August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Mimi Khalvati by Ro’isin Singh
1. What inspired you to start writing poetry?
I started writing poetry by accident whilst working in the theatre. I went on a writing course titled ‘Script writing and Poetry’ which introduced me to the idea of it. It was completely unplanned and I sort of fell into it. I started writing poetry at the age of 42 which is quite late compared to other poets but when I discovered poetic skills, I knew it was perfect for me.
2. In your own words, how would you define a Ghazal?
Well, a Ghazal is a very old Persian form of poetry and is a very popular form in the Middle East. It is a short love song with a spiritual dimension and covers different definitions and levels of love, such as, love for an object, person or their beloved. It is considered to be very romantic.
3. Looking at the way your poems are written, there seem to be both Persian and British influences within your poetry, is that something you would agree with?
No, not really as I do not read Persian literature or poems in original classic Persian. I have only read two classically Persian Ghazals and those were read with a translator who helped me. I believe that my influences are British and American because I was brought up in England. I can’t really say I have Persian influence because I don’t know it as well as I know British poetry, so my influences are definitely British.
4. Spending time in Iran as well as growing up in the UK suggests that you have seen poetry at two different angles. Do you think poetry is more widely acknowledged as a form of literature in Iran or in the UK?
My impression is that poetry in Iran is considered the highest form of literature. Poets and writing poetry is considered to be commendable in Iran and is more popular than novels because even illiterate people memorise quotes from well known Iranian poets and use them in daily life. In the UK, however, poetry is quite marginal in that there are many critics that consider poetry to be a popular and sophisticated form of literature yet other consider it to differ too much from novels in order for it to be considered as a form of literature. In my opinion, it obviously should be acknowledged as a form of literature but the debate situated around it is still ongoing.
5. You are also an editor and have co-edited three anthologies for Enitharmon Press. Can you tell me what your editing work entails?
Poetry editing is very simple but it depends on its brief. Throughout the editing process you have to honour the idea of the anthology that you are editing so as to keep a recurring theme between all poems. As well as corresponding with the poets this is also crucial. However, poetry editors are not as connected with poets as they used to be previously as a majority of the poems need no major alterations and the go ahead to edit them is almost always given without needing active involvement from the poets themselves.
6. You first started writing poetry while bringing up children; did you ever consider it before hand?
I have always loved poetry in terms of reading and acknowledging it’s presence but in theatre I always look at verse because that was the most popular form used within dialogue and as I was working with scripts, that was the form I was most confronted with. Originally, I never wanted to be a writer but my strongest subjects at school was English.
7. What are your views on feminism?
I consider myself as a feminist and have been a strong believer since my 30’s. My life and way of thinking was influenced by 60’s and 70’s wave of feminism. I have always believed in giving weight and value to the feminist principle. I think women in today’s society want to have masculine traits because society approves of them, which I don’t agree with. Women need to embrace what makes them a ‘woman’, in those feminine traits should not be oppressed or mocked rather they should be embraced and celebrated. I sympathise with radical feminism and socialist feminism, in that I believe in equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunities between men and women.
8. Do you think there is enough female contribution to poetry in Iran?
At the moment, there are two or three female poets that are quite well-known in Iran, such as Forough Sarrokhzad who is a contemporary Iranian poet that died in the 60’s and is well-known for her work. Although, censorship in Iran is very strict and monitors every piece of literature published in the country. The rules and regulations always depend on what regime is in Government and many writers have banned and jailed over their works due to disapproval from regime
9. Can you explain what the poem, Nostalgia, from The Chine is about?
I wrote the poem after being inspired by a conversation I once had with an Iranian man. We were talking about something I cannot recall at the moment but he described himself to be nostalgic over something that has not happened and at that point I didn’t understand how you could feel nostalgic about something that hadn’t happened. After giving it some thought, I realised you could and decided to write about it. The poem Nostalgia is about exactly that, at how you can feel nostalgic over something that hasn’t occurred yet.
10. When writing poems, do you draw upon your own personal experiences that act as an inspiration?
I do draw on my personal experiences as inspiration for writing poetry. Virtually all of my work has come from my own personal experiences, which sometimes can be a flaw as it restricts you from being creative and thinking of other themes or topics to talk about. I am trying to write beyond that.