Wombwell Rainbow Interview
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.
Sascha Aurora Akhtar
feels deeply connected to her ancestral roots in Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Pakistan. Born into a literary family, with writers of both fiction and poetry
represented, Sascha has been naturally drawn towards many kinds of writing.
Her first poetry collection was The Grimoire of Grimalkin (Salt, 2007), followed by 199 Japanese Names for Japanese Trees (Shearsman, 2016), the first of it’s kind a deck of Poetry cards with fine art Only Dying Sparkles (ZimZalla 2018), The Whimsy Of Dank Ju-Ju (Emma Press 2019) & #LoveLikeBlood (Knives, Spoons & Forks 2019).
Her fiction has appeared in BlazeVox, Tears In The Fence, The Learned Pig, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Storgy. Sascha has performed internationally at festivals such as the Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, Avantgarde Festival in Hamburg, and Southbank Centre’s Meltdown festival in London, curated by Yoko Ono.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I realize now, looking back that poetry was all around me in my home growing up. Books, people reciting it in conversation, writing it & I put pen to paper from age 7 onwards. The poetry itself though, I know see was a natural extension of myself & always came from a place of sorrow, anxiety, ill-treatment, depression, PMDD, so it was a source of great healing. Also, I have always read fiction voraciously. Fiction inspires my poetry, still. Later, I was greatly inspired by great lyricists & music, that remains true.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My family. I would say the very first poem I was exposed to was The Walrus & The Carpenter which every member of my family could recite from memory.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I wasn’t. I’m still not. I find no presence dominating. I believe all writers need to honour those who have paved the way for us. In this regard, I have huge reverence for many such as Sonia Sanchez, Geraldine Monk, Bernadette Mayer & many, many others.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
This involves many things in a non-linear sequence; writing in one of my many notebooks as a poem arrives. Completing or beginning new things on the computer. For example this week I wrote three short stories – I had no idea that would happen, but it needed to.
5. What motivates you to write?
My thoughts, sudden flashes, other writings of any kind, paintings, a piece of dialogue from a film, the response of others to my work & the fact that I cannot stop writing.
6. What is your work ethic?
If there’s writing to be done, I will do it, no matter what. I am a solo parent & that has given me a gift; the realization that time is very, very precious & it IS possible to write what you need if you focus – no matter how long you have. It could be 10 minutes. I don’t have the luxury of days yawning ahead of me with uninterrupted writing time, or retreats I can imagine myself going to. The work just has to be done. And that’s all there is to it.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
In my own personal experience, everything I loved when I was little or was loved by those closest to me ( my grandfather, mother, grandmother) has shaped me in ways I can’t even explain. As I mentioned, Alice In Wonderland was, is and will always be a huge influence on me. My mother had a copy for me before I was born and kept it for years. She gave it to me when I was 7 or 8.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I’ll be honest, I am a voracious reader, and I feel by naming writers I will leave out others. Especially since, I fall deeply in love with sequences of words in moments.
Out of the more recent fiction I’ve read I will say Jessie Burton is great. Susanna Clarke is sort of my literary hero. I adore David Mitchell, it must be said & am enamoured of the work of Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness.
In poetry if you want to talk of poets I admire because of the power of their words & also what they have managed to achieve I would say Anthony Joseph is my biggest inspiration & also friend. I feel a kinship with poet Frances Kruk. Marianne Morris. Nia Davies. Emily Critchley. I admire Geraldine Monk. Kimberley Campanello, Rhys Trimble, Mamta Sagar, K. Satchidanandan. Many, many American poets some whom I’m not even sure are publishing anymore! I mean here’s a strange thing. There was a poet named Andy Morgan in my M.F.A programme in the U.S. And there was one, just one poem he wrote that I couldn’t fully explain why I loved, but I asked him if I could keep a copy. That same poem has stayed with me for 15 years! I have days when one line from that one poem just plays in my head. He is a complete introvert. It is almost impossible to find his work. He has a lyrical quality that is powerful & quiet.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Because I have always done it. I have always come back to it, even when I was a young filmmaker & art photographer. Because it nourishes me. It heals me & above all, it is my way to connect with the world in a way I cannot because of my own psychospiritual make-up – sensory issues, social anxiety, general anxiety.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
You can write, fill notebooks, diaries, pages & pages. Show others. Go to readings. Read everything & when you can answer that question yourself – you will ‘be’ a ‘writer’.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My fourth collection of poetry is a 36 page pamphlet: The Whimsy Of Dank Ju-Ju (https://theemmapress.com/shop/the-whimsy-of-dank-ju-ju/) was published in September 2019 by Emma Press (Birmingham). The title refers to my life-long interest in anything and everything to do with magic, ideas of magic, magical thinking et al. I taught a workshop about the relationship between poetry and magic at the Poetry School and will be teaching a 2 day one in the Summer of 2020. I believe poetry is a magical practice, and as poets embracing whimsy is the key.
My fifth collection is 76 pages I believe and literally, just was announced yesterday. It is called #LoveLikeBlood (https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/love-like-blood-by-sascha-a-akhtar) and has been published by Knives, Forks And Spoons Press. It incorporates language that I feel has emerged as we have developed digital consciousnesses through Social Media. It embraces rupture, fracture. It has anger in it & truth-telling. It has many references to songs, often with epigraphs from the songs as taking off points. The cover image is from my art photography portfolio when I shot exclusively on slide film, often cross-processing the film to get very particular tones & colours. The book is like that too. It has a specific tone.
Other writing projects include one more poetry collection forthcoming this year. ( I know it is ridiculous). A book of translations forthcoming in April 2020 on Oxford University Press, India. Two short story collections, and two novels. The fiction pipeline is longer term!
Thanks so much for this!