Haris Adhikari is the author of Flowing with a River, an anthology of poems. He has contributed his poetry to a number of literary journals and magazines at home and abroad (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Israel, India, China and the Philippines). Currently, he is working on two more books of poetry.
Adhikari holds an MA in English and American literature from Tribhuvan University. He is a lecturer of English and edits Misty Mountain Review, an online journal of short poetry. He is also associated with The Society of Nepali Writers in English (NWEN). For over half a decade now, he has been actively writing poetry in English and has plans to write fiction also.
1) Why write poetry in English? Can it contribute anything to the literary scene in Nepal?
I think writing in English, be it poetry or any other genre, has been a growing phenomenon all over the world. It is a need of our times when other world literature is being rapidly globalized through the medium of this language. And I’m sure that it not only can help us to promote our unique native cultures and perspectives and to unfold our personal as well as collective issues of the present day but also can bring excellent opportunities for poets and writers. And this is definitely a desirable thing.
Until 2006, I wrote poems only in Nepali. As a student of English language and literature, I always felt that I should write in English also and hone my writing skills further. This was the initial reason. Later, when my writings began to be accepted by some literary journals, I was much encouraged to continue writing in English and learn the art further. Besides, there are some other supporting reasons as well. My friendship with Nepali poets and writers who write in English has been more fruitful for me. Some of my foreign poet-friends and editors have even been far more helpful in letting me know what my strengths are or how I can write better.
Regarding the contribution of Nepali poetry being written today in English, what I’d say is we still have a long way to go to see its greater impact. It is because we don’t have that long, impressive history of poetry writing in this language, and consequently, a small number of audience relatively growing. In this context, some of the Nepali poets who have been actively writing in English are definitely contributing something to what we call the literary scene in Nepal. They’re setting examples and encouraging a greater number of people, through their beautiful and accessible poetry, to read and write more in English. For instance, poets like Bhuwan Thapaliya, Nabin Kumar Chhetri, and Prakash Subedi have given us some notable works of poetry.
2) What was the first reaction of people when they came to know that you too write poems? Did you like it or had to deal with pressure?
I remember that I wrote my first poem entitled “I like flowers” in Nepali when I was in the fifth grade. At that time, I’d been staying with my brother in Kathmandu for nearly three years, away from home. My brother also used to write poems in English and was dauntingly encouraging. But he was a bit too strict and didn’t like my inquisitive behavior that much. So I’d always have a sneaky look at his writings whenever he was out! And though, in those days, I could not understand much of what he wrote in his diaries, I had this urge to write in English someday.
Later in my high school, I had some really wonderful teachers. In particular, my Nepali teacher was very instrumental in shaping my creative bent of mind. He knew a lot about poets and poetry. He introduced me to some great writings and always gleefully guided me in my creative endeavors. Also in the beginning of my university years, I got chances to learn from my late teacher Daibagyaraj Neupane who himself was a fine poet. He was such a humble person I have ever met. Once I had requested him to give his comments on some of my Nepali poems. After a couple of days, he said, handing me the poems back with his fine inputs on the margins, “Good poems, Haris! Keep writing! Creative pursuits always help us to see our life in the different light. Don’t they?”
And wonderfully enough, I’ve been trying to see our life in the different light.
Even in the recent years, I have come across some really encouraging prominent figures in the literary scene through The Society of Nepali Writers in English (NWEN), and I’ve found that NWEN is a nice platform for aspiring creative writers.
As regards pressure, yes, there is— to some extent. But I never care about what negative things they say about my devotion. Because I know I’m doing the right thing— at least for myself. I’m on the way to a blissful life.
3) You seem to be active in getting published in western and regional journals. How do you do that? Do you follow any rules or it’s just your poetry is easily accepted?
That is true. Partially. And the reasons are simple: I wanted to apply for an MFA program in poetry for which some western universities seek substantial publication history as well. Another reason is that we’ve very few poetry journals in English in our country. Also because western journals really care to read and respond, unlike most of the magazines and newspapers in Nepal! And the most interesting and likable thing about western journals is that they always ask the author for permission even for a small change in the piece submitted. In fact, this is exactly the reverse of what they often do in Nepal. I’ve not only heard but also found that the junior editors of our English dailies seem to teach us grammar by mercilessly impairing the beautiful effects of our writings, sometimes even spoiling the correct language.
For possible publication of my work, I look for such journals that publish poetry that is simple and insightful, thought-provoking and, to some extent, experimental.
I don’t follow any rules. I follow my heart. First I write for myself. Only then it goes for publication. But this is not to say that I’m against editing. I do like to go through suggestions; but again, the final edits are mine.
I’d not say that my poetry is easily accepted. What you have to understand is the fact that there are different kinds of journals and they have different needs and specifications. Some focus on surrealistic poetry. Some on slam poetry. Others on language poetry. The types are many. So the trick is to find out what kind of poetry they’re looking for and to decide whether or not you want to send your work to them. In fact, many journals rejected my work in the beginning. And from those rejections, I learned a lot— either from the editors’ feedback or from reading their back issues and submission guidelines before submitting again. Some editors even sent me pages of criticism along with a note of rejection or partial acceptance. This sort of correspondence is hardly found in our culture.
