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Professor of English, Tribhuwan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal

Monday, April 28, 2014

For Her, Poetry Has Become A Passion


Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder with a dash of dictionary.

I have been a long-standing admirer of Momila's poems, having followed them for more than three decades. She used to write profusely and recite wonderfully before an audience since she was a tertiary level student at Dhankuta Multiple Campus of the east. Since then, she has produced four volumes of her poetical works. The present one, SELECTED POEMS, is a selection made from the previous collections, along with a sprinkling of some fresh poems. The anthology is truly representative of the voices from her heart, agonizing over life and the appalling time we are living in. Sometimes her poems are too delicate, too tender, and too secret. So reading Momila reminds one of Emily Dickinson's
               ToSsee the Summer Sky
               Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie --
               True Poems flee --

And sometimes she speaks the voices of a rebel woman with all her anguish and agony.
   Above all, she speaks, acts and thinks like a poet so she fits in what I have quoted Khalil Gibran in the beginning. This maxim defines Momila's art and philosophy of poetry. She writes passionately like a poet should, and all her poems are dominated by emotion and passion. Sometimes, it seems her purpose behind writing poetry is both an end and means—of releasing her mind and heart. It is no wonder that I strongly feel Edgar Alan Poe's convictions fittingly define Momila's creation again: With me poetry has not been a purpose, but a passion.
The present collection consists of 35 poems each of different mood, perception, moments of creation and visualization. They are too subtle and sometimes abstract and fragmentary so sometimes it is difficult for the readers to capture the coherence of feeling and thought. Momila has composed psychologically acute poems of human passions combined with reasons. expressed in the best possible form.
            Emotion is articulated in themes such as love, friendship, despair, anxiety and nature in poems like Autumnal Breeze, Windy House and Melody, Far Across the Cloud, To the Martyrs of Love, After the Cherry Goes Blossoming, You and Me and so on. She has always been a poet even in prose as Charles Baudelaire has put: write even prose like poetry. This feat she has proved in her prose writing that is a collection of essays titled An Outsider in the Court of God (2010); by revealing a deep conviction of writing. In the preface to that collection, she has quoted Walt Whitman from his Song of Myself: I celebrate myself, and sing myself. She has thus valorized Whitman most probably because she holds similar attitudes towards life and the function of poetry is to sing of it, she holds similar emotions as he has put: A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books. Whitman says not even god is more important than oneself. Momila loves her self and sings of it but she equally loves the nation and the poor and humanity as a whole. She glorifies the concept within an individual and the universe. She sings of nature and her triumphant glory in most of the poems, yet she shows how the serene nature and the innocence it carved in her heart is all a matter of past, and only a strong nostalgic feeling has been left with her.
            Momila sings of life and the power of love and the self. There are poems of self reflection and self realization. However the love is not all mundane, often she rises higher. From almost every poem echoes the sense of rejection, despondency, and deep pangs of suffering. To quote Philip James: Poets are all who love, who feel great truths and tell them; and the truth of truths in love. This is the main undertone in Momila's poems.
She loves words, she is fond of creating such images as are made up of the sun and moon, star, silence, clouds, flowers, dew drops — her happy childhood days were filled with all these. Now her heart feels forlorn, so the theme of love and a sense of irreparable loss recurs in various shades. In such poems, the reader can hear her deep agony and anger, dejection, and frustration. These are her own songs and every one's.
But she is a very highly sensitive poet; aware of the surroundings and the time that becomes quite hoary, that threatens life, not her alone but also those of fellow citizens and the innocent common folks when the motherland herself is being threatened. The poet sings the songs of the humble and poor and their desires deprived as in Sannani. The gruesome picture of martyrdom or brutal killing and massacre of many does not go unnoticed by her. The poem The Unseen Signature Amidst the Bedlam of Words ends with these lines:
The unseen signature of
more than fifteen thousands of Nepalese souls!
She is much sensitive to the present horror obviously as in Down Come the Fireflies. Some are philosophical queries and are posed to her own self. Perplexed, she asks a perennial question — Why does this life entangle in the pleasure of illusions and in search of meaning? The poet is quite nostalgic of the bygone days and recollects them in After the Cherry Goes Blossoming. She draws picture of serene beauty and rural coolness, with a Sannani's character.

