“I had an opportunity to read and assimilate classical, medieval, romantic, modern and post-modern poetry,” says Australia-based Nepali-speaking poet Kuma Raj Subedi, whose poetry most amazingly effaces most of these schools of poetry writing and settles most cosily in the schematics of the ‘romantic’. As evidenced by most of his poems published in different media outlets, and most decidedly confirmed by what he has delivered in his recent and maiden poetry collection The Colours of Spring, Subedi is a romantic poet at his heart. He has himself confessed in his preface ‘Reflection on the Anthology’: “Romantic poetry has been an influential catalyst in my creative journey.” He further confesses: “Often, my poetry echoes similar ideas and themes from the poets of various cultures and traditions.”
A government school teacher in the past, Mr. Subedi, originally from Chitwan, sounds quite grim when he reflects at his past disposition in Nepal as an educator. In an informal, light-hearted conservation with English.SahityaPost, he admits that nothing formidable came out of that now-forgotten career. “When the environment around you is quite messy, you cannot alone make a huge difference,” he admits, explaining why he abandoned that job and chose to fly abroad.
There are two congratulatory things about Subedi’s intellectual life in Adelaide, South Australia. First, he has continued to align himself with an educator’s job. He flew south in 2014, did his MTESL from Finders University, became a TESOL instructor and started working as a lecturer. “My job is to teach English language to immigrants,” he says, “and the task is both challenging and interesting.” He cites the multicultural and multilingual population of his students as the reason for such challenge and excitement. As Australia has become a new-found land of fortune for people from all over the world, job and career hunters from across the globe flock to the island continent. As English becomes a dire necessity there, they get confused like an ant that confuses its way ahead as it reaches the edge of a table it is crawling on. “My work has taught me a lot. It has made my mind-set multicultural,” Subedi admits joyfully.
The second congratulatory thing—much to the happiness of the writing community—is that he has continued to groom the poet in him. He had recognised the poetic inkling in his heart many years ago while he was still in Chitwan. Chitwan, as we all know, is an extremely fertile ground for creativity, and Subedi was a darling of that productive universe. He had published a couple of works even before flying abroad, and literary community in Nepal knew him to some extent. Across the seas too, he continued to follow the poetic call of his heart. He told SahityaPost, “I continued to read and appreciate poetry as part of the Tramsend Poets Group and Friendly Street Poets. My association with this community has enriched my understanding of poetry.”
The aforementioned enrichment of Subedi’s poetic flair has become manifest through a number of creative outlets where he has published his works. We can find his poems amply published in different portals including the Gorkha Times, Of Nepalese Clay, Muse India, Misty Mountains Review, Sahitya Sangraha, Scarlet Dragonfly, Writers’ Café, and ILA Magazine etc. The culmination of his efforts so far has appeared as a collection, The Colours of Spring, published by SahityaPost in 2023. The anthology collects 77 wonderful poems that affirm his poetic acumen and affirm his excellence as a promising Nepali poet writing in English.
Subedi also told SahityaPost how poetry has been a therapy to him when he faced serious mental conditions that culminated in bipolar and adjustment disorders that have been almost resolved now. In a way, writing poems was a sort of ‘scriptotherapy’ for him. He is aware his poetry might have retained some inevitable gaps and fissures and some lines many not correspond to any meaningful ideas other than reflecting his own complex thoughts and emotions, which might be difficult for a normal person to understand. He says, “My mental health journey through anxiety, depression, hypo-mania, bipolar disorder and adjustment disorder have also been reflected in my poems.”
Gaps and fissures, ideational incongruities and lack of coherence can also be a resource when we attempt a psychoanalytic reading of a work of literature. Geoffrey Hartman champions such reading of gaps and absences, for he sees in them reflections of certain psychological inhibitions a poet might not be able to write for reasons. It was not in vain that French philosopher Pierre Macherey said ‘the text says what it does not say’. It will therefore be wrong to try to build up a complete Kuma Raj from what he has written; one must also spy on what Kuma has left out, and what he has not written, or written in fragments, to build up who he actually is. Quite a task, isn’t it? Still, it is an interesting challenge for critics who claim of reading the personality of an artist through his or her art. The Colours of Spring could be a case in point.
Several factors work together to shape the creative personality of an individual. In Subedi’s case, poetry perhaps came as a response to the immediate social stimuli that worked with him during his primitive age. Born in 1976 in Parbat, he grew up in Sauraha, Chitwan. Subedi admits that three things had their immediate influence on his creative grooming here: the panoramic nature of Sauraha and its vicinity, its multi-cultural social composition, and his direct-indirect contact with poets and writers in Chitwan. A Master of Arts degree in English from Tribhuvan University and 17 years of teaching English in Nepal understandably worked as constructive forces that groomed the budding poet inside him. The poet found a boost in Australia, where his encounter with the English speaking community, including groups of poets and writers, did for him the perfect trick. Thanks are also due to his caring wife Mina Chapagai Subedi, whom he remembers with gratitude.
Now that it has been mentioned, the content and composition of The Colours of Spring deserves a passing remark here. The anthology, spread over 138 pages, features an amazing flower on its front cover. On being asked what it is, what it symbolises, poet Subedi says, “I am a nature lover. I enjoy being around trees, woods, rivers and rivulets. The flower on my cover is Sturt’s Desert Pea Flower, the floral emblem of the state in Australia where I live. Photographer Anna Nunn gifted this photograph to me. It is a desert flower, and emits the lesson that we can hone our dream to fruition if we work hard even in difficult circumstances.”
Now a look at the verses. The poems sound like an individual’s silent conversation with his soul, his immediate neighbourhood, the environment that surrounds him, and the Oversoul that keeps a vigil over each of his doings. Philosophy and love, the dynamics of part and whole, mesmerizing descriptions of beautiful places, the lessons of existentialism embedded in apparently apathetic natural happenings, life’s brevity, the power of faith judged against the exigencies of science, the threats and limits of old age etc. have found voice in his verses, and like a devout romantic, he has performed within the limits of his chosen theoretical territory. Nature is the most dominant imagery in his poems, and its interaction with the human world defines his poetic dramaturgy. The title poem, “The Colours of Spring” perhaps most justifiably represents the romantic universe of the muse inside him. One can surmise the poetic poignancy of these lines where the ambiguous ‘you’ almost immediately connects nature and a human soul:
Sonorous sounds of words you whisper
put me to sleep—
dream of you sailing a ship
to a green island of peace
We negotiate the precious price
of sublime blunder—
we commit each night—
scriptures carved in turquoise leaves of belief
Readers of The Colours of Spring will certainly find a respite in the commotion of verbal trinkets being served as poetry today. English writing from Nepali writers has not been appreciated much, and most of the writers have not been able to make much difference in the international literary firmament. At such a time, people like Kuma Raj Subedi, who are well-versed in the mechanics of the English language and the dynamics of creativity appear as a beacon of hope. One lovely advantage poet Subedi has over his Nepal-based counterparts is that he lives in one of the heartlands of contemporary world literature, and he does not need to wait much for getting international exposure. He must work in that line. He has to invent avenues that will launch him to that covetous world of international recognition. With more precise editing and lineal choreography, his poems can become a fresh treat for international readers.
Good luck, dear poet! As poetry once healed your mind, you will perhaps heal the emotional aridity that is dripping like acid upon the hearts of people who have been passing through similar conditions. Many people today are baffled by dry bones at a place they expect water. Most of the poets today show fear in a handful of dust. Readers want someone who shows light and hope. Wish, you will become one!