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Interview with Abhay K. Kumar, poet and diplomat

Brief Bio

Abhay K. is an Indian poet-diplomat and the author of two memoirs and five collections of poems. He was awarded the SAARC Literary Award 2013 and nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2013. His poems have appeared in leading literary journals in India, Ireland, Russia, UK and USA, and have been translated into Irish, Russian, Italian, Slovenian, Portuguese, Spanish, Nepali, Hindi and Chinese. His most recent collection of poems The Seduction of Delhi (Bloomsbury India) is a poetry bestseller. His call for an official earth anthem has been widely appreciated. ,

Ana Paula Arendt - Hi, Abhay. Thanks for answering my interview invitation. Shall we begin? When and how did you start writing poetry? Abhay K. - As a child, I was awestruck by the power of poems of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and Kabir. As an adolescent, I remember composing poems in my mind without writing them, what could be called as ´poems to the wind.´ I only started writing poems after I joined the Indian Foreign Service in 2003. My first poem came to me when I was writing my memoir ´River Valley to Silicon Valley´. I call it the Song of the Soul -

I was always here

As blowing wind

Or falling leaves

As shining sun

Or flowing streams

As chirping birds

Or blooming buds

As the blue sky

Or empty space

I was never born I did not die.

Ana Paula Arendt - Which are your favourite authors, and for what reasons?

Abhay K. - I have a long list of favourite authors. Clarice Lispector, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Kabir, Tulsidas, Rahim, Ghalib, Rumi, Rabindranath Tagore, Iqbal, Faiz, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Khalil Gibran, Dylan Thomas, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, C.P. Cavafy, Joseph Brodsky, Derek Walcott, Shuntaro Tanikawa, T.S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Wislawa Symborska, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, Jayanta Mahapatra are some of my favourite authors as their writing touch my heart, mind and soul simultaneously and give me an ethereal, unearthly experience. I particularly like the writing style of Kabir who says so much in few words. I like the energy in the lines of Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. I love the easy flow of Walt Whitman’s prose-verse. I like the reflective mood of Carlos Drummond de Andrade in his poem ´E Agora Jose´. I am influenced, consciously or unconsciously by all of them.

Ana Paula Arendt - What do you search when you write? What special circumstances guide your inspiration? Abhay K. - I look for varied emotions of universal value that we face as individual human beings cutting across gender, nationality, religion, race while writing poems. I try to explore themes such as loss, death, injustice, sorrow, old age, failure, separation, abuse of power, transient nature of life, regret or life not lived among others. I have many sources of inspiration. I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of the universe, places I visit, people I meet and things I come across. It could be a person, a monument, a tree, a song, it could be literally anything under the sun.

Ana Paula Arendt - Your famous awarded book, The seduction of Delhi, is quite amazing and clean. Which are your favourite poems in it, and what do you enjoy more in this book? Could you share two or three poems to present them to our readers?

Abhay K. - Thank you. Asking a poet, which are his favourite poems, is like asking a mother to choose her favourite children. Here are three poems from The Seduction of Delhi - Delhi My smell my nakedness entices hordes of human flesh from far away lands traders, emperors, marauders. I pose nude up on the hill below the feast of eagles - possessed, intoxicated. Nehru Park Flames of crimson, blue moon in full bloom birds transmuting into humans rocks permeated with love Nehru in dialogue with Lenin roses blossoming.

The Flower Girl of Delhi

Bare to the bone in tattered garb with freshness of adolescence on my face I stand amidst the traffic bouquets of roses in my tender hands red, yellow, pink and white picked up from the graveyard waving, begging, hoping someone would buy my flowers, oh! a cab driver calls me bargains, I plead- take my flowers, he pulls me nearer I jerk back with disgust my clothes torn flowers scattered I gather myself then flowers and start again pleading, hoping.

Ana Paula Arendt - Is it true you are a potential Nobel nominee? What are your favourite works and your future projects?

Abhay K. Who can say that? I enjoy reading and writing poetry, that´s my highest reward and greatest gift. I have edited an anthology of poems on the capital cities of the world with contributions from Nobel Laureate Derk Walcott, Pulitzer Prize winners Mark Strand and Vijay Seshadri, T.S. Eliot Prize winner George Szirtes and prominent poets of 165 countries. It should be published later this year. I look forward to its publication. I am also working on poems on interesting places and personalities of Latin America.

Ana Paula Arendt. Great! What about diplomacy. How do you conciliate diplomacy and literature? Does it help to be a writer, in your diplomatic work?

Abhay K. - A number of poet-diplomats managed to excel both as a poet and as a diplomat such as Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, George Seferis, Octavio Paz, Miguel Angel Asturias, Saint-John Perse and Czeslaw Milosz have won the Nobel Prize for literature. I draw inspiration from them.

Writing and diplomacy have some common elements as both deal with words. Brevity and ambiguity in expression, use of imagery and metaphors to make difficult ideas simple and sensitivity are common to both poetry and diplomacy. I think being a writer or poet, it is easier to connect with people and this attribute indirectly helps in diplomacy.

Ana Paula Arendt - Do you plan to publish a book on Brazil? What are your impressions of our people until now?

Abhay K. - I plan a collection of poems on Latin America, including Brazil, as many literary figures, places and traditions of this continent continue to inspire me. So far I have visited Rio, São Paulo, Manaus, Foz do Iguaçu, Pirenópolis and plan to visit other places in Brazil. I have found Brazilian people very friendly, humble and fun-loving. I have already made some friends with Brazilian poets and writers.

Ana Paula Arendt - Thank you Mr. Kumar for the interview, it was very kind of you. I hope my readers enjoy your fine and unique poetry as much as I did!

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