K Satchidanandan, perhaps the most widely translated of contemporary Indian poets, has 23 collections of his poetry in 19 languages including English, Irish, Arabic, Chinese, French, German and Italian, and a few Indian languages.
His collected poems in three volumes – about 1,400 pages – came out in 2006 and his collected translations from world poetry were published in four volumes – about 1,700 pages – in 2012-14. His book of English translations, While I Write: New and Selected Poems (Harper-Collins India) was out in 2011 and Misplaced Objects and Other Poems (Sahitya Akademi, Delhi) in 2014. He has also authored five books in English on Indian literature.
What is your writing schedule?
For writing poetry, it is hard to fix a schedule beforehand. I can only wait for a poem to come to me. It often happens in the wee hours of the day. I may just note down the line, the image or the title that often first comes to mind and later work on it if I find it worth pursuing. Sometimes I fail to remember what I had in mind or fail to work on it to my satisfaction.
But if I have a poem, I put on hold all my other work and even forget deadlines to work on it. Most of the corrections are made on the first draft, which I often make on a sheet of paper. Then I copy it to my laptop with further changes – revisions, additions or deletions. This is also true of the short stories that I have been writing in the last two years. But with translations or essays, I often stick to a schedule.
Does writing energise or exhaust you?
As a rule, writing is energising, especially if it is a poem or a prose-piece around a stimulatingly fresh idea. What exhausts me are long talks, academic or otherwise, where very often I am compelled to reiterate things I have already said elsewhere.
Writing advice you’d like to give your younger self?
Observe yourself, observe others, observe nature, read, meditate, train yourself in your craft where selective reading and translation can help. Know that writing is a conversation with oneself, the society, nature and universe. Advance on the blank page, as Nicanor Parra, the Chilean poet, would say.
What are your favourite books?
If your intention is to know the inclinations of my sensibility, I may point to some of my favourite poets like Rainer Maria Rilke, Georg Trakl Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, Tadeus Rosewicz, Tomaz Salamun, Mahmood Darwish, Najwan Darwish, or fiction writers like Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera, Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, Olga Tokarczuk, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Marlon James... a list that can be stretched backwards or forwards. This does not include the many thinkers I like from Michel Foucault to Georgio Agamben and Yuval Noah Harari. This excludes the many Indian writers in English and the languages I like.
Literary success vs number of copies sold?
Literary success has little to do with sales. The most sold books to be the least literary unless they are for special reasons like a Nobel or a Booker. I do not think the idea of ‘success’ in the commercial sense can even be applied to literature. I would any day prefer a Fyodor Dostoevsky to a Paulo Coelho.
Favourite spot/s in Delhi you write at?
My home. I need to be at my table, surrounded by my book-shelves.