniques has the effect of establishing a distance between the poem and the persona of the poet. For example, he records in Confessions an instance of stealing a box of crayons from a classmate, but this...