with My Magazine, from here to Shangri-La"
Tribute to Nepal"
featuring the poems of Pallav
Ranjan and Chandani Shah
Torbay to Shangri-La"
with My Magazine, from here to Shangri-La"
there we were. Five days into our visit and, after lunching at one of Kathmandu's
chic restaurants, we were being driven across the Bagmati river into Patan - or
Lalitpur, the old name by which the city now wishes to be known again. Outside,
the temperature was still a cool 22C - it was to reach nearly 30C later. In the
Sunday atmosphere people were out walking and shopping: women in brightly coloured
saris, men in either traditional shirts, trousers and waistcoats, or jeans and
tee-shirts; cows flopped down wherever they felt like it; dogs were collapsed
in the noon heat; children, attired either in what to western eyes seemed elaborately
decorated dresses or shirts, played as children everywhere play; babies were carried
wrapped up against the cold yes, cold - in woolly hats and shawls; fruit vendors
pushed bicycles with loaded panniers. Everywhere there was an atmosphere of vitality,
a vibrancy of life. It might have had something to do with the fact that the monsoon
was now over and that the Festival of Desai - a festival dedicated to rebirth
and the family, the nearest equivalent being our Christmas - was due to begin
in two days' time. So much colour and movement; so much poverty and squalor; so
many contrasts, shocks, so much beauty and ugliness: Kathmandu.
day it was supposed to be the occasion of the launch of an anthology of UK poetry
I had edited for Spiny Babbler, the poetry society of Nepal, to be followed by
a reading by William Oxley. The book had been printed and I had seen copies of
it; I had even spent the previous day writing a talk I was to have given about
the current state of poetry in the UK. But Pallav Ranjan, with whom I had corresponded
by e-mail over the previous six months or more, greeted me with the news that
the launch had been postponed for at least a fortnight as he was hoping that the
Crown Prince would attend the launch. It seems that in Nepal, the Royal Family
is very keen on the arts, even the Queen writes poetry which has been set to music
and is regularly broadcast on the radio. Pallav is a genial and bright young man
totally dedicated to poetry and the arts, and he runs the Spiny Babbler poetry
society. Recently he had published a collection of his work and sent me a copy,
together with a CD which had given me a flavour already of Nepali poetry: a poetry
more obviously metaphysical and spiritual then most current British poetry; yet
a poetry which also addressed social issues such as the place of women in society,
male-female relationships, poverty, and even the social status of poetry itself.
other leading light in Nepali poetry circles whom I met was Greta Rana, a practical
yet radically-minded Yorkshire woman married into the Rana family - the erstwhile
ruling dynasty of Nepal, which had been overthrown - or overtaken - by the democratic
revolution of recent times. In addition to her passion for poetry, and its promotion,
Greta runs a series of self-catering establishments for the many in tourists who
visit Nepal - 'to find themselves', as my son-in law says. But as the British
vice-consul there, he knows only too well how many, in fact, lose themselves in
this remote land of incredible mountains, plateaux, deep valleys and jungle!
first event took place in the reception bar at the Shaligram Hotel. A sort of
three-rooms-converted-into-one situation with a small end room containing a low
table and chair for the reader. The main part of this elongated room, furnished
with a mixture of floor cushions and chairs, contained an audience of around forty
people of various ages. The more mature Nepalis wore traditional dresses, either
saris or, in the case of the men, full-sleeved shirts and embroidered waistcoats.
While the younger contingent, male or female, wore the global-village uniform
of jeans and tee-shirts. Greta Rana provided the introduction, commenting how
few English writers made it to Kathmandu, and even fewer poets, William being
one of the first. She also made reference to Acumen, saying flatteringly that
'When one has appeared in its pages, one knows one has arrived poetically! Needless
to say, I have not yet arrived!' Thus do one's rejections come back to haunt one!
