Exclusive interview with distinguished poet Yuyutsu RD Sharma
“Nepal is a nation born out of the breath of poets/ translators.” Yuyutsu RD Sharma
Recipient of fellowships and grants from The Rockefeller Foundation, Ireland Literature Exchange, Trubar Foundation, Slovenia, The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature and The Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature, Yuyutsu RD Sharma is a distinguished poet and translator.
He has published nine poetry collections including, Milarepa’s Bones, 33 New Poems, (Nirala, New Delhi 2012), Nepal Trilogy, Photographs and Poetry on Annapurna, Everest, Helambu & Langtang (www.Nepal-Trilogy.de, Epsilonmedia, Karlsruhe, 2010), a 900-page book with German photographer, Andreas Stimm, Space Cake, Amsterdam, & Other Poems from Europe and America, (Howling Dog Press, Colorado, 2009), and recently a translation of Hebrew poet Ronny Someck’s poetry in Nepali in a bilingual collection, Baghdad, February 1991 & Other Poems. He has translated and edited several anthologies of contemporary Nepali poetry in English and launched a literary movement, Kathya Kayakalpa (Content Metamorphosis) in Nepali poetry.
Two books of his poetry, Poemes de l’ Himalayas (L’Harmattan, Paris) and Poemas de Los Himalayas (Cosmopoeticia, Cordoba, Spain) just appeared in French and Spanish respectively.
Widely traveled author, he has read his works at several prestigious places including Poetry Café, London, Seamus Heaney Center for Poetry, Belfast, New York University, New York, Western Writers’ Center, Galway, Bowery Poetry Place, New York, The Kring, Amsterdam, P.E.N. Paris, Knox College, Illinois, Whittier College, California, Baruch College, New York, WB Yeats’ Center, Sligo, Gustav Stressemann Institute, Bonn, Rubin Museum, New York, Irish Writers’ Centre, Dublin, The Guardian Newsroom, London, Trois Rivieres Poetry Festival, Quebec, Arnofini, Bristol, Borders, London, Slovenian Book Days, Ljubljana, Royal Society of Dramatic Arts, London, Gunter Grass House, Bremen, GTZ, Kathmandu, Ruigoord, Amsterdam, Nehru Center, London, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt, Indian International Center, New Delhi, and Villa Serbelloni, Italy.
He has held a workshop in creative writing and translation at Queen’s University, Belfast, University of Ottawa and South Asian Institute, Heidelberg University, Germany, University of California, Davis, Sacramento State University, California and New York University, New York.
His works have appeared in Poetry Review, Chanrdrabhaga, Sodobnost, Amsterdam Weekly, Indian Literature, Irish Pages, Delo, Omega, Howling Dog Press, Exiled Ink, Iton77, Little Magazine, The Telegraph, Indian Express and Asiaweek.
Born in Nakodar, Punjab and educated at Baring Union Christian College, Batala and later at Rajasthan University, Jaipur, Yuyutsu remained active in the literary circles of Rajasthan and acted in plays by Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Harold Pinter, and Edward Albee. Later he taught at various campuses of Punjab University, and Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu.
The Library of Congress has nominated his recent book of Nepali translations entitled Roaring Recitals; Five Nepali Poets as Best Book of the Year 2001 from Asia under the Program, A World of Books International Perspectives.
Yuyutsu’s own work has been translated into German, French, Italian, Slovenian, Hebrew, Spanish and Dutch. He just published his nonfiction, Annapurnas & Stains of Blood: Life, Travel and Writing a Page of Snow, (Nirala, 2010) and completed his first novel.
Currently, he edits Pratik, A Magazine of Contemporary Writing and contributes literary columns to Nepal’s leading daily, The Himalayan Times.
Half the year, he travels and reads all over the world to read from his works and conducts creative writing workshop at various universities in North America and Europe but goes trekking in the Himalayas when back home.
1) What inspired you to write your first poem? Since then what has been
Yuyu: My childhood upbringing in my grandfather’s house inspired me to write. I was adopted by my grandfather as he had no son, only three daughters. My grandfather was a learned person and had several books all around me from my early childhood. Also, the deeply religious atmosphere in my family influenced me immensely. The oral traditions of Bhakti poets left an indelible impact on my life.
2) Does Poetry come to you naturally? How you define Poetry?
Yuyu: Yes, it’s like shaman’s drum, something concrete has to shake me into higher realms of consciousness.
3) Can Poetry be learned, improved and taught? Is Poetry a skill or talent reserved for few people?
Yuyu: No, poetry cannot be taught, it has to be there in your blood and bones, In Asia, we have this great Guru tradition. But a Guru can only evoke the Muse lurching in the dark corner of the mind of the poet to be…
4) Do you think Poets are Mad?
Yuyu: In a special way, yes. And also as Shelley said ‘unacknowledged legislators’ of the world.
Nepal always had the scourge of tyrants and ruthless despots ravaging the innocence of the innocent people. Being on the edge of the world, the democracy came quite late, in 1990 only. Today in the new democratic set-up, with the ongoing struggle for a just political system without losing past glory of age-long traditions, a writer’s role becomes extremely delicate as well as intriguing.
5) In your lifetime career what obstacles and encouragements you’ve encountered? Who/What has been your source of motivation to continue writing poetry?
Yuyu: Kabir says if you want to be a poet, first put your house on fire and come with me and be a poet. Writing poetry is a very formidable job, so a poet should be prepared for the worst. Especially in the Indian subcontinent where buying poetry is not a norm, it’s very frustrating. Poets are elevated to unimaginable heights but refused any financial support.
My family, especially my late mother, remains a constant source of inspiration for me to write. I remember when my first book of poems, A Prayer In Daylight appeared and I went to present first copy of the book to my mother, she took the book, touched it to her forehead and went to the family shrine to place it before the god’s image. She was so very proud my vocation as a poet.
6) How’s the scenario of English Poetry in Nepal? Do you see a good future?
Yuyu: We have good poets coming up, the scene is vibrant and diverse.
7) Can Poets writing in English contribute to Nepalese society, culture, peace et al? What’s the role of an English-writing poet in a country like Nepal?
Yuyu: Nepal is a nation born out of the breath of poets / translators.
Poets have always played a vital role in shaping policy in Nepal. I find poets here in Nepal writing in many languages , including English, serving the Muse very effectively.
8) Who’s your favorite poet and books that have touched you?
Yuyu: I am a great admirer of Nepali poet Gopal Prasad Rimal. Kabir and several other Bhakti poets have touched me hugely. Contemporary Indian poet Jayanta Mahapatra has also remained a significant influence.
9) What’s your message to the future poets of Nepal?
Yuyu: Listen to the sound of your heart and try to weave a song out of it.
10) Lastly, can you name one poem of yours that you would consider the best of all?
Yuyu: Yes, I have a few favorites. But wherever I go I always begin with my poem ‘Mules ‘from my book, Annapurna Poems as the poem is central to the lives of people struggling for a bare survival in the High Himalayas. But I often conclude my readings with “Space Cake, Amsterdam’ which gives my audiences a peep into my later work coming from my travels in Europe and North America.
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