Bibhu Padhi has published nine books of poetry and a chapbook of poems on D. H. Lawrence. His poems have been published in distinguished magazines throughout the world, such as Debonair, Gentlemen, The Illustrated Weekly of India, Quest, Encounter, Contemporary Review, Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, The Rialto, Stand, New Letters, The New Criterion, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Southwest Review, TriQuarterly, The Antigonish Review and Queen's Quarterly. They have been included in numerous anthologies, school, college and university textbooks. Two of the most recent are 60 Indian Poets (Penguin Books) and The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry. He lives with his family in Bhubaneswar.
Nandini Sahu: Dear Mr. Padhi, you are born in Odisha and Odishan landscapes are most opulent in your poetry. Would love to hear in your own words how these collages of country and cityscapes resonate in your mind and impel you to compose poems.
Bibhu Padhi: I spent the first forty-two years of my life in Cuttack. It is obvious that I would be influenced by its landscapes. Cuttack is a strange place — a mix of village and city. If you visit the lanes and by-lanes of Cuttack, you feel as if you are in a village. If you visit the College Square area, you have all the ingredients of a city. Everything has influenced me — from the Ravenshaw College fields, the backyard of our house, the house of my senior poet-friend, Jayanta Mahapatra, the funeral grounds. When I was in Cuttack, I used to cycle down numerous lanes and that gave me a chance to explore all the possibilities. My early poems are grounded in Cuttack.
NS: So true! A poet of the city with an amazing capacity for metaphoric interiority…that is perhaps how I could best describe you Mr Padhi! Your mention of Cuttack, a place that still remains a nerve centre of Odishan culture perhaps makes me a tad nostalgic about the land of my birth. The indefatigable urge for sthala-puranas that drives a writer of Indian literature, whatever the form and the genre, is something that I too very strongly feel in the blood, despite having been a Delhite for long now. And Jayanta-da…oh…I share and cherish memories with him that are very dear to my heart. Without being provincial, am sure we can be happy that one of the greatest of Indian English poets hails from Utkal. Mr Padhi, we who can lay some claim to being poets have all had some subconscious influences that have shaped us! Who would you reminisce as having been the major influences on your makings as a poet?
BP: From India, it is Jayanta Mahapatra. From outside India, there are numerous others — mostly from Europe and Latin America — including Cesare Pavese, Ungaratti, Quasimodo, Seferis, Neruda, Vasco Popa, Lorca. There have been novelist-poets who have influenced my work — like Hardy, Lawrence, Jorge Louis Borges and many others.
NS: Hmm, that’s an enviable lineage indeed, and truly diverse too. Please tell me about all your poetry collections…in fact about your journey as a poet. Am sure it must have been a fairly eventful path this long…
BP: My very first poems were childishly romantic. I slowly matured into a slightly mature romantic poet. Pritish Nandy encouraged me to write and published some of my stuff in his Dialogue India. I started writing seriously from 1975, after my return from the hospital, where I was admitted after an illness. I was to stay there for a long time. My first two serious poems were based on my experience of two deaths at the hospital. By now I have published nine books of poetry, including two books of love poems.
NS: That is a truly candid statement of facts from an accomplished poet! While I take it that you have indeed matured with time that has given your pen much of its might, I must talk of one persistent quality that I have perceived in your work - the celebration of the ‘self’ in poetry. Could you please dwell on the notion of the self that abounds your poetry?
BP: Life is a celebration. It is the self which participates in these celebrations. It is the representative of the body so to speak and is always with the body. No celebration is possible without the body. Self is that part of a human being that takes part in every little thing, including romance.
NS: I presume you are saying that a poetic persona is, like any other human being, an amalgam of mind and body – kinetic energy that transforms through emotive and mental processes into the written word on the page. It is only, to borrow from Wordsworth, the ‘lively sensibility’ that is at work in transcreating the minutest of experiences into profound poetic expressions. I guess I realize from this simple interpretation of yours the source(s) that make(s) your poetry so lucid, honest, accurate and sincere without any hyperboles or hypocrisy. Sir, allow me to share a persistent feel that there are simultaneously private, personal as well as universal metaphors in your poetry. Your take on that?
BP: Yes, I feel so. The lucidity and honesty are qualities I learnt from my European models, especially Quasimido and Ungaretti. My private and personal metaphors have had their roots in my family and friends, as well as poets like William Stafford. My universal metaphors have drifted into me from cremation grounds, prayers, the feeling of the vastness of the world I live in.
NS: To get beyond the self, many poems of your articulation bear the authentication of narrating a second person, ‘you’, another entity, perhaps your love, life and mirth. But in certain poems it remains equivocal. How do you see this issue of multiple identities? Or do they somewhere all coalesce into one?
BP: In most poems the “you” is only myself. In some others, it is addressed to someone else, sometimes also the gods or goddesses I might be having in my mind. I believe once the reader takes the poem as a whole, he would be able these seemingly difficult differences in address.
NS: As a close reader of your poems(s), I am often baffled to find your personae cohabiting apparently contrasted worlds of an idealist and a skeptic. How do you merge the two personas with such queer concentration? Is this amalgamation eloquent of some hidden verity?
BP: It is something given to me since my childhood. My father was an idealist, my mother was an amalgamation of an idealist and a skeptic. The two strains have helped me when I have written poems. The two personas are side by side, not self-exclusive.
NS: As a practicing poet, I have often times grappled in tumult over the eternal verities of life. Am therefore tempted to ask you about the use of the metaphors of life and death with such aplomb in your poetry. Would you cast some light on this?
BP: I lost my father when I was only ten. Thereafter I have seen many deaths. To me, life is not just an opposition of death, it is an extension of it. And so with death: it is an extension of life.
NS: You are a poet of universal standing, who often uses recollection as a mode of redemption in his poetry. What is the mystery of whetting memory in your poetry?
BP: I agree, my poetry is mostly a product of memory. I doubt however that I am a poet of international standing. My recollections are fluent, without strain. My redemption is my own work.
NS: Your poetry is also replete with references to Indian mythology. Is it to liven up our rich cultural heritage or does that naturally come within the architectonics of your poetic creed?
BP: I have used mythology to some extent, unless you are referring to my private mythology.
Everyone has his private myths from which he gets his inspiration.
NS: To shift spotlights from the creative artist to an avid researcher, you stand tall as the most reputed Lawrentian in the world, I guess. Please inform us regarding your research interests Prof. Padhi.
BP: Firstly, I am NOT the most reputed Lawrentian in the world. Yes, a few Lawrentians from abroad have praised my book on Lawrence, but that’s about all, no more. If I were to write another book on Lawrence, it would be very different from my earlier book.
NS: Sir, your cosmopolitan world view is fresh in Indian English poetry. Please comment.
BP: A poem is a delicate thing and needs nimble fingers for its tending. My worldview is cosmopolitan in the sense that it might appeal to every reader of English poetry. I am grateful to my mentors that they have encouraged the simplicity of my poetry.
NS: What new poems are coming from your pen? And what is your message for young poets like us?
BP: Yes I am writing, I can still write after 35 years of working at the craft. My new poems are spare in nature and to look at too. My only advice to younger writers is that, in order to grow as a poet, you must read poets, even those poets you did not like in the past. And one should have a lot of courage to take in criticism, including rejection letters from magazines and publishers! I get a lot of them even now.
NS: Thank you Mr. Padhi for this wonderful interaction that has slated truly diverse areas of creative writing and I am sure, the readers would have loved every bit of it. As a practicing poet, I am significantly benefited from this conversation with you.