Welcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16!
Now, let’s get to know Fatimah Asghar.
What are you reading?
Right now I am reading My Wicked Wicked Ways by Sandra Cisneros. The book is so good; I love the way that she uses language. Sandra is never afraid to say something bluntly, stripped down, straight on. I love that kind of frankness.
What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?
I work as a teaching artist in high schools, and often when I come into a classroom and I say I’m here to teach poetry the students think poetry is only Shakespeare, or something that is not relevant to them that they can’t understand. I think there are a lot of misconceptions that poetry is only for the elite, and that you have to be very academic in order to understand or enjoy poetry. That’s not true: poetry exists in every day moments, poetry is what we hear on the trains, from our aunties and uncles. Poetry doesn’t need to sound a certain way, but I think that a lot of people, particularly from marginalized backgrounds, are made to feel that their language is not worthy of being considered poetry. That is simply not true.
How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem?
I think that depends on the mission of the individual poem and the audience that is dealing with the poem. Every poem contains a certain type of cultural coding that you need to decipher, even if it considered accessible or straightforward. Often when I read poets who are considered to be foundations in the cannon, I don’t always understand their references. That’s because a lot of their references are to Christian imagery, or center white people and white experiences. I’m not Christian, I’m not white. So I have to look up those references. I have to solve those poems for myself. I don’t know if those authors ever considered an audience like me, considered that someone like me would be reading their work. I try and make work that is accessible to the audience and people that I care about. I’m not going to center whiteness, or center Christianity in my work, because that’s not who I am. I am going to center myself and people I love and care about. I’m trying to create work that is both specific and universal. I grew up around a lot of different languages, all of which are in my poems. There might be words in my poems that some people don’t know. I know that might exclude some people, and those people might need to work to ‘solve’ my poems. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m not stranding you in the middle of a poem with nothing and asking you to solve it; I’m providing you a legend or a map that will help you work out what I am talking about.
Fatimah Asghar is a nationally touring poet, photographer and performer. She created Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first Spoken Word Poetry group, REFLEKS, while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-violent contexts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY Magazine, PEN Poetry Series, Academy of American Poets, The Margins, and Gulf Coast. She is a Kundiman Fellow and a member of the Dark Noise Collective. Her chapbook “After” was released on Yes Yes Books fall of 2015.
Stay updated on the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival as information becomes available!