A poem is never complete, as Paul Valery says — A poem is never finished, only abandoned — Momila has abandoned some her poems in this way. She creates a mystery by saying
Divorced from the self
myself a fragmented being
I cannot accomplish my poem
            The themes of pain and agony, of severe loss and promises ahead mingle up in the poems.
            Momila's poems present unique skill and art of expression; her images are strange and unfamiliar, the recurrent themes are love, loss, resignation, selflessness, humanity and nature — and she weaves them beautifully.
            Come if you can
            embrace me and tighten
            with unconditional love
            then I shall unknit the thread
of endless possibilities.
            Life is All but Water is a combination of autobiographical experiences fused in the philosophy of life. Ultimate goal of it is submerged immediately in the personal elements expressed powerfully. Truly, as Frost says, poetry is about grief and has turned true for Momila, too. The pangs of life in some poems like In the Bizarre Citytalks of human predicament where one is forced to choose to live a short life; like an existentialist her ego is in dilemma between one choice and the other, between dream and reality, between success and failure. She has a tinge of existential experience and naturally sense of loss and guilt enfold a soul.
 Sometimes her poems sound indirect and it is difficult to find their context. Abstract symbols bind them. There are objects and images and abstractions. Among her five art poems, first one is based on famous Nepali artist Krishna Manandhar’s Paintings, second and third are based on famous Nepali artist Vijay Thapa’s paintingsd, fourth one is based on great artist Van gogh’s paintings and the last on Korean artist Chun, Heung-Soo’s work of art.
            A scene of all horror that she depicts is celebration of suffering perhaps the gory decade that tortured many, mimed, grabbed, jailed, exiled and killed them.
            Even if
            I can forget sufferings, but I won’t
            Try to forget it, but I can't.
            Momili's contribution to Nepali poetry is immense. She has compiled and edited perhaps the largest volume of Nepali poems Sagarmathako Nrityamagna Aatma, 625 pages anthology which consists of altogether 135 poets from Gopal Prasad Rimal to Shrawan Mukarung. The anthology gives a most comprehensive picture of modern Nepali poetry. She is the first woman writer to venture this and with an immense success she did. She also arranged to produce its English version, that is Dancing Soul of Mount Everest. This is the first anthology designed so ambitiously, which will introduce Nepali poetry to the wider world in such a vast range, scale variety and numbers. It's a micro picture of the contemporary Nepal on which her vividness and glory, her dreams and troubles are painted; her pathos and pleasures are reflected.
            Dedicated to the noble cause of introducing Nepali literature to the world, Momila's steps have moved with poetry. Having founded an institution popularly known in Nepal as Nepali Kalasahitya Dot Com Pratisthan (Nepali Art & Literature Dot Com Foundation), she has achieved a most commendable goal. No woman writer had gathered such a momentum in the noble cause of introducing Nepal through her art, culture and music with a central motto of peace and harmony among human being across and beyond borders so far. We have wholeheartedly supported her cause and appreciated each and every step. The broad and lasting vision behind her aim is to spread the message of peace and harmony in the world by using these creative means. She has ever sung the glory of the land of the Buddha, the epitome of peace and of Mount Everest, the unique boon of nature. She has even led groups of poets/artists to countries like Korea, China and Hong Kong where wonderful performances were made and strong ties with the artists/writers were established. We hope her long-lasting vision will materialize though it may require much effort and a lot of time to bring the vision to reality.
            I am sure the present collection will stand out as a most beautiful window through which one can glance at Momila's personal life and her wonderful nation—Nepal.
 Selected Poems (of Momila) is the latest volume of fresh Nepali poems translated in English and compiled and edited by a most creative Nepali poet. I am thankful to the poet for the opportunity she gave me to edit and write an Introduction to it though it needed no editing, as Kumar Nagarkoti, Mahesh Paudyal and Ranjan Kumar Khatri had done it as best they could. Despite our common effort, some loss must have occurred and we are quite aware of this. We felt, however, Robert Frost's famous dictum warning us translators all the time — poetry is what gets lost in translation.
