I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
Aziz Nazmi Shakir
was born (1973) in Smolian, a Bulgarian town situated in the Rhodope Mountains associated with the legendary musician and poet Orpheus. There, as a student at the Language High School, he started writing and publishing poetry. Later, at the Arabic Philology and Turkish Language and Literature departments of Sofia University, besides his poetry collection ‘Grounds for a Sky’ (1993), he added to his literary activities a number of poetry and novel translations from Arabic and Turkish language. Subsequently Aziz continued his lyrical and academic career on a parallel basis. While dealing with a Ph.D. thesis at the History of Sciences Department of Istanbul University he published his second poetry book ‘At the Age of 22’ (2004). Later as a faculty member of Sabanci University in Istanbul he authored a third poetry collection called ‘A Sky at 33’ (2007) and a collection of short stories titled ‘Rain Apocrypha’ (2007). Thanks to the latter, he won a grant to join the 40th International Writing Program in USA, where he participated in a series of reading performances in: The Library of Congress (Washington), the Chicago Writers’ Guild Complex at Chopin Theater (Chicago); Northwestern University (Evanston), Prairie Lights Library in Iowa etc. Most recently Aziz published ‘A Circumnavigation of the Absence’ (2017), a volume including poems in Bulgarian, Turkish and English.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
My first inspiration was a high school Mathematics teacher. As you can guess I used poetry to work through my frustration towards her. Later on I found out that looking or waiting for an inspiration results in a tremendous loss of time and hence, of verses, and started to produce my own grounds for writing.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I recall listening to poems at the age of four or five as part of my kindergarten curriculum in my birth town Smolian. When I was 14, I participated in a competition dedicated to my high school patron Ivan Vazov with an English translation of one of his classical poems. The jury was chaired by Hristo Stoyanov, a Bulgarian poet, notorious for his constant scandals with the local intellectual circles. Impressed by my first poetical steps, the latter invited me to a creative writing course headed by him. There I met a group of talented people, who learned from each other how to write and how not to write
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Thanks to the above mentioned course I started regularly travelling to the capital city, Sofia and meeting there some well-known poets, not only in verse, but also in person. Little by little, I began realizing that some of the most celebrated poets in the country, were not as ideal as an unbiased reader would assume. The greatest benefit of this type of awareness was that very soon the old poets’ presence became less dominant. Simultaneously, the cults created by the textbooks and the literary media were disrupted too.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t write poetry on daily basis. It is not a sport after all. I guess regularity is important for some of my colleagues, but even if this is the case, such authors should not flood their readers with all of their production. Please, ask me the question again when I start writing a novel!
5. What motivates you to write?
Motivation changes in accordance with the age, the mentality and the present mood of the writer. Sometimes it is better to leave it anonymous. Some readers would maybe hate favorite authors, if they knew what motivated the latter to write certain masterpieces. Besides “classical” motivators like amour propre and common vanity, it is good to be incited by a certain cause, to know that your text will save (or at least will try to change for good) a life, a feeling or make someone smile. Motivation for reading is as important as motivation for writing, thus I as an author should use my “pre-position” to attract readers’ attention. This process itself functions as an additional motivation for writing.
6. What is your work ethic?
То restrain from all kinds of plagiarism; to be original, but not necessarily for the sake of selling your books or your soul. If I happen to be part of a team, team ethics should be applied.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Back then the influence of the newly read writers was much greater and more direct. Being influenced in the right way is a blessing, nevertheless it turns into a curse when the writing reader falls short of transforming this influence into a mere ingredient used in the manufacturing of a brand new product. Once you get rid of the dominance of the authors you admire, you start finding the path to your own style, and all favorite books read from your earliest age onwards, start a constructive influence you are mostly unaware of.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Nowadays I strongly try to avoid all kinds of admiration. Admiration often is dangerous and blasphemous. Are the late Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), Emiliyan Stanev (1907-1979), Cemal Süreya (1931-1990) and Costas Montis (1914-2004) considered today’s authors? No matter if they are physically dead or alive, all authors whose texts are part of my day, are today’s for me. In this sense I can include in my list the names of Li Po (701-762), Abuʾl-Qasim Ferdowsy (c. 940–1020), Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273), Yunus Emre (1240-1321), Fuzuli (1483-1556), Muhibbi (1495-1556), Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), İhsan Oktay Anar (b. 1960). If I give a satisfactory answer to the “why” part of your question, the size of the interview will triple, so very briefly: these men and women of letters hold keys to different rooms of my soul and body, which sometimes stay locked for years. There are even such that I become aware of only after they are being unlocked. This leads to the idea that all of us are sharing some cyphered codes and literature grants an abundance of universal passwords catalyzing specific functions of the brain related to our spiritual growth or decline.
9. Why do you write?
I guess from my earliest age I was “indoctrinated” by the primary school curriculum in Bulgaria that a writer is a very important person. The literature lessons usually would introduce him as a superman: Besides writing masterpieces worth entering our textbooks, he fought as a hero in some wars, acted as a journalist and propagandized progressive ideas, craved for all sorts of humanitarian causes etc. So when I started facing social injustices in my fragile youth, my first poems came as a natural reaction aimed at criticizing and mocking some of my teachers as sources of unfairness and biased prejudices. I might have subconsciously tried to copy the behavioral model of the hero-writers from the textbooks. Later writing became for me a way of running away from the transitory earthly matters. This coincided with my first publications in the central literary press and the feeling that “writing is my thing”. Now I had an additional reason to write: more and more people, who had read my texts contacted me and provided me encouraging feedbacks. My ego was on the rise. The next stage was finding the golden middle between the supposed expectations of the readers and the “writing for the sake of writing”. Now writing is part of my way to answer myself “why do I write”.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
If I find this someone sympathetic enough, I will say: “It is a long story”, and on my turn, I will ask a full set of questions, and If his/her answers convince me that he or she deserves it, I will exert efforts not only to explain, but also (if this is the case) to practically support a future writer-to-be. Generally speaking, beside all other conditions as being talented and to know well how to read and write, to become an author one needs to know grammar.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
“Project” sounds to me as something tremendous involving a group of professionals driven by an original idea strong enough to suppress their egos and bring them together. If I receive an invitation to participate in such a venture, I shall definitely love to be part of it. Nevertheless, if by “projects” my personal writing intentions are meant, they include a novel dedicated to children with developmental problems and their parents, who yearn for less problematical successors by struggling with bureaucracy, institutions, and most of all with themselves and their own complexes and phobias. Actually in most of the cases such parents tend to be more problematical than their children. Since translating involves plenty of writing and the translations have a copyright, I also have a couple of novel translations from the Turkish into Bulgarian language to finish and publish in the months to come.