Thursday, December 18, 2014

Omer Tarin, Poet & Writer


From an archived interview
Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2012


Welcome internationally acclaimed writer and performance poet, Omer Tarin....


When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
There wasn’t ever a fixed time, when I knew, no sudden epiphany or realization! I always read and wrote a lot, even as a child, and my imagination was always working. I used to day-dream a lot, too; and many of my dreams became ‘ideas’ for poems or stories. 

So I have been writing ever since I can remember, all sorts of things, and gradually, quite by themselves, things began to fall into place. I must say my parents, especially father, were very supportive and encouraging—my father was my earliest literary mentor and guide and he had very good taste, was an avid reader and had a rather substantial library which he allowed me full use of. I never remember him saying ‘read this’ or ‘read that’—it was a true voyage of discovery for me, one day reading (say) Dickens, and a few days later Gerald Durrell or Robert Frost or selections from various regional languages and literatures. And then, when I began to write, my father encouraged me all the more, would often take time out of his busy schedule to discuss a poem or story I’d written. Later on, I was lucky to go to some of the best schools in Pakistan, in the old British colonial ‘public school’ tradition, and some of the masters there were absolutely splendid people. They’d encourage us to ‘do our thing’, whatever inspired or appealed to us, and always had time to discuss, to critique and guide. Although I write in three languages, the major part of my writing now is in English and this was something that my teachers guided me towards initially, and they were also the first ones to publish some of my work in school and college magazines and later, to prompt me to write for literary journals and even newspapers and periodicals. This gave me a great deal of confidence in my writing potential in my student days.   

What’s your genre and style?  
I am essentially a poet. However, I have also written some shorter fiction and non-fiction prose—some of these writings have only just been made available in privately printed editions, in the USA/North America. Since I’m also an academic and research scholar by profession today, in addition to my literary writings I have also written a fair amount of research: on history, culture and folklore, Pakistani and South Asian regional literature and art and so on. As a poet writing in English, in South Asian contexts, I am not, I believe, restricted to any limitations of style or content. Although most of my poetry is vers libre, I have experimented and keep on experimenting quite a lot. Even with forms and styles that are not usually found in English/Western literature. As a young student, I was deeply influenced by certain mystic, spiritual and meditative aspects of some of our South Asian literary traditions, for example such as the works of the Punjabi Sufic poets like Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah; and also by the broader ‘Islamic’ Sufi poetic tradition, especially the  classical Persian works of Rumi, Hafiz and Attar. One of my own early poetic mentors in Pakistan was Taufiq Rafat, a fine poet who was also an authority on Punjabi poetry and a bold exponent of the adaptation of a Punjabi idiom into his own English poems. I guess one way or the other, these ‘influences’ are all to be found in my work.   

Do you use real life experiences, characters, storylines etc, for inspiration?  
Yes and no. ‘Inspiration’ for me isn’t a fixed or systematic thing. It’s something that just ‘happens’. Sometimes, you are thinking, or in a day-dream or reverie, or sometimes some person, word, action, some sight or sound or smell becomes evocative and –lo! I think I do tend to draw upon personal experience in certain ways, too, in fiction by utilizing certain events or people that I’ve met or known, and ‘filed away’ as the basis for imagined scenarios and characters, in due course. In poetry, my ‘experience’ is something different; something from another source, or part of me altogether. As you might know, I am also a ‘practicing mystic’ in the Islamic Sufic way, and various forms of meditation, of ‘connection’ to higher spiritual ‘realities’ are regular parts of such practice. At times, these experiences, which aren’t really ‘expressible’ in other forms, find their voice in my poetry. At other times, the subjective condition, that strange half-awake and half-asleep ‘poetic state’ emerges out of some part of me on its own account and ‘inspires’. I must add, that for me at least, ‘inspiration’ is seldom direct. I don’t go and sit by a river or watch a sunset and say “Oh! How lovely! I’m going to write about this!”. It acts in subtle, elliptical ways. Seeps down into the subconscious and takes on some strange and often unbelievable shapes and disguises. . .   

Where do you like to write?  
I am personally most comfortable writing at my ease in my small study, or work place at home. For more ‘academic’ type of writing I like to be at my desk and with my Computer/Word processor in front of me and flanked by all my paraphernalia like dictionaries and thesauri and reference books etc. When I write poetry, this can take place anywhere; there are many nights when I wake up and start to write, and I always keep pen and paper handy. Later on, I take my ‘draft poem’ to my desk, too, when I start to ‘polish’ it up. This takes me quite some time, as I like to write and rewrite a poem a number of times, and a number of ways. I enjoy experimenting like this. One thing I am normally not able to do, is write outdoors, in proximity to nature—I might take in varied impressions, sensory perceptions and all, in such surroundings, but for me these have to be eventually ‘refined’ through a certain process. Was it Wordsworth who said that poetry was “Emotion recollected in tranquility”? I’m not sure; but whoever it was, came quite close to expressing how I (a) ‘feel’ and then (b) create, later.   

How do you maintain ideas and thoughts?   
Mostly in diaries that I keep. These are less the standard daily journals than my general musings, thoughts/ideas and all. Often, during the course of such writing, I come across good or useful ideas for a future essay or story or something—not poetry, generally—and when such an idea occurs to me, I jot out a quick outline how I’d organize it, or do it, and then I flag the outline or page/s, using my own codes and abbreviations. This makes it easier for me to return to a particular idea or outline, when I need to. Usually, I don’t maintain bulky files and odds and ends (although I know some writers who do) except for my research/academic writing –but for that, I also have other resources, and people, to assist and help me out. That’s quite a different sphere of activity for me compared to creative writing.   

