‘Fishing for Rare Fish’ by Fauzia Rafique

Art by Ed Kuris

In anticipation of the Poetry Month coming up, i began to look for some non-political poems. My quest soon became similar to fishing for a rare fish in the ocean of plastics and indigestible sea creatures. Based on what i found, here, still a bit fuzzy, is the inventory of my fishing expedition. You are welcome to check it out, and add to it if you like.

Poetry is the most practiced form of writing across cultures. It can be said that in a gathering of ten authors, eight-and-a-half may be poets where one can be a fiction writer and the remaining ‘half’ could be the writers of non-fiction. I write poems too, and I just love the way this form of writing morphs into song, spoken word, slam, rap and drama. Reading, more so hearing, poetry is one of the luxuries I often enjoy. So, barring all my favorite poets, here’s what i found.

A number of poets write what my colleague Sana Janjua calls Tourism Poetry where the beauty of a place, often ‘foreign’ and ‘exotic’ to the poet, is expressed in detail without including the people of that place. This is how we are taught to look at the world, as a tourist attraction where local, often under-privileged, people are themselves a part of that attraction or a distraction or just irrelevant to the purpose of travel or creating a poem about nature. If i’m not mistaken, it is a political standpoint; in fact, a colonial political standpoint.

Then we have The Ethnic Flagship poetry that explores, in case of South Asia for example, myths of spirituality and mysticism of the ‘East’, and in doing so affirms the Western readers’ historical/generational experience of colonization of that east, and in most instances, the poet stands with their historic/generational colonizers by looking at and presenting their own culture of origin in the ways the colonizers did, and they still do.

The Sufi Sphinx poems take this a step further by offering tons of usable mysticism with solutions such as ‘self-correction’ and/or ‘self-annihilation’ to decidedly take the reader’s and the poet’s attention away from actual problems and their possible solutions. This saves both from stumbling into uncomfortable territories, for example, into the possibility of systemic in-equity as one of the causes of human dis-content.

A large proportion of diasporic poets are Homeland Wailers writing poem after poem on the pain of separation from their homeland while saying nothing much about the conditions of the society they live in or the one they wail about. It appears as if the main issue is the pain of migration or of the time passed (especially their youth where many, mostly male, poets get fixated), not why it occurred or how situation in the present may be less than desirable in both the ‘home’ and ‘abroad’ countries.

There are ample Lego Party poems where each poem is a puzzle or a puzzling game created by the Settler poet or poets as a delightful exploration into the art and craft of poetry that does not require or encourage critical thinking, positioning poetry as a worthy distraction from personal and societal burdens of the past and the present.

Promptesque, the thriving domain of Lego Party poets, provides training for emerging writers to be able to write a poem on a given word/words or terms, songs or paintings, within a given amount of time. The emphasis on craft continues at the expense of theme/content as the fetish of government-funded prompt-poetry grows.

Dutiful includes poetry prompted by catastrophic events or by certain violations of human rights such as violence against women, that is devoid of any deeper understanding of the issue, and so, it rhymes a dogmatic sermon in support of the ‘official’, often incorrect and misleading, version of the tragic event. As well, such poems appear to have been written to provide evidence that the writer is ‘with it’, aware, and a sensitive human being.

Then, we have a whole range of Kithartica where this art form is used to loadshed some of the poet’s emotional baggage, and employed as a tool for the healing of the self.

I am not against any of it. In fact, we all use all these forms as we continue to work with our favored ways of saying different things. My problem is with stopping short, not acknowledging the politics of it, and then, misrepresenting it as ‘non-political’ art.

Stopping short where one minor ‘fact’ or outcome is taken and presented as the whole; and where the ‘whole’ is hidden by a tiny, often irrelevant, detail. Example: ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is sometimes presented as the cause for the failure of a relationship. Yes, in certain cases, it may be part of the mix, but it never can be the reason. Relationships fail because two people may have diverse perspectives or different goals in life, they may not have synergy, they may come from diverse cultural backgrounds or from different class/privilege spectrum, they may have varying sexual orientation or sexuality, there could be emotional/psychological/sexual/physical abuse, some control issues perhaps, or any other combination but it’s definitely not because ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. This method of creating and spreading Nonsense-Wisdom, like many other such constructions, not only stops short of the actual issue but it also leads to depressive, even oppressive, outlook. In this case, for example, it means that all our relationships are doomed to breed contempt just because they would require for us to become familiar with each other. So then, stopping short is not an innocent act of personal choice, it’s a conscious standpoint obliterating reality to safeguard the value systems that serve interests of certain people or groups of people.

