August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Shazea Quraishi by Rhoda Wambui
1. Have you always had a passion for writing?
I’ve always had a passion for reading. I read a lot of fiction which when I began writing was my focus. As a teenager I wrote really bad poetry and the memory of these awful, heartfelt poems discouraged me a little. However poetry kept drawing me back and in the midst of writing a novel I felt I should be writing, I kept drifting off to read and write poetry.
All along the problem as I found was that I read a lot of fiction but not much poetry but as soon as I began reading poetry with serious interest, my poetry improved.
2. What has been your motto throughout?
The proof is in the pudding. The work is the thing: the poems written and the commitment to craft. You can sometimes get distracted by things around you …. if someone has 2 books out and you haven’t – which is about ego. What do you do about it? At the end of the day, it is your poetry that matters – Is it good? And anyway what’s life without pudding?
3. Who inspires you the most? And what inspires your work?
Poets and writers I admire. Their work is a beacon, their commitment and the way they live their lives is inspiring.
Anne Carson: She writes poetry like nobody else – her work is experimental, intelligent, mixed with emotion and restraint.
Alberto Manguel: He is a wonderfully well-read writer of prose with a social conscience and this humanity comes through in his writing.
David Constantine: A very talented and hard-working poet, writer, translator … with a strong social conscience. And he’s so nice.
Mimi Khalvati: She’s lovely – she writes beautiful, intelligent, skillful poems and is a generous, rigorous teacher. I wouldn’t be the poet I am, without her.
My work is inspired by life, reading, galleries and museums. I take notes everywhere I go and this helps when it comes to putting the words to paper.
4. You were born in Pakistan and later on moved to Canada before living in Madrid then the UK. Does this influence your work at all?
I left Pakistan aged 10 and lost my facility with Urdu. Canada was formative for me. It is where I grew up, went to university. Then Madrid, I arrived there with just a rucksack and little money and it felt like home. England is now my physical and poetic home.
These places are all home and poetry is often about home and longing to belong. These places formed and shaped me and my poetry.
5. How did you get your work published or heard?
I was writing for a long time before I was published in Magma in 2001 – a poem called “Things I tell my unborn daughter”. Being published was a huge affirmation for me. After that I was chosen for the Complete Works, a 2 year mentoring and career development program for Black and Asian British poets. This took my work to new levels and it gave me confidence and I submitted work to Modern Poetry in Translation where I submitted 5 poems which were all published.
6. What advice would you give to an aspiring poet or writer?
Read extensively. Learn from the poets whose work you love. Visit the Poetry Library if you live in or close to London, buy poetry magazines especially those that you would one day like to have your work published. Read and write and keep in mind that you are on your own path and you are competing only against you.
7. What has been your most successful venture so far?
Being part of the Complete Works, being able to write and commit to improving as a poet as well as doing these whilst having 2 small children. I have since learnt a little secret called prioritising and also focus.
8. Does it annoy you when someone misinterprets your work?
No. I don’t think it would bother me unless it is seen to be saying something I couldn’t agree with. I believe a poem needs to leave room for the reader to infer of it what they may because once a poem is written and published, you are not in control of what people think of it. I like poems that are open and have different meanings and the ability to do that in poetry is mysterious magic.
9. How do you avoid clichés in your work?
I try very hard to avoid them but some stubborn ones do slip by. I’ve found re-drafting and reading work in progress out loud very helpful.
10. What keeps you writing poetry in a society that listens less and less?
If it is true, it doesn’t concern me. People will always read poetry. There will always be people who respond to the truths and magic of poetry.
11. Is ‘Mwanza’, Malawi based on a true story? It is such a powerful piece.
Thank you. It’s close to my heart and it took me 8 years to write it. It was inspired by a piece in the Guardian about a girl called Edith who had lost one or both of her parents to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The tragedy of HIV saddens me and Edith’s story haunted me. It was difficult to start the poem but when I did I let it find its own way.
12. Out of all the work you have done, which is your best piece of poetry and why?
Often it’s something that’s fairly new because there’s fondness for that new work. At the moment it’s a long poem sequence, ‘The Courtesan’s Reply’ which will be published In July. I’m now extending it to be a play. I’m fond of the courtesans, particularly an older courtesan, Ratisena, so perhaps her poem.
13. What do you enjoy doing most in your spare time?
Reading, thinking and writing somewhere quiet.