seems that all artistic events in Nepal are multi-media. So first we had music
from Manjul, a famous singer of folksongs, and guitar player. During his performance,
two of the older, sari'd woman got to their feet and did traditional dancing while
the audience clapped to the music. It all contributed to a sense of harmony between
audience and participants and created just the right atmosphere for the following
read for about 25 minutes, the audience responding most to those poems with a
metaphysical edge, or to his love poems - though they laughed at his lighter work,
proving that humour is world wide. The questions which followed ranged from seeking
his views on translation to matters of spirituality in English poetry. But as
the afternoon wore on, the temperature in the long room increased, and we were
eventually happy to move to the garden for a buffet laid on by Greta and her hotel
staff. The only irritating thing to me was that I didn't get round to eating much
(especially as after five days I'd developed a love of Nepali cooking!) as both
the poet and I were inundated with questions about the poetry and publishing scene
in the UK and about UK magazines. William was also presented with books by Nepali
writers and he signed copies of his own. This was the first of several poetry
events during our stay, and as time went by we found that we were to meet more
Nepali locals than ex-pats as a result; and this despite being based at the British
Embassy Compound with our relatives. We found the Nepalese very, very congenial
following morning we were back at the Shaligram, where twenty-four - a photo cannot
lie! - young poets assembled for a workshop. They were all desirous of improving
their English, as being a more international language that their own, and were
keen to have their use of the language looked over by an English poet and myself
as an editor. Four hours passed quickly in talk, poetry and enjoyable, if intense,
encounters with these young people who were very intelligent, committed to writing,
and eager to learn about England and English poetry. A visit to the Spiny Babbler
Headquarters followed in the afternoon; a Nepali house containing rooms which
doubled as art galleries and reading spaces, many of which would have held more
people than at the London Poetry Society. The organisation's offices were in separate
rooms complete with computers where a monthly magazine is produced and also books
are type-set for the printer. This, the second of a number of meeting with representatives
of the society, was most illuminating.
most exotic of the arranged poetry readings took place at Fishtail Lodge, Pokhara,
125 miles west of Kathmandu. Pokhara is known as the gateway to the Himalayas,
being situated at the foot of the Annapurna range. It is a town which verges on
Lake Phewe, in whose waters the Annapurnas are reflected together with the sacred
and still unclimbed mountain, Machhapuchare, the Fishtail Mountain. To reach the
Lodge, one has to cross the lake to an island by means of a raft pulled by rope,
a most unusual ferry service. Fishtail Lodge consists of several octagonal rooms,
in pagoda-style, set like diamonds in lush gardens. The reading took place in
a low tin-roofed cabin at one end of these gardens: poetry not being quite so
well-favoured as tourism! Even so, it was an interesting structure in its interior
in that the far end of the cabin consisted of a large and attractive mural, covering
the whole of the wall, depicting a traditional Himalayan village with mountains
in the background. The event went well. I gave a talk about English poetry magazines
in general and Acumen in particular while William read for around forty minutes.
Once more the multi-media approach was evident in that three musicians played
typical Nepali music and a famous Nepali artist gave a talk. Just as the heat
in the hut was becoming unbearable the event came to a close and we all went outside
to enjoy a generous lakeside buffet. Some forty people attended reading on a Tuesday
morning: all male, the only women present apart from myself - being Param Meyangbo,
the Spiny Babbler's representative. Question time had elicited numerous intelligent
queries and observations from the eager audience: questions on the creative process,
the role of critic and translation, what part intellect and philosophy played
in the making of poems and finally a lengthy discussion on the globalization of
the arts. If the heat hadn't driven us from the hotel's cabin, we could have been
And we might have been: the appetite for poetry and knowing
about English poetry seemed inexhaustible. But, unfortunately, our visit wasn't
and all too soon, it seemed, we had to leave our new friends and take the long,
boring flight back to the UK.
Tribute to Nepal"
readers of Acumen will know about my visit to Nepal last October. I and my husband
were very shocked and saddened to hear of the unthinkable massacre which took
place there this June. Our main contact in kathmandu is Pallav Ranjan, the organiser/editor/chief
inspiration of their Poetry Society, Spiny Babbler. We were in touch with him
immediately after the events. He sent us the following poem which tries to explain
his feelings of sadness and frustration. He has also kindly allowed me to reprint
two poems by Chadani Shah, the pen name of the late queen, Her Majesty, Queen
Aishwarya Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, from the Spiny Babbler volume, Selected poems
of Nepal (translated into English by Pallav Ranjan). Pallav writers that Chadani's
verses added magic to his growing years as they were played regularly over the
radio. '(Her) work is simple, vulnerable and innocent
the relationship of
a young bride to her husband, then a prince
the insecurities of being a Royal
and the idealism of a young woman.'
among pagodas and green valleys,
with tigers and maroon
with Kings, Queens, Princesses, Princes,
and people: don't
forget the people
with smiling faces, kind eyes,
and hears full of greetings,
legends walked in Kathmandu
legends talked of hard labour
in the mountains, pain of the hills
death of children,
hopes of brilliant blue sky
and clouds bringing life-fulfilling
The legends asked, what was the soft snow doing,
dazzling the eyes?
