Nabin K. Chhetri is a Nepalese poet living in Scotland. He graduated with a degree of M.St in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford with a distinction in Poetry. He also holds a degree of M.Litt in Novel from the University of Aberdeen. His recent awards include the St. Peter’s Foundation Award (University of Oxford). In addition, he has received awards from Italy, Israel, and Nepal for his poems. In 2011, His poem Memory received the Nosside International Poetry Prize (UNESCO Heritage Award). His poems have been published in more than 60 national and International journals. One of his poems was shortlisted for the Oxonian Review Poetry prize—Oxford and a pamphlet submission was longlisted in the Flarestack Poets (UK). He lives in Aberdeen, Scotland with his wife and children.
Arun Budhathoki had a talk with Nabin K. Chhetri about his journey as a poet and writer. Here are the excerpts:
- How did you start your career in writing? What is poetry to you?
I can recall the first time I wrote for a magazine–I must have been in grade eight then. It was a poem. The publication bonus inspired me and I kept on writing. Nevertheless, the actual publication of my work in reputed journals only came after my days in the United Kingdom.
I will have to admit that I faced enormous rejections before my first work got accepted.
I would say, I must have received more than fifty rejections. Each rejection was a lightning bolt to me. It not only shocked me but showed me the way. However, what kept me going was the act of reading. If you are a voracious reader, nothing can cripple you for long.
- Do you think moving to Scotland has helped you excel in writing? What challenges and opportunities have you got there?
Scotland has been instrumental in numerous ways. The serenity and the peaceful ambiance has inspired me to write more poems. I have had the opportunity to reflect back and dig those memories which otherwise would have been passed into oblivion. In terms of challenges, it took more years than I expected to get recognition in journals and reputed publication portals. Last year, after the publication of ‘Bini – Memories of a Forgotten Country’, I got the opportunity to enlist my name as a poet in the Scottish Book Trust’s Website:
- Did your academic background help you in writing?
The M.Litt degree at the University of Aberdeen helped me to understand literature from a different perspective. Prior to that, I used to read whatever came my way, however, after the course, I became selective of what I should read as that would later contribute to your ‘knowledge pool’.
The Master’s degree in Oxford was more thorough and detailed in terms of understanding the tools of writing. It taught me the surgical side of writing, helping me to separate the chaff from the grain. It was an awakening feeling to sit among the world’s finest writers and poets. I still remember the day I was called for an interview. The panel consisted of Jane Draycott and Dr. Clare Morgan. It was held in the basement of Rewley House. I was asked about my poem, ‘The Snow’. While in Oxford, my collection was awarded, ‘The Discovery prize.’
- Can you tell us about Bini?
‘Bini – Poems of a Forgotten Country’ is close to my heart. Almost ninety percent of the poems in ‘Bini’ have found homes in journals worldwide. It would be absurd for me to rant of my own poems. Here’s What my tutor in Oxford and an acclaimed poet Jane Draycott and Professor Kevin McGrath feel about Bini:
In Bini, Nabin Chhetri has created a poetic world of singular originality where landscape and memory are invoked equally with exact, clear-sighted detail and a rare meditative kind of charge. His poetry speaks of endurance–of the imagination and of feeling–as they contemplate the most shocking of human experiences as well as the most beautiful, the separations of distance and the long-lived associations of home. Chhetri’s power lies in his painstaking and loving exactitude, like the long afternoon spent ‘collecting one by one/all that was lost/in the name of home.’
– Jane Draycott, Senior Tutor, Master of Studies in Creative Writing, Oxford University
Bini is a remarkable and elemental work of corporeal power and lyricism. Firmly grounded in the terrain of several lands and the kinship of several cultures this poetry draws upon varying climes of the natural world and the perfect details of mortal humanity. The borders are not simply those of geography but of life and death, of sexual desire and emotional loss, as the radiant poetry presents us with a brilliantly detailed cosmos of beautiful moments removed from time and given permanence in an infinite spectrum and scale of metaphor. Grief, passion, resilience all are fluently woven in these vivid lines and made more stable than the life where they originated: that is the triumph of Bini. Chhetri draws from the poignant cadence and vision of an old Sanskrit tradition of amorous song whilst simultaneously displaying the complex emotions of a darkly outlined modernity, all in one sophisticated and seamless fashioning. This is the work of a true laureate.
