Global Dimension To Bengali Poetry
Interview by Anit Mukerjea
Kiriti Sengupta, a Dental Surgeon and graduate of the University of North Bengal is also the author of other bestselling titles: My Glass Of Wine, a novelette based on autobiographic poetry, and The Reverse Tree, a nonfictional memoir. His other works include My Dazzling Bards [literary critique], The Reciting Pens [interviews of three published Bengali poets along with translations of their Bengali poems], The Unheard I [literary nonfiction], Desirous Water [contributed as a translator], Poem Continuous – Reincarnated Expressions [contributed as a translator]. Sengupta’s works have received critical acclaim Sengupta has also co-edited three anthologies of poetry; Scaling Heights, Jora Sanko – The Joined Bridge, and Epitaphs. His latest creative venture Healing Waters Floating Lamps is a collection of philosophical verses that delves into the magic of healing, complimented by photographs that are eye-catching. While appreciating the book K. Satchidanandan, the renowned poet has stated, “These poems are different from the run-of-the-mill Indian English poems in being far closer to our humdrum daily experiences and their baffling paradoxes and cruel ironies.” Healing Waters has been a bestselling title in the United States [on Amazon]. Here are excerpts from a personal interaction with the poet and translator, Kiriti Sengupta.
Anit Mukerjea: What inspired you to base your present anthology of poetry on the theme of Healing Waters Floating Lamps?
Kiriti Sengupta: On a recent trip to Varanasi I observed the devotees of Lord Shiva floated tiny lamps in the Ganges. These lamps floated for a long time without extinguishing, the water having a healing effect and the lamps moved on. My present book of verses was first named Crucifixion Is Christ-Filled. This was inspired by one of my poems titled Namesake. However, I was not happy with the title, and I emailed the entire manuscript to Eileen Register, who is a brilliant writer and a poet, living in Florida. It was Eileen who carefully read my manuscript and came up with the title. You know, the title Healing Waters Floating Lamps perfectly compliments the poems that have been included in the book. Now, if you ask me the inspiration behind this anthology of poetry, it was Gopal Lahiri, one of my reviewers who strongly suggested that I must publish an exclusive collection of my poems, for he thought my other books have quite of a few of them woven in nonfictional memoirs. So, this has been the background score. Spirituality and Philosophy have always been an integral part of poetry. The book is all about the philosophies of my life, the way I look at my being!
Anit: You are a Dental Surgeon by profession. What made you choose poetry as your creative canvas?
Kiriti: Does one really enjoy an option of choosing poetry as his/her creative canvas? I don’t think so. Poetry is one of the most condensed form of literature, and it germinates within one’s existence. You don’t have a choice here. Either you have poetry in you, or you don’t. You can’t write poetry just for the sake of writing it. You may learn crafting, but poetry arrives naturally. I must tell you that a few months back I have interviewed the famous Bengali poet Bibhas Roy Chowdhury, and the article [interview] appeared on “Word Riot,” a well-respected, online literary journal published from the United States. In his interview Roy Chowdhury categorically stated, “Poetry involves eternity … I believe, poetry emerges from our lives quite helplessly…”
Anit: What is your take on the flow of ideas in poetry should be spontaneously backed by a stream of consciousness?
Kiriti: Ah! A relevant question indeed. If you ask me what consciousness is I would tell you that it is a larger perspective of your vision. I told you before, my poetry reflects the ways I envision life and its challenges. There is always a stream of consciousness irrespective of the tone, structure, and nuances of the language I use in writing poetry. You know, during the launch of Healing Waters Floating Lamps poet and academic Sharmila Ray read from the poem Evening Varanasi, and she interpreted the title first. She explained, “One must meditate on the title. Sengupta did not write ‘Evening In Varanasi,’ but he wrote Evening Varanasi. Readers have to comprehend the implications of such a title.” Sharmila is one of the prominent Indian English poets of our times, and she has been pretty quick and apt in identifying the ‘streams of consciousness’ in my poems.
Anit: You have been known to have undertaken translation work of Bengali poetry into English in The Reciting Pens, Desirous Water, and Poem Continuous. What has been the response of these translated poems abroad?
Kiriti: Both The Reciting Pens, and Poem Continuous have been published by Inner Child Press, Limited. This is a small press situated in New Jersey, U.S.A. On the other hand, Desirous Water has been published by The Poetry Society of India, Gurgaon. Among them Poem Continuous has been widely appreciated and reviewed both nationally as well as internationally. I think, globalization of Bengali poetry can be achieved through translation work, and I have been considerably successful in my attempts.
Anit: Don’t you think translation work becomes difficult when two different languages with their distinct separate nuances and idioms whose meaning and dimension may be lost in translation?
Kiriti: You are right. Translators do suffer from apprehensions of conveying the exact nuances of the original language to the target audience. But you know, translators are primarily readers, and interpretation of poetry differs from one reader to another. Therefore, I consider “translation” as “transition.” My approach is to follow the original piece as closely as possible, and I seldom include my interpretations in the translated version, for a “faithful” translation is believed to be the best approach. I make sure my translation hits the right chord of the target audience as I get my works edited by an expert poetry-editor. Unfortunately we don’t have many efficient poetry-editors in India, and poets at large refrain from getting their works edited. They fail to understand that an expert editor would not impose changes forcibly, an editor finely polishes the surface roughness of a work rather.