4) So getting published in online journals is easier but what about in print form?
Yes, you can say that. It’s easier— mainly because of the proliferation of literary e-zines. But it also depends on the quality of the journals you’re considering for your work. There are so many exceptionally outstanding online journals and to be published in them remains a dream of many writers.
Getting published in print, in our context, is even more difficult. The first reason for this is obviously of quality again. A second reason is that they have very less space for poetry in the magazines and papers. Another reason is that we terribly need journals like Of Nepalese Clay, probably the only literary journal in English that comes in print in our country.
5) How was your experience in publishing in Nepal? Would you prefer international publishers for your future works?
Unfortunately, my experience was very disappointing. The quality of the paper used in my book is somewhat of lower quality than what I had selected before the manuscript was sent for printing. This has been a lesson for me not to believe so readily in the so-called professional people in this field.
Yes, I would definitely prefer international publishers for my future works.
6) Name your 5 favorite poets and poems.
So far, and within the limit, my favorite poets are Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, John Berryman and Rabindranath Tagore.
There are many poems I love. Here I’d choose ‘Sonnet # 130′ by Shakespeare, ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Frost, ‘Adonais’ by Shelley, ‘Daddy’ by Plath, and ‘The Hollow Man’ by Eliot.
7) Why do you think poetry will leave a deep mark on Nepal even though fiction seems to be more popular?
Again, the question is of quality. My observation is that we’ve some really fine poets who write beautiful poetry in amazingly accessible and refined English language. Their poetry is fresh, insightful and thought-provoking. And the number of our poetry audience has also been ever increasing. This is perhaps because people love such poetry more. Another reason is that the English language is no longer a hauguji (a phantom figure), but a comfort to many. And it’s interesting to note that day by day the market of our poetry is growing internationally, too. So, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be hopeful that Nepali poetry being written today in English will have a greater impact in future.
Poetry and fiction have their own place, their own beauty. Poetry, though highest form of art, is not doing so well in the market as fiction seems to be. That is true. But I think it won’t be a sensible thing if I say that poetry will not have its appeal among its increasing readers and connoisseurs.
8) Your first book, Flowing with a River, caught eyes of scholars and readers. Are you satisfied with the publishing, distribution, and sale?
I’m very glad that most of the critics and readers have liked my work. And I’m thankful to them for such an enthusing response.
But lately, some critics have tried to tag me as a misogynist on the basis of my views expressed in some of the poems in this anthology. To me, the term misogynist means a person who hates all women or girls. And I do not hate all women or girls! I hate only one or two. Frankly. I’m of the opinion that people have their own stories, their own suffering and they have every right to speak of it (So, I would not say Sylvia Plath was a misandrist!). In fact, these poems are extremely personal—of confessional type. At the same time, they can also speak for anybody else in our community who has gone through similar type of torment in their lives.
Well, not satisfied with publishing. And as it was my personal literary venture, I could not distribute the book widely, except in some bookstores in the valley (So I’m thinking of putting it on Amazon also for my friends and audience in the west who’ve been asking me if they could buy the book online). The sale of the book is satisfactory.
9) You are working in two more books. Can you tell us about it? What form of publishing will you opt for it?
My next work (That Distant Lane) will be a chapbook of children’s poetry. In this collection, I’ll try to relive the sweet and sour experiences of my childhood and adolescence days. And I’ll be looking at those unforgettable moments of my life from two distinct viewpoints— that of a small boy and of a grown-up man. Another book will include my latest poems.
And for these collections, I will be trying to get some international publishers as my first choice.
10) You also have started a literary journal. What’s the story behind it? What have you achieved from it? What’s your message to budding Nepali youths who write in English?
The birth of Misty Mountain Review was the result of a sudden decision (but I did have a desire to start one a little later) when I was coming through a torturous relationship. I was thinking hard about how I could use my mind in a more creative way and get busier, instead of getting entangled in the maddening situation. I knew that starting the journal would require a lot of seriousness. It would be a commitment and not simply an interest. But as I was already in this creative field, I had no hesitation moving ahead. And I knew, more or less, that it could turn into something worthwhile when there were actually very few online poetry journals from Nepal. It could also provide me with opportunities to read and learn from poetry sent from different corners of the world.
With just two initial issues, what can I have achieved, except for some valuable experience as a young editor? It’s actually a learning phase for me. And perhaps it’s been a nice platform for aspiring poets?
What I’d say to the budding Nepali poets and writers who write in English is– writing is a wonderful choice even though it usually involves hard work. It is wonderful because we can use it not only to our personal advantage but also to that of our society. When viewed as a challenge to face, it is where we can sharpen our writing skills in real sense and can also master the language as well as develop a distinctive style of our own in the area chosen through regular practice and exploration. Besides, I’ve found that writing helps us to grow emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.
On the other hand, writing is a kind of work a critic does. In this sense, there is a need, as well as a responsibility, for us to critically read our societies and cultures (including literature) and to give new directions to what we write.
And as long as we write with a strong commitment, there’s a good future for us too— with so many opportunities waiting for excellent works here at home or abroad.
So, our perseverance is all that counts in the end. That’s all I can say.