– Kevin McGrath, Harvard University
- Do you think Bini speaks of your connection with Nepal and memories?
Most of the poems of Bini are nostalgic in nature and have a direct connection with my motherland – Nepal. In poems like ‘When I go to Nepal’ the longing for the country can be sharply felt especially when one is residing elsewhere.
Extract from the poem:
‘When I go to Nepal
I want to take a deep breath facing the north
and feel the mountain full inside my lungs.’
- What’s your view on English poetry in Nepal? Why do you think poets who write in English in Nepal are not valued?
I think poetry as said is a distilled form of expression and regarded as one of the highest forms of art. In Nepal, poetry is not given enough importance. One of the best ways to improve the quality of poetry is to set up local groups and organize readings at regular intervals, facilitating a wide range of reading and healthy feedback. Sound feedback is essential for the writers to progress.
In the Nepalese context, fine poets have emerged lately which, if translated with justice can make marks out in the world. Navaraj Parajuly, Manu Manjil and Mukul Dahal are some of the poets that I love to read.
- How do you like to be remembered? Has the literary scene in Scotland helped you in any way?
Writing is a constant exercise. I write because I can’t help it.
It gives me a vent to funnel the crowd inside. It is a catharsis, a healing therapy. As a poet and a writer, one caution that we have to adhere to is to be a good critic of yourself and to explore new ways of writing and this can be best done by reading contemporary writers and understanding their styles.
The Literary Landscape of Scotland is rich and vivid. I still go to local readings every month. The one that I frequently go to is organized by the ‘Books and Beans’. It’s a one-hour reading followed by an open-mic session.
- Can we expect more books from you in coming days?
I am doing one more collection which will be dedicated to my father Late Shri. Amber Bahadur Chhetri. I have even decided a name for it. It is, ‘I, Father’. Most of the poems in this collection will be for the Fathers of the world, though it will not exclusively be fatherly poems only and it will also contain poems pertaining to the other colors of life.
In the prose section, I am revising my novel, ‘The Red Moon Trails.’ I will tell more of it when the right time comes.
- Where do you see in the next five years as a poet and writer?
I would have read a lot of poems in the next five years and will try to write as much as I can. However, I will be focusing more on quality poems rather than quantity. So I can’t specifically say how many books will come out but as good poetry moves me, the quest for good poems will always inspire me to write and read.
- Any tips for young writers in Nepal?
The only advice I would like to give to the young writers is to keep on writing and develop an appetite for reading. Though, I would ask them not to read everything that comes your way but to be pernickety about the books you read. There is no magic or short-cut to success but as long as you enjoy writing and keep your senses awake, the mornings and evenings and even a cup of coffee will inspire you to write. Lastly don’t lose hope. There are times when the only thing you can do is wait, wait and wait.
Poetry grows in the waiting.
I remember my supervisor saying, ‘Whatever you write, don’t be in a hurry to send it off for publication, lock it in a closet for a month and take it out again, you will see how it grows within.’ Every ounce that you invest in reading and writing will never go in vain. It will give you returns in some or the other way. Some of the links that I would strongly recommend for the young writers and poets are:
- Received Aberdeen City Council Creative Funding 2017/18
- Received Aberdeen City Council Creative Funding 2016/17
- Name included in the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Database
- Poem selected for the Edinburgh Poetry Festival – 2017
- Poem longlisted in the University of Canberra Vice Chancellor Poetry Prize
- Peter’s Foundation Award – 2014( University of Oxford)
- Shortlisted for the Oxonian Review poetry prize 2015 – Oxford
- Achieved distinction for the Poetry Portfolio(University of Oxford)
- Discovery Award from The Red Mountain Press 2016(US)
- Shortlisted for the Charles Pick Fellowship for Prose( University of East Anglia)
- Won the Madder Than We Look – Write Minds competition( UK) – 2015
- Represented the University of Oxford in the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 2014
- Nosside International Poetry Award, Italy(2014)
- Nosside UNESCO Heritage Award( Italy 2011)
- Scored highest marks in the group for a Critical essay – The Translation of Nepali Poetry
(University of Oxford)
AWARD VIDEO AND RADIO INTERVIEW:
RECEIVING THE NOSSIDE POETRY AWARD (ITALY)
Interview in the Literature Show (UK) conducted on the 7th of June 2014, 6 pm. http://www.literatureshow.co.uk/show.aspx?show=nabin-kumar-chhetri
Reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival: