Someday we may have a common anthem for our planet!- Interview with poet Abhay K

Poetry is the language of the universe.

In a world where chaos reigns in so many forms, poetry is a solace for many. At times, compared to magic, poetry heals and comforts in strange ways. Poets conjure magic with their words and captivate the readers with their ability to capture the finer nuances of life in their poems. One of the many poets whose work continues to inspire a lot of readers is Abhay K.

Abhay K. (b.1980) is the author of a memoir and eight poetry collections including The Seduction of Delhi,The Eight-Eyed Lord of Kathmandu, The Prophecy of Brasilia and The Alphabets of Latin America. He is the editor of CAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems. His poems have been published in over 60 literary journals across the world including Poetry Salzburg Review.

In 2013, he received the SAARC Literary Award and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress in Washington DC in 2018. His poem- song ‘Earth Anthem’ has been translated into over 50 global languages and is performed across the world. He has translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and Ritusamhara from Sanskrit. His forthcoming poetry collection is titled The Magic of Madagascar.

You can read some of the poems from his latest book, The Alphabets of Latin America here.

Team Kitaab was in conversation with Abhay recently where we discussed his love for poetry, his being an eternal seeker, and his thoughts on having a common anthem for the planet.

Team Kitaab: Your latest book The Alphabets of Latin America is very unique.  You have written poems in alphabetical order based on your travel to Latin America. Featuring prominent names like Frida Kahlo and Pablo Neruda, it also talks about the flora and fauna of the country. Can you share with us how did you get the idea for this book?

Abhay K:   I was fascinated with Latin America after reading poems of Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz, seeing paintings of Frida Kahlo, watching documentaries on Amazon forests and Machu Picchu. I imagined them as key letters in the alphabets with which the book of Latin America is written and started to explore this continent sized book and the alphabets that made it.

I am a Seeker of love, beauty and truth in the universe.

In 2016, I chose to serve in Brazil as a diplomat and started travelling to Peru, Argentina, Panama, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and various parts of Brazil to see and experience Latin America face to face and have rendevous with the alphabets that create its magic. So I had the idea of this book before I arrived in Brazil and then it grew stronger after travelling through Latin America.  I wrote poems about the places I visited, people I met and historical personalities I read about between 2016-2019, and this is how The Alphabets of Latin America was born and is ready now to take little steps in the world.

Team Kitaab: Your poems have been a part of academic research and have been translated into various languages internationally. How does it feel to see your writings bridge boundaries?

Abhay K.: That’s right. A PhD was awarded to Amit Dhawan in 2018 on the theme ‘Cultural Construct of Self :Poetry of Abhay Kumar’ by Maharaja Ganga Singh University in Bikaner, Rajasthan , India and a number of scholarly research papers have been written on my poetry including ‘A.K. Ramanujan’s ‘A River’ and Abhay K’s ‘Yamuna’: River as a Symbol of Endless Flow of Meanings’ by Sapna Dogra among others.

My poems have been translated into over a dozen international languages including Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Nepali, Mandarin, Slovene among others. ‘Earth Anthem,’ a poem-song that I wrote in 2008 has been translated into over 50 languages and has been quoted by Christian Science Monitor and is played across the world on Earth Day and the World Environment Day. Recently UN featured it to celebrate Earth Day.

It feels great to be translated into so many languages, to be able to reach out to our large human family spread across the globe.  It also shows that someday we may have a common anthem for our planet.

I have also made conscious efforts to take Indian poetry spanning over 3000 years written in 28 Indian languages to the world through translations of 100 Great Indian Poems, which I selected and edited in 2018. Since then, it has been translated and published into Portuguese by the University of São Paulo, into Spanish by the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Monterrey, Mexio, into Italian by Edizioni Efesto, Rome, Italy and into Malagasy by Tsipika, Antananarivo, Madagascar. It has also been translated into Irish/Gaelic by noted Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock, into Nepali by well-known poet Rajendra Bhandari and into Russian and French by noted Russian and French poets.  This is for the first time that Indian poetry from so many regional languages has been translated into so many world languages including the UN languages of Spanish, French and Russian.

It feels great to be translated into so many languages, to be able to reach out to our large human family spread across the globe.  It also shows that someday we may have a common anthem for our planet.

