August 8, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Interview with Sascha Aurora Akhtar by Nimo Adan
Author Page at Salt
1. What was your very first poem ?
Growing up in Pakistan, I had the standard post-colonial education thrust on me, i.e. syllabi sent from the UK to be strictly followed so we could then take UK exams while sitting in Pakistan. As a result all the poetry I read was what I call “The Dead White Man” ilk, not a bad thing in itself but I do think it’s bad when you’re not exposed to anything else. I wrote a hymn when I was 7 that began
Oh Lord, I thank thee
For all the things Thou hast given me
For all the creatures under the sun
that swim or creep or fly or run…
(lifted from ‘Tyger Tyger Burning Bright’ I’m pretty sure…
This was all rather ironic considering at the time my own grandfather was publishing books of Urdu poetry that no-one in his family understood or read since we were all very “English” being raised by my English Granny.
2. Growing up as a child was you always known to love writing or did it progress over time?
I loved writing from the beginning, I wrote essays that were real works of fiction and read voraciously. There’s an anecdote that my aunt likes to tell of me age 7 or 8, “walking down the stairs holding a book and walking into a wall” (thankfully not falling down the stairs and breaking my neck!)
3. What inspired you to be a poet?
I just started writing poetry, it was natural to me. I wrote from my own life not necessarily as “art I just wrote because I needed to. It was encouragement from my mentor Bernadette Mayer that really made me aware of myself as “Poet”. I sent her my first book, pages stapled together and she loved it and invited me to come and read at her annual July 5th Barbeque/Poetry Reading. Michael Gizzi was there, Peter Gizzi, Simon Pettet, Philip Good – all wonderful poets and they were all very encouraging.
4. Do you have any regrets as a writer?
Writers are constantly tortured by micro regrets and woes related to their writing if you ask me. But in a larger sense, “oh I wish I’d done this”, no I’ve always done everything I could for my writing.
5. Do you think your cultural background gave your poems an edge?
I think all our unique backgrounds come into play to give our writing its own special quality. I don’t write exclusively from my cultural background which is often problematic for people who want to place me within a box of “South Asian Poetry” or something like that. What gives my poems their quality is an inherent love of pure language..nothing more, nothing less.
6. In the majority of the articles I have read, it says you write quite a few of your poems in one sitting. How do you find the creativity for those that lack inspiration ?
They either become very short poems or unfinished poems. Very rarely do I go back to a poem that I haven’t already carved out to some extent. It’s very much an in-the-moment thing. As for ” finding creativity”, you don’t find it if you ask me, inspiration finds you.
7. In what direction do you see being a poet leading you in the next ten years?
Well I perform a fair amount for a poet, there can’t really be any major forward planning. You write, you try to publish and plod along. This year I’ve been included in ‘Vallum’, a magazine for contemporary poetics in Canada that did a Pakistan issue. I’m also performing at the Rotterdam Poetry International Festival.
8. Which poets or writers would you say inspired you and have been your guide since the beginning of your poetry life?
I loved the poem ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori’ (of all the poems to like…) when I was a kid because I didn’t have much to choose from. But later in college, I was pretty into Charles Simic for a while. Then for me the great discovery was French literature, I was obsessed with Comte de Lautreamont, Octave Mirbeau, Mallarme, Apollinaire, Tristan Tzara.
Bernadette Mayer of course; Graham Foust is another American writer I think is great. I love Aleksander Vvdensky a Russian poet and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a Pakistani/Indian poet.
9. In your The Grimoire of Grimalkin collection I particularly enjoyed ‘Immerito Meo’ . The powerful imagery throughout as well as the use of a unique form is very intriguing. How did you bring together the different ideas and inspirations in this poem?
All the poems including that one are based on real-life events that affected me in a bad way. It may sound hard to believe but they are all ‘about a boy’. Immerito Meo was intended as a classic Mea Culpa poem hence the title. As I said before in the interview it all just came to me in one sitting. Some were real events, back of a bus, apple pie etc.
10. In any publication of your work, did you feel you were not being projected in the same fashion to which you thought you should be?
That does happen from time to time but it’s more a case of sometimes I’ve felt I’ve been invited somewhere to perform/submit as a “token” or that I wasn’t invited to perform/submit because someone was familiar with my work but rather it was because of my cultural background, which is fine. If that’s how I can get my work out then so be it.
11. Do you feel it is harder for women to have their poetry published in your experience?
Not really. But that said some universities and publishers and poetry scenes are definitely “Old Boys’ Clubs” and I’ve experienced that first hand.
12. Congratulations on the pregnancy! Do you still think you will have the time to write now with a baby on the way?
Probably not but I will find the time because I have to!