In your opinion, what makes a great poet?   
To tell you the truth, it is very difficult to say. Poetry is such a complicated business, and such a ‘personal’ one, that it’s very hard to pass such facile judgments! Even with regard to many ‘great’ poets at one time or another, their ‘acceptability’ as great is or might be something entirely to do with certain popular trends and critical opinion and such things—take Lord Byron, for example, the quintessential product of a certain time and age; and take Emily Dickinson by way of comparison, who was quite unknown and unrecognized in her time, but ‘discovered’ by a later one. Yet, inspite of this, one feels there are some ‘commonalities’ too, in some truly ‘great, lasting poetry regardless of where it’s written. As I see it, such poetry ‘reaches out’ to us at many levels, in many ways, and makes us ‘sing’ within! It whispers fantastic things into our ears and hearts, and makes us fly and soar away, into certain realms that we don’t always know exist within us. It also somehow changes us, and allows us some sort of insights into ourselves and into the world and into many things that we normally perhaps don’t think about, or feel in any deeper sense during the course of our routines. It’s a very delicate thread, that binds Rumi and Shakespeare and Basho and Goethe and Tagore and makes them as one.  In a lecture ‘On Poetry’ delivered in 1900, WB Yeats made that famous albeit ponderous statement that sublime poetry emerged when , “All sounds, all colors, all forms, …call down among us certain disembodied powers [which]…we call emotions; and when sound and color and form are in a musical relation, a beautiful relation to one another, they become one sound, one color, one form, and evoke an emotion that is made out of their distinct evocations and yet is one emotion”.  This is as close as one can come to expressing what ‘great poetry’ is.   

What suggestions to you have for first time writers and poets?  
I’m very happy to see so many people, at least, writing nowadays, especially young people! Even twenty years ago, this wasn’t so common, at least in this part of the world. Young people, or those young at heart and overflowing with words, would often be sidetracked or even actively discouraged; and in a way, there’s a ‘publishing revolution’ that is going on at this time, major changes, which allow writers access to audiences worldwide and very quickly, too. So, in this respect, there’s a lot that’s positive for aspiring writers. At the same time, the basic standards for good writing, for writing that is meaningful and lasting, remain the same as they ever were. I think that all good writers automatically start by reading a lot of good literature, or reading a lot, generally! And this is something that I always advise new writers, please do read, try to see and note and feel what has been written by the best writers everywhere, and how they’ve written it. Finally, if you are seriously committed to writing as a vocation, then just keep on writing, and don’t be discouraged by negative criticism or sidetracked by quests for fame and fortune. These things will come too, in good time. But whether they do or not, write, as if writing was all, and write as well as you possibly can and take time—don’t be in a hurry. There’s no race going on, and that’s just the illusion of the ‘marketplace’, and if you’re good you’ll get published sooner or later. Just believe in yourself and put in a lot of hard work.   

Follow Omer via these links.... 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omer_Tarin
http://ilyask2.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/interview-with-poet-Omer-Tarin-2011/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellows_of_the_Royal_Asiatic_Society_of_of_Great_Britain_and_Ireland
http://www.goodreads.com/reviews/share/164121688
http://openlibrary.org/people/Khani/lists/OL123921/selected_writers_of_Pakistani_Literature-in_English
http://www.pw.org/content/omer_tarin 

A sample of Omer’s poetry…

Two in My Garden 

They stand together
The twin stalks 
In my backyard,
Sometimes reminders 
Of some things not done,
Some weeds not plucked
When it was time to do so;

Why I did not clear the yard
Is not so important now
As why did I want to? 
Indeed, I see no petal 
Half as nice as those two
That grow together, in their awkward fashion,
And they have some part of me
Where it wouldn't do;

It doesn’t matter anymore, of course, 
When other weeds have grown 
Along them, only not like them at all, 
And choked the petunias
Out of their shallow beds;
And there is some justice
In my garden going to seed, 
Then standing tall and together
Once I’ve ceased to tend. 


Shandur Polo 

Had I seen the ghosts of this place
They would dance their victory dance;
Glorious vale
Cup, chalice,
Basin;
The glacial streams 
Empty into that lake
Quiet, ever so silent,
Rippling lyre, reflection; 
Snows and rocks frame it —
I have no words
Only emotions 
Which boil and rise 
With the thunder of horses, 
The sound of stick
And ball thudding
Across the turf;
The ghosts of this place,
Had I but seen them, 
Pale as the snow
Cold as the lake
As vivid as the night-fires
That light the valley;
The whistle of wind
The throb of drum
The chant of song

Had I seen the ghosts dance
Their victory dance…. 


Question 

All my life
Has been lived
For the one moment
Beyond being
Which now points out 
New horizons, yet unseen;

Not-being,
What will be? 


Mists over Thandiani* 
                                                       
Tonight on the veranda
I behold 
The crystalline hilltops 
Sublimate into an avalanche
Of snowflakes, in turn
Dissolving into the haze
Of silent mists;

Trees stand frozen
Like stiff soldiers
Mantled in unstirring ranks
Braced for some dire consequence
Ill-defined;

A wolf’s eldritch howl
Echoes
And night-birds trill their alarm
As the sickle moon
Glides away behind its many veils;

Owl-flights haunt
My dreams now
And your long green hair
Bewilders me with witchcraft.
* Thandiani is a hill resort located at approx.9000 ft above sea level in the Hazara Division of the NW Frontier Province of Pakistan. It is surrounded on three sides by dark coniferous forests and these offer a stark contrast to the snowy peaks of the Pir Panjal Range, in Kashmir, to the North-East.