Earlier in 2017, I had edited CAPITALS, a poetry anthology on the capital cities of the world, which had a poem on 185 capital cities of the world, well-known poets writing about their own capitals, which included translated poems from various languages as well. My goal behind editing CAPITALS was to bring World Poetry to India, while 100 Great Indian Poems, takes Indian Poetry to the world, thus creating a literary bridge across the planet.

Team Kitaab: While you have edited 100 Great Indian Poems- an anthology which includes poems from 28 Indian languages, including Assamese, Bengali, Bhili, Dogri, English, Gondi, Gujarati, Hindi, Telugu, Urdu and Prakrit languages including Pali – do we see your work also getting translated into Indian languages to reach a wider audience within India?

Abhay K.: Well, some of my poems have been translated into Hindi and Nepali and my poem-song ‘Earth Anthem’ has been translated into Malayalam by K. Stachidanandan, in Kannada by H.S. Shivaprakash, in Hindi by Mangalesh Dabral, in Nepali by Rajendra Bhandari, in Telugu by Mahe Jabeen, in Kashmiri by Tarannum Riyaz among others. My memoir River Valley to Silicon Valley has been translated into Hindi and Russian.

Team Kitaab: According to you what makes a poem great?

Abhay K.: I think the ability of a poem to move us at a deeper level with its indirect (slant), hint, nod, gesture, makes a poem great.  Therefore, each one us have to find our own great poems, the poems that move us. I have clarified in the Editor’s note to 100 Great Indian Poems that these poems are great for me, others should find their own great poems as Buddha had said—find your own path.

I think the ability of a poem to move us at a deeper level with its indirect (slant), hint, nod, gesture, makes a poem great.  Therefore, each one us have to find our own great poems, the poems that move us.

Team Kitaab: What are your thoughts on the recent surge in the various styles of presenting poetry on different social media sites like Instagram and YouTube? What do you think of these newbie-poets?

Abhay K.: I think social media sites provide new and additional platforms for the poets to express themselves. I welcome them all. Poetry happens when the poet and the reader/the listener come together and I think social media helps them to come together in a novel way.

Team Kitaab: Your work has different themes like travel, nature, relationships, flora-fauna, culture, conflict, love, joy etc. interwoven liberally. While your work includes one book called CAPITALS, which includes all the capitals of the world, it also includes Enigmatic Love (Love poems from the Fairy tale city of Moscow). Can your work be called one that is breaking shackles?

Abhay K. : I try to write about the places and countries I visit for short duration, or live and work for a longer duration. The place acts as a reference point where I explore local legends, mythologies, superstitions, beliefs, sayings, history, social and economic condition, poetry and then bring them all together alive in my imagination to write poems. My first four poetry collections Enigmatic Love, Fallen Leaves of Autumn, Candling the Light and Remains are based in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia and contains my formative poetry, while the next four viz. The Seduction of Delhi, The Eight-eyed Lord of Kathmandu, The Prophecy of Brasilia and The Alphabets of Latin America, carry specific place names where these poems are located.

CAPITALS is an anthology I have selected and edited. It has poems on capital cities of the world, written by poets from over 150 countries. I also have a few of my own poems on some capital cities in this anthology.

I leave it to others to judge my work.  I want to write about places, people, flora and fauna spread over continents about which very little has been written about. I want to create poetic portraits of the places I visit and live at, fascinating plants and animals who have no voice to express their impeding extinction.

Team Kitaab: You are an artist, a poet and a diplomat. However, if you were asked to describe yourself in one word, what would it be and why?

Abhay K.: I am a Seeker of love, beauty and truth in the universe. I see our planet as an organic whole, as an oasis in the vast universe, full of beauty, as a true paradise full of diverse flora and fauna, we only have to look at planets in our neighbourhood like Mars, Venus, Jupiter etc. to feel blessed, this is the only paradise we have, there is no other, this is how I see the truth. We must save this paradise from destruction when we still have some time left. I have put this truth and my aspirations and hopes for our large animate and inanimate family in ‘Earth Anthem’

Earth Anthem has found acceptance in many countries. It was performed by the National Orchestra of Brasilia and the musicians of the Amsterdam Conservatorium, apart from being played at the UN, BBC etc.

Team Kitaab: What are you working on currently?

Abhay K.: I recently translated Meghaduta and Ritusamhara of Kalidasa, selected and edited an anthology of Great Indian Love Poems from various Indian languages and am currently working on my next poetry collection titled The Magic of Madagascar, a series of haiku/ haiku like micro poems on rare flora and fauna of Madagascar and life here. Here are some poems—

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