HARIS ADHIKARI is a widely published poet and translator from Nepal. A lecturer of English at Kathmandu University, Adhikari edits Misty Mountain Review. He has three books of poetry and translation to his credit, and is currently working on his upcoming book of Nepali poetry and an experimental poetry project—clipoetry, apart from some works of research. In the past, he has served as a researcher, interviewer, translator and contributor for Nepal Monitor. He has also been a guest translator for Grey Sparrow, a US based literary journal.
His poems and works of translation have appeared in various national & international journals. Siam Sarower Jamil talks to him about his poetry and dreams for Imphal Times.
Siam - When did you start writing and what do you think attracted you to poetry?
HARIS- Writing, particularly poetry, has always fascinated me. I wrote my first poem when I was 9. Initially, it was nature that filled me with awe and inspiration. In particular, flowers, birds, rivulets, rainbows, the open sky, and the illusive horizon attracted me the most. Later, frictions of different kinds—from socio-cultural to personal ones—ignited my poetic sensibilities.
But I wrote sporadically until 2007, in Nepali, English and Hindi languages. Then, after my master’s studies, I gave more of myself to reading and writing poetry, and in recent years, to poetry translation and my research interests. I think in the last ten years I’ve focused more on personal, spiritual, social, and cultural issues—more importantly on the crooked ways of this society that I’ve come across.
Different worlds of mythoi have also been my poetic preoccupations these days. I am interested in reading the dramatics of life and world, the difference between what we’re told and what really is, through mythoi—through the power dynamics and illusion created in (or by) most of them.
My recent realization is—in poetry I can more freely express what I’ve in my heart and mind. Yet I sometimes find myself distant from poetry. What I also have come to realize is it’s essential for a poet to be able to make even the most familiar, most quotidian, most drab, the vehicle to the exquisitely exotic, mysterious, insightful or thought-provoking world of poetry.
Siam - How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer over the years?
HARIS- I am still learning. My interest in poetry has now led me also to poetry translation and research in different areas of creative writing and translation. Of course, my experiences in writing, editing and publication are what I’ve learned a lot from.
One example: One of my manuscripts of English poetry was going through editing process for publication last year. The editor and publisher was so excited to publish the book. We worked on the manuscript for about three months. But then, at the eleventh hour, after more than 3 scores of correspondences, we could not agree on certain linguistic and ideological issues. Then I kept the manuscript aside for some months before I made some significant changes in it. Now I’m looking for publication venues, also for my other books.
What I have learned is good writing requires not only a lot of passion, diligence and rigor but also a lot of patience, humility and honesty. Rejection or disagreement, like success, is part of what you do as a writer. It’s not the end of the world. Eventually what counts is learning and improvement.
In this regard, I remember a wonderful occasion from last year, when a senior friend of mine took me to Dufftown in Scotland, where we made a tour of the famously traditional Glenfiddich Distillery and learned about the whole process of whiskey-making. I was so impressed to see how the finest and most expensive whiskey comes to us after nearly half a century. Even the eighteen-year-old whiskey that I got to taste there still lingers on my tongue, with its perfectly fine flavor and tantalizing scent. I just happen to think of this whenever the issue of good writing pops up!
It’s amazing how the oak casks take the raw liquors in for years and decades and enhance their colors, soften and round out their flavors, imparting their entire aroma to their being and becoming! And it’s amazing how long people (can) wait! I’m convinced that it takes a lot of hard work and patience to be or have such ‘finest whiskey’ in writing.
At any rate, what I’m doing is trying my best. At the same time, I’ve been learning a lot from some of the finest poetry I’ve come across. I’ve also been asking myself questions such as ‘what new did I do?’ or ‘is it worth my time?’
I have some plans to come up with signature experiments in poetry, apart from the works of research I’m involved in.
Siam - How do you balance your writing life and teaching life?
HARIS- These days in the university, I get busier in different sorts of activities, ranging from teaching to editing to reviewing papers to doing research. And I often bring home some of these duties. So, I’ve not been able to devote as much time as I should. But I do make good use of holidays and vacations. I’m also a kind of nocturnal being!
Siam- You’ve translated several Nepali & Western poets. Do you think that translating has affected your own poetry? How?
HARIS - Yes, it has. The books and papers on translation and poetry that I read during and after my translation and research projects helped me broaden my perspectives of writing and translation and refine their craft of mine. I came through gradual changes of perceptions, to take the original texts as ‘organic whole’ and the translated ones generally as ‘sum of the whole,’ to borrow from Gestalt theory.
The translation efforts I made have enriched my repertoire of mythological, historical and cultural as well as literary knowledge. And I’ve found some interesting areas for further research. I also came across, among other things, different matters of semiotic layers and styles, textual contexts and connections, cultural nuances and dilemmas, and tone and texture, from which I do hope to, somehow, enrich my poetry. I think some of this learning gets reflected in some poems of mine, basically in matters of register, experiment, variety, and craft.
All these experiences have led me to how I can make my poetry organically rich from every angle.
Siam- How do you respond to writer’s block or not knowing what to write?
HARIS- At times, I get restless. But I try to find inspiration from movies and documentaries I watch, from places I visit, from books I read, from people I interact with. I think it’s important to fill you first with something interesting, something funny, something disturbing, or something serious—so that you get to churn it in your heart and mind before you take it out!
Siam- What’s the best experience you’ve gained through your writing?
HARIS- The most important thing is writing has time and again helped me regain my sanity and peace of mind. It has helped me open up and express what I probably would not have expressed, what I probably would not have been able to express in other forms.
There are many miscellaneous experiences. But for now my focus is more on learning—learning from the processes involved. As an aspiring person in this field, this is what counts as most important for me.
My last year’s project was unsuccessful. But my experience of working with the native editor has been helpful for me. At any rate, I saw certain places where I needed to bring finesse in. The craft and skills I learned from the editing process are enriching. I basically learned to refine my language, especially as regards the personas’ age factors and milieus, avoid tautology and repetition, and make the writing concisely structured with fine tone and texture. I also learned how the native speakers express in poetry a certain idea not as an idea alone, as in a usual sentence construction, but as something deeply felt. For instance, I remember how I once translated a passage as they taste sweet, which the editor changed to this sweet taste, thus changing the meaning just enough to better reflect the native language and culture’s understanding of a deeply-felt concept. Apart from this, I learned to take as well as give constructive inputs on manuscripts. In short, I learned to revise, reformat and refine during those three months’ intensive editing process.
Now, after a whole year, the manuscript has undergone significant changes, and is a (more) beautiful butterfly, I suppose!
Siam- Where do you see yourself going next?
HARIS- I’m simultaneously working on three manuscripts, tweaking here and there in them. Hopefully, I will find some good publishers for them this year.
I will also be (re-)working on my papers—on poetics and translation, street theatre in Nepal, myth dominance in life and world, teaching and learning, systemic regeneration and its persistence in Nepali academia, etcetera.
I also have plans to bring out books of experimental poetry and poetics.