In a similar way, the discussion to determine if someone’s art is political or not is a misleading detail manufactured to hide the truth of the entrenched politicalness of pro-system art; to validate the lie that there is some art or literature that is not ‘political’ that there is ‘non-political’ art. Among other things, this helps to avoid answering some important questions such as ‘since we all write political stuff so is this the politics I want to perpetuate’ or ‘what is the politics of my poems?’ It is such a taboo that poets may be willing to meet to discuss the poetics of their poetry but never its politics.

Art is created from the experience we as individuals receive from all direct or indirect interaction with our environment. It is the re-emergence of parts of this continuing experience where all our interactions, passive or active, conscious or unconscious, past or present, manifest the culture and politics that we practice in order to live our lives; it is inside us and it surrounds us yet it remains unacknowledged by most of us. Perhaps this is, in part, because we relate to politics or we are ‘taught’ to relate to politics as something that stands outside of our personal lives; something that isn’t an intrinsic part of our public/private selves but perhaps a tool to organize, arrange and safeguard the larger ‘worldly’ things around and outside of us. In reality, art is born out of a symbiotic embrace with politics; inescapable. Even when we think that a poem, novel, song, video, film, painting is not ‘political’, it may be highly so.

Take for example, any of the stock romance novels, a form of literature we believe is a non-political escape/entertainment/comfort reading- or we think that because it is escape/entertainment/comfort reading so it is non-political, and add to it the fact that a large portion of art created in the world is a ‘copy/paste’ operation that continues to reproduce itself in novels, films, paintings, music and drama. This ‘mainstream’, ‘entertainment’, ‘commercial’ art, the so-called ‘non-political’ art is political inside and out. In it, everything systemic including current myths about race, class, caste, religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability not only abound but are affirmed; problems are viewed from one of the few peepholes provided by the prevalent political value systems; and, the proposed solutions perpetuate and protect the existing unfair/unequal political, economic and social structures. This is not non-political art but the art of bountiful ignorance.

The writers and artists who do not readily accept the myths projected by systems and their mouthpiece multinational media and arts organizations as truths, and the ones who do not acknowledge their prize-winners and scholars as icons and experts, may see images of our societies different from the ones offered; this when expressed in art is than classified as ‘political’. Another myth, a half truth, created to hide the political nature of pro-system art and literature.

So why are we so naive as to be misled by such tactics? Perhaps because we are part of the interest groups who need to distort this issue. Salvation Army founder William Booth once said: “a philanthropic body cannot afford to alienate the class which supports it”. Booth was humble when he limited his thoughts to just ‘philanthropic’ bodies. He could have easily lodged it as a universal truth that it is, that a ‘body’ cannot afford to alienate the class that supports it or ‘nobody’ can afford to alienate the class that supports it or ‘only nobody’ can afford to alienate the class that supports it.

I see that ‘nobody’ is a cool space for me.
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Getting the ‘name-thing’ out of the way

fr-renbooks-nov2016-byhonjo-1b

The booklaunch event of my novel The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentlessc Warrior at Renaissance Books in New Westminster was a warm and inspiring event, thanks to Lavana La Brey (for having us), Nefertiti SheLa Morrisson (for hosting), Wendy Harris (for her vision about the novel), Valerie Parks, Franci Louann, Enrico Renz, Christopher Hamilton, Ibrahim Honjo, Sana Janjua, Idrian Burgos and Randeep Purewall.