Anit: Until now you have collaborated with three American editors. Stephen L Wilson, Kate Lantry, and Don Martin. They have given the requisite edge to your works. Any plans to work with them again?
Kiriti: I’m eternally grateful to my editors. Both Kate and Stephen have been instrumental in editing The Reciting Pens, a book of translated long interviews of three published Bengali poets from Calcutta along with their translated poems. They taught me to identify “lazy words,” and helped me to get rid of irrelevant portions from the interviews in order to make them compact and sharper. Long interviews often tire the readers, but in The Reciting Pens my editors made sure that the interviews read smooth and fresh. I can remember while translating From The Crossroads, a Bengali poem by Ranadeb Dasgupta, I wrote: “During daytime the shops resemble lover boys, while under the halogen street-lamps they have conspiring eyes.” Kate aptly edited the line that finally read as: “During daytime the shops resemble libertines, while under the halogen street-lamps they have conspiring eyes.” From lover boys to libertines, you see, how a word-change rendered better perspective to my translation!
Don Martin, on the other hand, is not only an efficient editor, he is a bestselling author as well. I have worked with him for most of my books. Whether it is my translated work, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry Don understands my breaths quite well. I have picked quite a few of editorial skills from him, and Don has been extremely supportive to my literary endeavors. He is a nice gentleman, and we are now good friends.
Anit: Your older books like My Glass Of Wine, and The Reverse Tree have done remarkably well in the market. MGOW has been a national bestseller while TRT has been a bestselling title in the United States. Both of these titles got you critical acclaim in several literary journals. Do you think marketing goes a long way towards the success of a book?
Kiriti: Marketing is indeed important to secure immediate readership, but it is the work that will speak for itself in future. In MGOW my objective was to bring more readers to poetry, and I proved my point. Poetry can be cherished even by the general readers of literature if it is presented with narratives or relevant nonfictional prose pieces. MGOW has essentially been a work that centers around poetry, written by me in English-language. In an article published in The Statesman [Delhi ed.] on 23rd of April, 2014 it was documented that MGOW has been a bestselling title across the online portals in India.
The Reverse Tree has been a work of nonfictional memoir that included a few poems. It got several interesting chapters on transgender/transsexual issues, scriptural verses and their influences in my life, racism, mimicry, among others. In a nutshell, TRT projected my journey towards understanding the quest of life. It has been appreciated in international journals like Red Fez Magazine, Word Riot, and I am expecting a review in Muse India, one of the most significant literary journals published in India. I’m thankful to my reviewers who have appreciated my works. Having said that I must add I have my share of negative or not-so-positive reviews, but they only made me alert of my limitations as an author.
Anit: Tell me something about the anthology Jora Sanko – The Joined Bridge.
Kiriti: Jora Sanko has been a diligent effort of compiling and editing English-language poems by the Bengali poets across the globe. I co-edited the anthology along with Dr. Madan Gandhi, President of The Poetry Society of India, Gurgaon. In this book I have had collaborated with the big names and some extremely talented poets like Debjani Chatterjee, Sudeep Sen, Sanjukta Dasgupta, Sharmila Ray, Ranadeb Dasgupta, Ananya S Guha, Gopal Lahiri, Bishnupada Ray, Jaydeep Sarangi, Debasish Lahiri, Sutapa Chaudhuri, Sujan Bhattacharya, among others. Our effort received appreciations in The Hindu Literary Review, Muse India, among other places. Another exciting achievement is Jora Sanko has been placed in the Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall, London. I’m planning to bring out the second edition of Jora Sanko in order to include other Bengali poets who write in English-language.
Anit: What is the response of your present book of poems Healing Waters Floating Lamps? Your reviewers must have been happy with those spectacular verses.
Kiriti: HWFL got published only a few weeks ago. I’m yet to receive reviews, but I’m sure my work would be appreciated by the critics, poets and readers. Let me share the trade facts here: HWFL has been a best-selling poetry title in the United States in Indian Literature, and you know, it ranked first among the “Hot New Releases” in Indian Literature on Amazon [United States].
I don’t know if my verses are “spectacular,” I’ll rather term them “subtle,” or “humble.” You are perhaps aware that I am a spiritual person, and spirituality centers around one’s journey towards realization of the “self.” Spirituality has nothing to do with the so-called “religions.” Religions divide while true spirituality unites. My poems are to deliver certain messages to the readers. Above all, my poems speak about “simple living.”
Anit: When you are penning a Bengali or an English poem is there a subtle difference in the thought processes of those two languages?
Kiriti: Certainly yes. Languages have their characteristic nuances. The way I think when I write a Bengali poem is quite different from the way when I think in English. This is indeed a challenging task for any bilingual poet, but poetry in itself is a cardio-cerebral affair.
Anit: What are the projects you are currently working on?
Kiriti: I’m trying to bring out the second edition of Poem Continuous. The first edition bore only thirty translated poems by Bibhas Roy Chowdhury. And now I would translate another thirty poems of Roy Chowdhury, so the target readers can read more works of this noted Bengali poet. I’m also planning for another book of my verses. I’m yet to finalize the manuscript, though.
– Anit Mukerjea is a poet, writer, and a painter based in Calcutta. He is a columnist with The Statesman for nearly three decades. He has extensively written in other journals and magazines published from Delhi and Mumbai.