Why were the fresh corn stalks bowed down
in the fields when the sun was
Why were festivals intoxicating
and gods swirling in chests?
the souls have left,
instead of smiles, I see reflections of guns
I see reflections of corpses in eyes,
I can no longer venture into the hills
and I have walked many miles of those trails
and I long to be
with the shrines and forests
of the high mountains.
is afternoon now, a memory
of the morning remains:
at six o'clock today
was full of hope and the world was so clean:
The heart swelled.
Speech halted, throat
would not speak.
In eyes, tears welled.
Things could have been different.
This life could
this way or that.
the tender sun of a winter's dawning,
gently unfold the mist and open this
land to the skies.
Be the noble star shines in the north, faithful/everlasting,
point out paths and make apparent meanings.
your footsteps move ahead, always,
touch every village, barn, lawn, and watering
Keep your hopes fervent forever,
remove challenges/ obstructions.
illumination, full of understanding, increasingly burning,
up countless wickers as you move along.
touch the heartbeat of each and every
fill love for their nation in their being.
every hill/terrace and field.
Search each line, every space of our land.
Spread melodies of peace throughout this earth,
create a grand history for
I were to have a wish,
with every breath I take
I would wish a lengthy
life for you.
If I am of good fortune,
I want to add goodness to your
with each moment of my life.
filled to the brim with love,
each droplet in my eye is a greeting.
honor, convictions are words
woven into the garland I weave.
fill each evening
I would enrich the colours
my heart, the lamp is burning,
may it always burn and point out your paths.
Let the vermilion on my hair
Show everyone my husband's alive.
life be meaningful,
let me be able to enrich
the Past, Hanuman Dhoka"
(Old Royal Palace, Kathmandu)
was a pokey little palace
not much more than
a provincial museum.
in from windows overshadowed
by frowning carvings.
round the grey
of annual animal sacrifice
an empty swimming pool,
it was a gloomy pile
filled with dust of disuse.
Royals had long left it
for lighter days
in the Narayanhiti Palace.
and left behind
portraits of tiger hunts,
uniforms of kings
the usual array of swords
and kukris. Gone
into a more modern light
from winding passages
and narrow creaking stairs.
from the gloom and whisper
of tortured sunbeams
visitors now walk among,
a future of flowers
and gadgetry, and
a darker interior of terror.
Torbay to Shangri-La"
by William Oxley
content with trying to raise the profile of poetry in Torbay, the Poet-in-Residence,
in October, took the good news about the activities of the Muse in Torbay to Nepal.
In both Kathmandu and Pokhara he gave poetry reading and workshops to gatherings
of English speaking Nepali writers and students, as well speaking to them about
Torbay. Nepal, like Torbay, heavily depends on tourism, having the majority of
the world's highest peaks (over 8,000 meters ) including, of course, Mount Everest
- and many World Heritage Sites. By using his poems to illustrate several talks,
William's audiences were interested to hear the poet compare and contrast the
tourist attractions of the mountains in Nepal with the similar drawing power of
the sea in Torbay. The visit came about through the Poetry Society of Nepal, colourfully
named after a rare bird the spiny babbler, inviting Patricia Oxley - the editor
of the William with students at the workshop prestigious U.K literary magazine
Acumen- to produce for them an anthology if Contemporary British Poetry. When
they discovered that the Oxley's daughter and son-in-law work for the British
Embassy in Kathmandu and that a visit had been long-planned to see them and their
children, Spiny babbler invited them to the launch of the anthology and persuaded
them to give a workshop, along with some reading by William.
Once the flight
had been booked last March, dates and place were arranged and finally William
gave two reading and talks: one in the Patan area of Kathmandu, within a stone's
throw of the old Durbar Square with its ancient temples and palaces; the Pokhara,
overlooking Lake Phewa and in the shadow of Machapuchre, the sacred mountain and
the 8,000 metre plus mighty Annapurnas.
The workshop was also in Patan and
very productive day was spent talking to around 25 young students about poetry,
Nepal and Torbay.