Many interesting points came out during discussion; some required more time including the one about names that had also come up at the November 20th event at VG Playroom in Surrey. It expresses the thought that there are perhaps too many unfamiliar and difficult-to-pronounce names for the reader to deal with in both my novels, and if those could be made easier or replaced with more familiar names from the same cultural context, it’ll help the reader stay with the story.

This is not the first time i have heard these thoughts but this is the first time i’m taking the opportunity to respond to them. The words ‘reader’ and ‘readership’ mean two different things to me. A reader is one individual, readership is a category. I have deep caring for the reader with who i share my feelings and emotions, ideas and thoughts. Readership is an entity created by the marketing wizards of the publishing industry to coerce writers to write to make more money for them; they named the deity ‘readership’- but i’m an unbeliever anyway.

Most people who edited or evaluated my novel Skeena prior to publication told me that there were too many unfamiliar names in the first chapter, suggesting that it could be a barrier for the reader right at the beginning. About The Adventures of SahebaN also, it was noted for example, that the ‘N’ at the end instead of ‘n’ makes the protagonist’s name even more unfamiliar. Both these observations were, and are, correct. But from 2003 to now, each time i was presented with these ideas, i gave them my sincere honest thought, each time i chose to not act on them because these observations are correct from a certain point of view, a vantage point, that isn’t mine and when i deliberate on it i don’t want to own it.

Before coming to Canada, i had known that whoever ever colonized South Asia including the British, tried to change names of conquered places, peoples and things; and, because they were the conquerors they didn’t just try but they actually did change them. So, to this day, i hear this city or that road in Pakistan being renamed to be reclaimed by local people. A few years in Canada, and i realized that the same thing had happened here. The names of colonized peoples, places and things were changed. That brought to mind all the Hollywood movies showing the immigration desk at New York harbor where people were given ‘easier’ and ‘familiar’ names as they were stamped in to become US citizens. In our loving or hating relationships we give each other names to own parts of each other. Skeena begins with a description of that name from three different languages and cultures, and later in the novel, the character talks about a few ‘pet’ names her lover has for her that speak more to his own state than to hers. In SahebaN, i use my power as a writer to give ‘pet’ names to countries, people, places and organizations. Names are a currency of ownership; it’s important for me to know who has it in my novels. In other words, a name is an essential part of a character and its context, and i’m unwilling to alter it unless the theme/context of colonization or appropriation needs to be expressed.

As a Colored writer in Canada, i’m ‘expected’ to write about my ‘cultural’ themes, preferably keeping myself confined to those, while affirming all the prevalent myths about them; but not just that, i am required also to disburse my art in a form that is easily ingest-able and digestible for the local, mainly white, readership. Since i actively avoid the various channels established by the local structures to make literature acceptable for that same readership through processes, courses and workshops, my writing remains untamed and uncensored, and that at times, can be a bit unexpected for a reader. Also because not only that i live in the ‘West’ but i choose to write in English, there is this assumption that i’ll make it palpable for the ‘English-speaking reader’. What is an ‘English-speaking reader’ is a good question to ask because my ‘English-speaking reader’ lives in Pakistan, India, Malaysia, UK, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, USA; and, so which ‘English-speaking reader’ would like less and easier names in the first section of Skeena? Those right here in BC Canada! In BC Canada, my English-speaking readers include people from Lahore, Chandigarh, New Delhi, Karachi, Toronto, Mississauga, Birmingham, London, New York, San Francisco, Suva.

Literature 101? Yes, i know it too. As a reader i have put away books that required too much effort from me to go into them, some i returned to and picked up and some i didn’t. That’s okay. So, if you are not a Punjabi, and you go to a village in Pakistani Punjab, it’ll seem crowded, noisy and full of unfamiliar names and words- just like it is in the first chapter of Skeena. It’s difficult for me to make it any more manageable, easier or hollywood-bollywood-lolliwood familiar because it’s not that village, that theme or that context.

This brings forward the concept of my ‘primary’ readership that i’m expected to be true or loyal to. The underlying fatal assumption that writers write for specific readership groups or that they should write for specific readership groups may be true for paid writing where a writer agrees to produce materials for a specific set of people, say, for clients of a health service, students of a particular discipline, the employees of a company. But creative writing? I don’t know about you, but i don’t write for any particular group, and i’m not ‘true’ to any readership. I write to share my understanding and view of different contexts and themes with anyone or no one, and my art needs only to be true to its own context and to my perception of that context, because that in reality, is the only thing i have to offer my reader.

