With her pamphlet’s six-month anniversary coming up as well as a guest spot reading at our upcoming launch event, we thought it was about time that we sat down to catch up with Verve Poet Shazea Quraishi. Read below to find out about what she’s been up to, what she’s reading and why climbing out of windows has become part of her daily writing process…
Hello! How are you doing? What have you been up to since we last heard from you?
I’ve been working on my next collection. And I’ve been translating poems by Susana Chavez, a Mexican poet and journalist who was murdered in 2011. I spent February in Mexico last year, on an artist residency to work on that. I’ve also continued to teach with the Poetry School & work as an artist in residence with Living Words. I’ve been lucky enough to have work to sustain me during this difficult plague year which goes on and on. Without work projects and deadlines, I don’t think I’d have got much done.
Wow! So it’s safe to say you’ve been busy. Have you had time to reflect on your pamphlet in the six months since its publication with us?
When Stuart asked if I might be interested in doing a pamphlet with Verve, it came at the perfect time. I had been working on my next collection but felt adrift, and The Taxidermist gave me a way to focus on one strand of the story. It also gave me a form – I used the number of available pages, and spaces on a page, as a constraint to work within. I used white space to score the poems (3 spaces here, 5 or 10 spaces there) for pace and meaning. It could have driven another editor mad, but Stuart was 100% with me.
It’s amazing what a good book can do for you – whether you’re writing it or reading it! What are you reading right now? What inspires the writing you do?
I always have several books on the go (don’t judge me).
Right now I’m reading Valeria Luiselli’s Sidewalks to remind me of my time in Mexico early last year, Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole, Do No Harm by Henry Marsh (I have a deep love of medical memoirs), and a Jack Reacher novel as my comfort read. Poetry-wise I’m reading the latest Paris Review, The Book of Endings by Leslie Harrison, Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón, and I continue to dip in and out of Jorie Graham’s Selected Poems. I’m also haunted, in the best way, by Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic which I recently re-read – because of the way it blends story, drama and poetry, and because it is so humane, elegant and skilfully crafted. I admire and love it.
That’s a gorgeously eclectic library – there’s a few to add to our list there. Speaking of drama and poetry, we know you write both—what would you say distinguishes the two for you?
*silent scream* I’ve been working on my play, The Jasmine Terrace, an adaptation of my flipped eye pamphlet The Courtesans Reply for several years now. I had a rehearsed reading Upstairs at Soho Theatre in 2014, and had a finished version soon after that, but it’s not right.
With poems, I believe you can’t force or fabricate an ending – it’s more something that you need to find your way to. Otherwise it feels contrived and doesn’t ring true. I’m still trying to find the ending the play wants – rather than what I want. I think the play has a question, and it’s not the question I thought it was, so I’m trying to figure that out.
It’s always a good sign when the writing process surprises you, even if it does mean more work. What’s your usual writing M.O?
At some point I realise I’ve been interested/obsessed with something for ages – years perhaps. This is how most of my books begin, as a thread running through the poems. I read widely around the subject, and things are bubbling away in the back of my mind whilst I’m getting on with life. So life and interest/obsession weave together. Research is one of my favourite bits – at some point I have to stop myself. Then it’s a case of getting in the chair and writing around it, through it etc. Deadlines are the best motivators.
It’s sometimes difficult to get that balance between organic inspiration and the necessity of structure to be productive.
Writing for me is about discovery, and there has to be some truth for it to be meaningful. ‘Authentic’ is a word we hear a lot – but it’s important with writing, especially poetry. I like to get to my desk early in the morning when my brain is fresh, and before family life intervenes. I write in a small shed which takes up a third of the garden and where I don’t get wi-fi. Unfortunately our back door is broken at the moment and won’t open, so I have to climb in and out of a window to get to the garden. Luckily it’s not a high window.
Well you know what they say. If one door closes…
One last question: what’s next for you?
My new collection from Bloodaxe is due for publication next year. The title came to me underwater, swimming at Brockwell lido, which is near my house. Swimming is my happy place, especially in cold water.
Ooh, sounds exciting! We can’t wait to take a deep dive into that when it comes out. All the best for it and thank you for taking the time to talk with us!
For more from Shazea, check out her pamphlet The Taxidermist or her socials, and remember to join us as she reads alongside Sean Wai Keung, Rushika Wick and Elaine Beckett at the launch event for their collections!