Subedi writes primarily in English. His first anthology of poems Stars and Fireflies (2009) received a warm critical response, and his second book, Six Strings (2011), a joint anthology featuring five other poets, has remained quite popular.
Besides writing poetry, Subedi has been working with a number of pioneer literary organizations in Nepal for almost a decade. At present, he is the General Secretary of Society of Nepali Writers in English (NWEN), and Executive Member of Literary Association of Nepal (LAN). Similarly, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Devkota Studies, a biannual research journal published by Devkota Study and Research Centre (DSRC), Editor-in-Chief of Literary Studies, an annual journal of LAN, and co-editor of Of Nepalese Clay, probably the only English language literary magazine from Nepal, sixteen issues of which have been published so far.
Other publications by Subedi include Ibsen: Beyond Time and Space, and Ibsen: Samaya ra sandarbha, casebooks on Henrik Ibsen, research articles in journals, and opinionated articles in the national English dailies published from Nepal, including The Kathmandu Post and Republica, and works of translation.
Your style is similar to that of William Carlos Williams. Do you agree and if so does your writing associate with any literary movement i.e. modernism/ imagism?
I never write consciously so as to bear a resemblance with any other poet or to be associated with any specific literary movement. However, my attempt, right from the beginning, has been to say more with as little words as possible and be comprehensible. If that has made my work resemble some other poet or some movement (which is possible), it’s up to the readers and critics to decide.
Can you tell us briefly as what your book “Stars and Fireflies” is, and what it means to you? What exactly you intended to express through the book?
For some years, I had been collecting flashes and insights things, people and events around me would bring, and I was never sure whether it was poetry or not. When I read them to my close friends, they suggested me to get them published. I had some inhibition in bringing the book out but was glad to find that people actually liked it.
Well, I don’t think I have said or rather done anything new in the book. But I’d be happy if my readers find some kind of freshness in its form and my way of expression.
Is poetry merely an outcome/output of emotions and thoughts that are shaped by our background/surroundings and the way we are brought up? Do you write to escape reality?
Your root, your background, your upbringing, and the context you are living in is something that seeps deep into your marrow, and it will ooze and trickle into your writing in one way or the other.
But that doesn’t mean all poetry is merely autobiographical. Maybe it’s a conciliation of your background and your aspirations–of what you are and what you want to be, of what the world is like and what you would like it to be.
Poetry, I believe, provides a glimpse of the reality rather than an escape from it, for both the poet and the readers.
Your poems adhere to the uniqueness in structure and form. How do you manage to write in such a way?
In every kind of writing, and even more so in poetry, the form of expression is very important. How you recite poems have its own impact, but how words appear printed on a page is also equally significant. The impact you have from a poem is a result of its content, its form of expression, and its appearance on a page.
As far as my writing process is concerned, the ideas that I express in my poems are usually flashes that suddenly hit me, and I most of the time record than in a spontaneous manner. I actually don’t work much on the content later. But I work a good deal on their form. My attempt always is to find a form that holds up and reciprocates with the content.
I don’t know how successful I have been in this!
What can a poem do? Do you think poetry is as powerful as any form of writing?
This is a perennial question and has led to countless answers already. For me, poetry makes us look deeper beyond the humdrum reality of everyday life. It delights and sensitizes, it elevates you and provides you glimpses of truth.
Though at present, it seems to have been a little disassociated with the general public, and its mass appeal seems to have declined drastically, I still believe poetry is the most powerful form of expression.
And, if you are a little watchful and perceptive enough, you will find poetry existing in places and instances you would expect the least for it to be existing and functioning.
Nepalese poets writing in mother tongue influenced the society they lived in the past (Devkota, Paudel, Sama, Bhupi Sherchan and others). Do you think that Nepalese poets writing in English can achieve similar feat? Why are the latter poets not finding their place in the changing society of Nepal when other forms of arts i.e. movies, music, and dramas are being accepted quickly?
Language, I feel, is just a medium, and, if need be, for every good writing we have this tool called translation. Therefore, I don’t think why Nepali poets writing in English should not achieve a similar feat. In fact, if we look a little further outside, writers writing in English have an even bigger audience.
As far as the comparison with other media of popular culture is concerned, poetry, at least at present, seems to appeal a relatively smaller section of the selective and perceptive audience. But I feel the effect gradually trickles down all the way to the mass.
You recently were involved in a project named Six Strings, a joint anthology of six poets. Why a joint anthology? Any reason behind it?
I am involved, along with a small group of my friends, in running a writers’ forum called the Society of Nepali Writers in English (NWEN), established by our teachers and senior writers some 12 years ago. While working on it, we had this idea of coming up with a joint anthology of poems composed by somehow like-minded people. That led to the publication of Six Strings.
And, it was a lot of fun working on a joint anthology—reading each others’ poems, sharing impressions and making comments, coming with an interpretation the poet had never thought of, and influencing each other through our content and style!
Apart from teaching in Tribhuvan University, you’re involved in NWEN (Society of Nepali Writers in English), what do you intend to achieve through this society/group? How far have you been successful and what obstacles have you faced so far? Isn’t it disheartening as unlike in West there’s no funding and support either from the government or from the general public?
NWEN, as I mentioned before, was established by a group of writers as an organized body of Nepali writers writing originally in English. Its primary aim is to develop a common forum of Nepali writers writing in English and to promote Nepali creative writing in English within the country and abroad.
And, for that, it organizes regular reading sessions, talks, and discussions publish a biannual literary magazine called Of Nepalese Clay and publish anthologies of creative and critical writings in English. We have so far published sixteen issues of Clay, five anthologies, and organized a significant number of literary programs. I know there is much to be done, but I am happy that at least something is being done on a regular basis.
It would be great if you could have some funding to carry ahead such works, and we lack that. But, in our case, the support of the senior and fellow writers has remained really encouraging.
Do you think English writing will ever be accepted in Nepal? Or, it’s already accepted? Why do you think poets writing in English are ‘neglected’ and miss the popularity that of the prose writers? Aren’t you tempted to write fiction?
It’s a matter of finding readers, rather than anything else when we talk of being accepted. A number of writers, especially fiction writers, are already doing pretty well with their publications and gaining a lot of popularity within the country and abroad.
The fate of poetry and poets, I think, is not specific to our case only; it’s a more or less the same with poets elsewhere, since poetry in general doesn’t seem to have a mass appeal enjoyed by fiction in the recent times.
But I have also mentioned in one of my past interviews that I find the average readers of poetry more perceptive than those of fiction. And, I console myself by thinking that the limited number in readership is compensated by a depth and intensity in its appreciation.
As an academician, do you think literary criticism is needed in Nepal? We often read sleazy reviews in newspapers and magazines and at times newly published authors barely make to the papers. In this kind of gloomy scenario, what’s the role of established poets? Can a literary journal give shelter to upcoming poets?
Honest and balanced literary criticism is what we very much need in Nepal at present. A perceptive, balanced and discerning critical tradition lets us know what we are doing and where we are. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to back our creative tradition with an equally vibrant critical tradition. The result is most of our book reviews end up becoming either eulogies or sheer disparagement. In the absence of sincere and candid criticism, art and literature can never truly prosper.
And, yes, we definitely need more literary journals to provide a platform for upcoming poets, and even for the established ones.
You’re an insightful poet. What do you want to offer through your poetry? What’s your message to budding poets?
I am still learning the art. But sometimes I wish the poetry we are writing were more honest and more comprehensible. The second important thing is probably to continue writing until we find our own voice and style.