There’s a saying in Urdu, ‘who sees the peacock dancing in the jungle / jungle main mor nacha kis ne dekhha‘, that highlights someone’s failure to project their awesome art to a wider mainstream audience. This saying is based on a similar fatal assumption as the above, that the peacock dances for a human audience or that the peacock should dance for a human audience. The peacock dances to lure a mate, and that’s who gets to see one of those amazing and unmatched dance performances not to speak of the stunning wardrobe that is lavished by the gifted performer at the lift of the curtain. A flower does not bloom to be praised or revered, it blooms because it’s a natural expression of a plant who is expecting to grow ripened fruit and seed out of it.

So, if the name SahebaN originates from a folk lore character of Punjabi love story Mirza-SahebaN, then this is one of the ways to deliver it in English: with a (silent) capital letter ‘N’ at the end. And my reader who may be unfimiliar with this name, will find some expression to feelings of frustration within the novel where at a couple of places this name thing does come up.

Photo by Ibrahim Honjo

Buy SahebaN
the-adventures-of-saheban_cover_nov61 Libros Libertad 2016
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Waxing (non) Poetic at Vancouver’s CO-OP Radio

coop_logo

Yesterday, i had an interesting conversation about my just-launched novel The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentless Warrior with Pamela Bentley and RC Weslowski, two of my favorite poets, slam artists and radio hosts at Vancouver’s CO-OP Radio. You can listen to it if you like. There are excerpts from the first SahebaN story ‘Vital Parts’, and a couple of verses from the novel.
coopradio.org/content/wax-poetic-6

Of course, i’m more absent-minded than Pam gives me credit for, so the second time i get the chance to pitch the event at Semiahmoo library, i give the wrong date. It is DEC 3rd not 4th. And, regarding distribution, anyone can ask a bookshop or a library anywhere to get it for them.

Earlier, i had a warm and cozy first launch at VG PlayRoom with Host Virginia Gillespie, Guest Speaker Liam Paul Wallinger and many beautiful peers, friends and family. For photos and other outcomes from events, view this page:
saheban.wordpress.com/photos

Next event is Surrey Muse on Friday November 25, and on November 29 and December 3rd

the-adventures-of-saheban_cover_nov61The Adventures of SahebaN:Biography of a Relentless Warrior
A novel by Fauzia Rafique
Libros Libertad 2016
The story of a woman who was forever curious about an object called ‘pee-nuts’.
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‘Familial Promises – The ‘Honour’ Killer’s Code’

qandeel

.

If ever you
set foot
outside this house
Smack you, I will

.

If ever you
cook anything
I don’t like
Bash you, I will

.

If ever you
give birth to
a female child
Rap you, I will

.

If ever you
marry a man
of your choice
Smash you, I will

.

If ever you
ask for your
property rights
Whack you, I will

Fauzia Rafique
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Photo from Aljazeera
Poem from Fauzia’s chapbook ‘Holier Than Life’.

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‘Candle Light Vigiler’

photobyroshnichanda-1

I’m a Candle
Light Vigiler
vigiling over
murders of masses
of people burning
dollar store candles
every other week
in a safe little corner
of an unsafe city

sometimes i use look-alike blinking fake little candles, still, the tears are real like the blood that is spilled of the innocent unarmed civilians childrens

but my vigils
get slurped by the party politicos
solidaritos seeming progressivos
who speak without questioning authoritos
without threatening ideologeos
of the very systemos
that breed the demandos
and create the supplyos
for the (designated) MURDERERS
and the (appointed) KILLERS
of the (compulsive) COLONIZERS

a gimmick named ISIS, for example, is a US-NATO toy created to achieve certain corporate goals for the war pharmaceutical religion construction finance industry

candle light vigiling
has made me a hostage to
the onslaught of
violence carried out to
make more profit for
a few bankers officers
and priests
a hostage to
the sorrow of
innocent deaths
a prisoner to the powers
that need to feed
the oceans of
their greed
with the rivers of fresh
red- warm
blood

