Saba Syed Razvi is today’s guest, on the leap day of February. You’ll find that besides her poems, her answers are poetic as well. Note that due to special formatting her poems are put in as pictures to maintain the integrity. Thanks for stopping by for Women in Horror Month.
When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?
Honestly, I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t around poetry. My parents recited poems to me alongside lullabies, and I learned to memorize and recite them back. Sometimes we sang them. Sometimes they were in English, and sometimes they were not. I read poems to my younger sisters, often. I think I wrote my first poem when I was in kindergarten; it was about seeing colors beyond the darkness, and the letter M–and maybe also about M&M candies! So, for me, poetry and music have always been linked– and have probably always been about sugar as much as shadow. In the ghazal tradition, in the lyric tradition, there is music alongside the musicality of verse, and those sounds are in my earliest memories. Perhaps that music from distant dunes and distant drums, from ancient flutes and a longing for new ones, has always influenced my understanding of the capacity for language to invoke something of an otherworldliness in the otherwise worldly words on our tongues. As an academic, I’ve made poetry the terrain of my scholarship and search, so I am heavily influenced by the traditions I have encountered along the way. The poet I am today has probably been mostly influenced by Baudelaire, Dickinson, HD, Lorca, by Rumi and Hafez, Ghalib and Attar. I’m fascinated by the logic of the ancient world, and the language that carries its shadows into the new world in which we live and in which we create technologies for the death of living.
Why do you write poetry?
The world around me bears song and light, and sometimes I want to share it. Poetry isn’t like prose. One can sit down to tell a tale, and make it happen by plotting it and mapping it out, but poetry needs something of a living fire inside of it. When I feel the world alive in me, or when I feel the anxious spectre of death nagging at me, at the things in my life I hold most dear, I feel compelled to write them into being, just a little. Sometimes, it’s my anger that I want to seal into a vessel of verse, and sometimes it’s my grief. Sometimes, the beauty of the impossible is what breaks my heart. I write poetry because I am compelled to write it, because sometimes I feel like the words are lightning on the tongues in heart, like the world is bleeding from fingers, aching to spill free. Poetry is born from an image that takes root like a madness, from a thought that leaves me haunted, leaves me hunted, and the writing is a way to put it somewhere other than my nightmares.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?
The other day, in a class, I talked to my students about the difference between the source of inspiration and the process by which it is crafted into a work of literary art. Someone once called that the distinction between flame and fuel. I think it is more than inspiration or expression. I think poetry is a kind of alchemy of the self. Every poem takes something of who we are and transforms it into an offering. We take some aspect of ourselves, who we are at the core, at the most real, and we shape something from it. Maybe it comes from a desire of our shadow selves, or from the light of a lovesick delirium and its longing for the world. The most difficult aspect of writing poetry, then, isn’t finding the shape or the words or the idea, it’s the ability to let the world go long enough to invoke the energy that is the poem, to bring it into being. The ordinary world in which we all live is filled with obligations and tasks, responsibilities to be checked off and managed. We flit from one thing to the next, barely being in the world despite the time we spend. Poetry demands a deeper engagement, a vulnerability that comes from setting down those other duties and reins. I think the most difficult aspect of writing poetry is the point in the process when we must let go of our grasp on the ordinary world, trust our tether to allow us a space to create and a path to return. Composing poetry is a bit like falling into a trance; it isn’t something you can do while driving to the post office, but something you have to lean into. It needs deep time, and finding that time can be a challenge in our modern, busy lives!
Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?
Each of my books and each of my chapbooks takes on a different sensibility, a different theme, as organizing principle. In the Crocodile Gardens takes on myth and nightmare, dream logic and prophecy; it is about how we are beyond how we choose to be. heliophobia is more concerned with the promises of the fairy tale and the archetype; it asks us to think about who we are in the darkness, how light and shadow shape the places we belong. Limerence & Lux is really all about the dangerous pull of desire, the nightmare of longing or the delight of restraint. Beside the Muezzin’s Call & Beyond the Harem’s Veil takes on a different kind of darkness; it takes up the issue of the ordinary lives of Muslim Americans and the horror of their reality in a world which does not want to see them as something other than a foreign enemy, a horror more based in reality than in the supernatural. Of the Divining and the Dead takes up issues of the end times, of the realm of the soul beyond the life of the living, of prophecies and oneiromantic realities, or logic built from the idea of an afterlife built from sufi ideas of the material world and a world beyond the veil of the known. I suppose that the connecting thread among them all is that I am really drawn toward the spooky and the weird in our lives. I tend to write about the things that leave us feeling unsettled, disarmed, bare to the elements and to ourselves. I also like to write about robots and the goth scene, so it’s not all morbid mayhem, all the time!