To allude to history, Fitzgerald spent many years in rendering the great works of Omar Khayyam, that is rubaiyat, from the Persian text into English. The rubáiyat are independent poems, grouped according to custom by end-rhyme. Sometimes, Fitzgerald rendered the independent pieces as a narrative and argumentative sequence too. When criticized, he said "Better a Live Sparrow than a Stuffed Eagle. Our situation is obviously unlike that of Fitzgerald. It is free verse into free, every piece stands independently, as closely rendered as possible. We have been better literal than betraying the original. We would like to preserve body and soul both. A recipient reader may think otherwise. Translation is, as Venuti says, a moral of difference. There are as many gaps as one is interested to find them; they appear infinitely but we hope the reader of translation looks for the content or the message it carries mostly. We have tried to produce an intact Eagle. Our honesty and sincerity will, I hope reflect in the lines.
At this moment I think I must present in passing a brief account of Nepali poetry available in English translation. There are altogether about 50 titles of Nepali poetry book rendered into English. This is the result of the joint effort made by both the Nepali as well as Non-Nepali translators. It took us some seven decades to grow a substantial body of Nepal poems in English translation. We have not, however been successful in making our publications available to wider communities. Laxmi Prasad Devkota had long ago realized and expressed a need for more translation of our works during the Tashkent conference (1958 AD) that Nepali language needed to venture into translation if we want the world to know us. We could not achieve much during the intervening decades. Sometimes we were hesitant to translate, or we had a shortage of expertise or we ignored our readers in distant land or the English speaking world did not value much to our poetry (and so literature). But during the recent years, a fresh surge of desire has surfaced in translation of Nepali poetry.
Some remarkable titles of Nepali poems available in English (translation) are Munamadan, Seven Nepali Poets, Modern Nepali Poets, Nepali Visions Nepali Dreams, Selected Nepali Poems; A Handbook of Siddhicharan; My Wish and Other Poems; Harvest of Poems; Expressions After Death; The Heart Rings; Some Poems by Pyasi, In their Youthful Voice, Poems from Nepal, Poems by Nepali Women, Roaring Recitals, Selected Nepali Poems, Selected Lyrical Poems, Daughter of the Earth, Down the Himalayas Flows the Ganges, Twenty-five Modern Nepali Poems, Contemporary Nepali Poems, Selected Nepali Lyrical Poems, Declaration of New God (epic), The Present, Lunatic and Other Poems.
   Two important woks namely, Modern Nepali Poets and Seven Nepali Poets were produced by the Royal Nepal Academy in the early 1970s as seminal works to introduce Nepali poetry in translation. Most of the remaining works are, however, the results of individual efforts. There are some sponsored institutionally too. During the recent decades, more individual efforts are on the rise that have added to the number of Nepali translation into English. They are investing their time and money towards the promotion of Nepali literature. A few remarkable examples include Bhisma Uprety's Poems on the Hills and Echoes of Love, Jaya Chhangchha's Love Poems, and On the Bank of the Potomac River, Kanchan Pudasaini's (ed.) Fifty-one Supplications, and Emerging Voices, Durgalal Shrestha's Unbridled Passion, Benju Sharma and Manju Kanchuli's Two Sisters, Ramesh Shrestha's In the Name of Buddha, Sushmita Nepal's Lakes of My Heart, Krishna Bhusan Bal's The Full Moon at the River Bank, Sushma Acharya's Effusion of Grief, Rajeshwar Karki's The Last Page of My Poem. These are some of the beautiful anthologies and good collections that introduce modern Nepali poems widely. Among these Emerging Voices is of greater importance. The anthology includes poems by Newari, Yakha Rai, Chalung Rai, Rapacha, Limbu, Tamang, Gurung, Magyar, Bhojpuri, and Sherpa speakers — writers with different mother tongues. Moreover, there are the poets representing different geographical locations such as Bhutan, China, Britain, America and many parts of India.
If we look at the history of poetic translation, women poets are deprived of the opportunity to appear in most of the anthologies. The first poet to appear in them is Banira Giri, followed by Manju Kanchuli and Benju Sharma and Daughter of the Earth is a most commendable work produced by Gunjan. Momila's SELECTED POEMS is the latest of all and a most commendable work viewed from different angles. It is a representative voice of a young poet and a very dynamic poet, herself dedicated towards the promotion of Nepali poetry. She holds a unique position in modern Nepali poetry as a poet, as an organizer, as campaigner, as a leader — all her actions are directed towards the promotion of Nepali poetry, its literature, culture and art. So it is an opportunity for us to read Momila in her SELECTED POEMS.

I wish a happy reading of this. Althuser has put: Reading is the foundation of humanity.

                                                         ------- 000 ------


  1. Wonderful... As the purity of the heart as reflected may inspire the readers ever and ever !!

  2. Uttam Pr. BhattaraiMay 17, 2014 at 4:00 AM

    I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Prof. Dr. G. R. Bhattarai for providing me the opportunity he gave to be acquainted with the overflow of MOMILA through her powerful images.