Prakash Subedi’s first collection of poems, Stars and Fireflies, was published recently. Subedi, who is affiliated with the Aarohan Gurukul Theatre and the Society of Nepali Writers in English (NWEN), currently teaches at the Central Department of English, TU, and Dillibazaar Kanya Campus. V.E.N.T! Magazine met up with this budding poet to hear his perspective on literature, life and poetry.
When did you start writing?
I’ve been writing poems for a very long time now. I must have started in primary school. I had a very inspiring teacher who playfully pushed me into writing. And while he would spoil his students with praises and flattery, I think his attention and enthusiasm had a lasting impact on my desire to write. However, it was only about five or six years ago that I began to write seriously.
What lead to the publication of your poems?
Here in Nepal, it definitely takes more courage to think of publishing in the English language. My friends had a big role in encouraging and influencing me. Being part of NWEN and attending their poetry reading sessions each month also provided a strong support network. One of my friends, in particular, was very strong in his opinion that I should publish. I felt some kind of inhibition–isn’t it a bit too early? I did enjoy some of my poems, but some others, I wondered–are these really worth publishing? Writing is one thing, but publishing, that needs some assurance.
How has your book been received?
I’ve received very encouraging responses. Even people who don’t know me personally have called me up to congratulate me. A critical tradition has not yet developed in Nepal, so I received no criticisms as such. The literary community is small, and mostly encouraging. I have received some suggestions, though, in relation to the form in particular. Some of my friends have told me that all my poems have a singular style, with a punch line at the end, and feel that I should experiment with other forms as well.
Are you consciously developing such a style? Have any poets influenced your style?
I want to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. So, in that way, yes, I guess I am developing a style. And despite what my friends say, I write in the way that I do because it is the most appealing way for me to write. As far as influences are concerned, I do not think any writer or poet has influenced me consciously, but I do like the poetry of E.E. Cummings and William Carlos Williams. But I am also a big fan of philosophy. Osho, in that way, has had a big influence. Not because he says something original. He has made what had earlier been inaccessible into something accessible, by putting things in context of this modern age and its circumstances. Nepali poets such as Devkota, Lekhnath Paudel and Bal Krishna Sama have also left their mark on me. I feel that Parijat’s Shirish ko Phool is the greatest piece of literature ever written. I am also intrigued by B.P. Koirala, especially his female characters.
The way you live your life, how does that influence your writing?
My writing is simple. I guess my interest in Buddhism is reflected in this. Life, in a way, is a quest. And unconsciously, this must have seeped into my poems.
Do you think about your audience when you write/publish?
Most of my poems are spontaneous. They are written within two or three minutes after the idea enters my mind. If I wait, then what I intend to write disappears. I do very little editing, if at all, after writing.
Why not in Nepali?
There is an interesting reason behind this. I cannot type in Nepali. So when I type, it’s usually simpler to do it in English. I do have Nepali poems, but they are more cumbersome to edit and work on. I do have plans of publishing my Nepali poems in the future. I prefer writing in English also because there are aspects of the English language that allow for multiple meanings to be conveyed by a single usage of word or phrase. A pun is an excellent example of how this works.
How do you think poetry is perceived by the Nepali public?
The audience for poetry in Nepal is very small. There is an even smaller audience reading English poetry. I do feel, however, that the readers of poetry are more perceptive than those of fiction. So this limited quantity is compensated for by a depth in quality.
Tell us about what it feels like to be a lecturer of English in Nepal. How do your students perceive poetry?
I enjoy teaching immensely. I’m always in a good relationship with my students, on friendly terms. Maybe because I’m somewhat young, we have more similarities. I also try to engage them in the societies at the university, such as the film club, and invite them to programs at Gurukul. Some of them are very good writers and I feel like it is my responsibility to nurture them.
They are not very interested in poetry, though. Only a few write poems. I think it is because poetry is perceived as being more difficult. Yet, because of the fact that now there is a more liberal approach to reading and interpreting poetry, it has simultaneously become more difficult and more frivolous. When my students first started taking my classes, they felt like poetry was something that belonged to another realm altogether, but after reading my poems, they say that poetry has become more accessible. And as readers, they have been very encouraging. I think they bought most of my books. But as far as being a teacher goes, I think we teachers and professors tend to scare students away from poetry. Only few teachers are effective in making poems accessible. Most, however, like to terrify. The real trick is to encourage students to read and mull over the poems on their own rather than to overwhelm them with our own interpretations.
Your first and last poems are very intriguing. Could you elaborate on why you chose to experiment in such a manner? (The First Poem is a box shaded in black and The Last Poem is a box shaded in white.)
I have my own reasons for doing this, but I’m more curious to know what the readers feel. For me, life is a progression from darkness to light. Everything begins in darkness, whether it be an idea, a baby before birth in a mother’s womb, a seed sown deep in the earth. And the pursuit of life, that happens in light. Also, while poems are made up of words, there are other things that can support, can help create desired impressions before and after reading. I have also come to realize that ultimate poetry cannot be expressed in words, maybe in light and darkness, in music, in other forms. At a certain moment, you should take a leap from words.
What is the scope of publishing English poetry in Nepal? Can a Nepali aspire to be a full-time poet?
Sadly, a Nepali cannot. While it is now possible for people to work as full-time writers here by writing fiction or in other genres, more and more newspapers are giving attention to fiction, so people who write well can survive. But as far as poetry goes, both in terms of readership and the income it generates, poetry is difficult to survive by
Interview by Ayushma Regmi and Sanjana Shrestha, V.E.N.T! Magazine.