‘pray for baghdad’-‘islam is a violent religion’-‘all muslims are not terrorists’-‘good morning’-‘brexit the refugees’-‘kill colored migrants’- ‘Black Lives Matter, No?’ -‘send more weapons to middle east’-‘eid mubarik’- but i never auditioned for this role and i never invested in your goal

The hostage the prisoner
the sorrowful individual
must break
her cage before
the oceans of greed
usurp all blood before
vigiling extinguishes
all dollar store candles
in a safe little corner
of an unsafe city

Fauzia Rafique
.

Photo from Roshni Chanda
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An ‘Ought To Be Taught’ Poem

It was a delightful experience for me to have one of my poems chosen as an ‘ought to be taught’ poem.

More so, because it was picked by a young person for her school. She was working on an end-of-the-year class project for English Lit program.
I was scrolling through the web and I stumbled across your beautifully written poem “It was life”. I was wondering if…

The original poem was written in Urdu, and here’s the ‘chosen’ English version.

It was Life
(To estranged and un-estranged women friends)

It was life
i lived back then
not a story
that was told

You were there, hiding my injured body
in a colourful shawl
i was stumbling
falling
you too helped me up
the truth of the moments
spent with you, in the strength
of the glow
of our togetherness
over years I applied the balm
of my spirit to make it work on me
and now the wounds have healed
without leaving a single ugly scar
on my person
don’t take it to mean
there was
no attack

I lit candles of tears
with the blood of my heart
to enlighten the inside of my body
don’t take it to mean
the darkness
was never
here

Lightening sight in the eye
glow of life
jumps out of me
whirling into a wild celebrative dance in the yard
don’t take it to mean
that the age of sorrow
did never
arrive

It was life
i lived back then
not a story
that was told

If you take it to mean
there was no
attack, darkeness did not
descend, that
the age of sorrow
was never here,
there will remain a pinch in my heart
because my story
is yours also
the truth will become jumb
-led with the lie
and at some point
when you are about
to tell your story
the truth all jumbled up with the lie
it may be hard to see
the attacker, to tell
if it’s darkness
or light
because my story
is yours also

You have sustained
attacks here as well, dodged
lethal hits, in offerings
to the times of sorrow you also have
drank tears an eyeful
at a time, you know
all shades of your darkness, recognize
the face of grief
or say it
yes say it
your story
is not my story

It was life
i lived back then
not a story
that was told

View original in Urdu

First published at this blog in July 2012
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‘The Almighty’ by Fauzia Rafique

Dedicated to Afghanistan’s Shaheed Bibi Farkhanda Malikzada who was killed by a mob in Kabul at the false accusations of blasphemy on March 19, 2015. We are privileged to have Farkhanda’s in-destructible spirit among us.
.

Allah is my most
recent aphrodisiac
ever great for turning
my little me into
a big powerful we, so big
so big (more than ten at least!)
no one can stop
me as i give
and take life in your
home, on street
in the park, fields
work, school, factory
college, univers
-ity, no one stops me
i’m not just
me but we are we
Allah the ever great
is always, always
with me, the little
Man Almighty

I tell you what
to do what
to wear what
to say what
and not what
obey me or then what
‘BLASPHEMY!’ a cry
in my ecstasy, i attack
and we kill
(there and then) with wood
wood planks, stones
boulders, bricks
words, fatwas, firearms
honor, acid, poison, purdah
mutilate, behead, gang (episodes
of man-power) rape
buy and sell, produce
more porn
to later watch with
me, the little
Man Almighty

i get erect
-ions, hundreds
and thousands,
by using against you
the gods of jesus
and moses, raam
and krishan, mahatma
budh, waheguru khalsa, works
in other places but
here, i like mo’s youthful
and tighter sharia, as good
as any, it suits
me, the little
Man Almighty
Wallah! Allah is my most
recent aphrodisiac

(The video appeared on my facebook newsfeed on December 31.)
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