What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?
I think there is comfort in the darkness, honesty. Bliss and joy and rapture are all ways of expressing happiness, with some sorrow mixed in. I think that speculative and dark poetry tends to be willing to confront the aspects of our human experiences that we often hide away from the world of sunlight and manners. Dark and Speculative poetry asks us to consider our masks – and who we are beneath them, and what made us choose them anyway. It permits a depth of contemplation that we tend to shy away from in moments of levity. I think that such a complexity can be highly rewarding – and, ironically, remarkably illuminating, too. The Aurora Borealis is most stunning in the dark of solitude. In the dark and in the grotesque, we can find ineffable dimensions of the sublime.
What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?
I’m currently finishing up a book of poems featuring a haunted castle in Ireland, a game hunter, a captive faerie creature, domestic violence, environmental destruction, and the ghosts left behind by grief. // One of my stories – a short piece that blurs the distinction between prose and poetry, called “Haunted Hearts” was recently published by the international online literary journal Queen Mob’s Teahouse. My haunted castle collection leans heavily into the poetry of the poems, if that makes sense, though a narrative is woven by the poems in the collection; it embellishes more of the grotesque. The story I’ve mentioned gives you a different sense of my appreciation for the things that haunt us, and it is tethered not by the emotional dimensionality of language, but by the shadows in the narrative and the outlines they bring to our attention. // If you haven’t checked out the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase Volume VI (it’s filled with some wonderful poems by a lot of cool people), please do – and read my poem in it about vampire mermaids & Fukushima.
Is there anything else you would like to say about writing, horror or poetry?
About my poetry: I like to test the limits of language, its textures and materiality, its logic and its magic. My poems are often fashioned into invented or embellished forms, sometimes inherited from gestures of divination or worship, from storytelling and from science. I tend to prefer things that are complicated, that slip between our expectations, and I write poems in such a manner that exaggerates such a sensibility in my form and my cadence. I’m not interested in making the familiar new, but in making the weird even weirder. My formal innovation and defiance of strictly traditional forms is a kind of linguistic play and ritual, all at once. As such, I tend to be drawn to and to explore literary works that blur the lines in all ways. A rebel on the page, if not in life! My academic research tends to explore more social and communal aspects of literature, technology, science, and the speculative. I’m drawn to the ways in which our literature reaches back into our human heritage, and what it projects forward with its words and with its technologies. After all, our language is all haunted and its words are the machines through which we experience those echoes of memory and the valence of the expression. I’m interested in work that blurs the lines and the distinctions, that deliberately transgresses the structures of literary art and human experience. It is my hope that my own work can inspire the same kind of interest in others as I feel for the things I write about and the things study.
Saba Syed Razvi, PhD is the author of the Elgin Award-nominated collection In the Crocodile Gardens (Agape Editions) and the collection heliophobia (Finishing Line Press), which appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the Bram Stoker Award ® for Superior Achievement in Poetry, as well as the chapbooks Limerence & Lux (Chax Press), Of the Divining and the Dead (Finishing Line Press), and Beside the Muezzin’s Call & Beyond the Harem’s Veil (Finishing Line Press). She is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Houston in Victoria, TX, where in addition to working on scholarly research on interfaces between contemporary poetry and science and on gender & sexuality in speculative and horror literature and pop-culture, she is writing new poems and fiction.
Links to Books:
In the Crocodile Gardens, Agape Editions. From Amazon
heliophobia, Finishing Line Press. From Amazon
Beside the Muezzin’s Call and Beyond the Harem’s Veil, Finishing Line Press. From Amazon
Limerence & Lux, Chax Press.
Of the Divining and the Dead, Finishing Line Press.