Tag Archives: Shehzar Doja

An interview with Ben Okri

Ben Okri was born in 1959 in Minna, Nigeria. He is considered to be one of the best novelist of the postmodernist era. His list of accolades is vindicated with the sheer volume of honours conferred  upoun him, with  governmental recognition, gaining an OBE in 2001 and Fellowship into the Royal Society of Literature (1997) and he is also the recipient of some esteemed literary prizes, most notably the Man Booker Prize in 1991 (making him the youngest ever winner) for The Famished Road. He has produced 10 novels and 9 books of poetry, The Age of Magic (2014) and Wild(2012) being the last in the two categories respectively.

Ben signing autographs at Dhaka Literature Festival 2017

I had the chance of catching a truly mesmerising discussion with Jerry Pinto at the Dhaka Literature Festival in 2017.  His assertion on the spiritual nature of writing was a true and encapsulating insight into his own literary philosophy and his revelation that each writer dies after producing a significant novel and is then reborn anew was a concept I had to further explore. At the author lounge of the DLF I managed to sit down with Ben in order to delve further into his literary psyche and influences. Did he consider himself primarily a poet or novelist? From where did he derive his inspiration from?What ignited his love of literature? What significant event in the modern landscape compelled him to write?Ben was keen and gracious enough to provide The Luxembourg Review with these answers and more.

Syed Shehzar M Doja
Founder and Editor-in-Chief

INTERVIEW

Shehzar: Hi Ben.. first of all a big thank you for doing this interview with The Luxembourg Review. In lieu with the talk you had given today, how many lifetimes ahead do you feel you have?

Ben: I think I have as many lifetimes as I have significant books.You have to understand that a strong book takes life but it also gives life. Every strong book that you write you lose something of yourself into it but it gives you secret energy. So it is both creative and destructive.

Shehzar: And would you say that it is a cycle continuously emanating from within a writer?

Ben: It is a cycle continuously emanating from a writers psyche. But it also comes out of a health. It comes out of your spiritual health and the health of your imagination. Some writers don’t recover as well after significant books.

Shehzar: What would you attribute that to?

Ben: Insufficient spiritual nourishment.

Shehzar: You said you were a lot different growing up. As a writer, what were the axial thoughts? The pivot from where your thoughts gyrated from? What were the central elements that distinguished  you?

Ben: An absolute sense that life is infinitely richer than we realise. The central thought for me is that life is constantly self generating. That life is concealed from us, that life is a mystery to us. Life is a revelation to us. Life is a house of many mansions. Life is a house of many universes.That’s where it comes from.It is this feeling I have about something immeasurable about life itself.

Shehzar: And that compels you?

Ben: It keeps me going upwards and inwards.

Shehzar: What would you say are the external factors that recently invoked your writing?

Ben: Many things. One of the things is the Grenfell disaster.

Shehzar: You had written a poem about that.

Ben: The Grenfell tower disaster moved me very very deeply in a way that I’ve not been moved for almost 15 years. It moved me very much because it made me aware that there is a gaping hole in the centre of capitalism and that hole is called humanity.

Shehzar: This reminds me a bit of that famous Yeats poem. The opening of The Second Coming ‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer’ and I feel that movement away from that spirituality is reflected a lot in your writing

Ben: We human beings are many things.we are flesh. We are shadow. We are moonstone. We are tree. We are spirit. We are forgiveness, we are love. We are many things. And where spirituality of one kind or another disappears from the human story we become smaller and we are able to condone all sorts of monstrosities happening to one another.People can still lose spirituality whilst being religious.All you have to do is look around the world right now.Most of the terrible things taking place are taking place among religious people.

Shehzar: As an excuse?

Ben: Not as an excuse but as a blindness. I think sometimes peoples religion gets in the way of their humanity. Or that humanity should come first.  A religion without humanity is an insult to God.

With Ben after the interview.

Shehzar: You seem to have borrowed from what I understand a lot of the traditional stories. How deep is this embedded in you?

Ben: Stories are deeply embedded in me. I grew up with stories. My mother was a great storyteller. Told me stories all the time. My culture, where I grew up in Nigeria, all the different places are storytelling places, we told stories to one another as kids. Africa is a storytelling land so stories are part of how I breathe, of how I think. But the writing I do, I am interested in oblique stories, in indirect stories. In stories that have more angles that you suspect. I’m interested in secret stories, stories people carry in them and they don’t know they carry. Stories that sometime destroy and sometimes liberates them, sometimes ruins them and sometimes lifts them up. We are always carrying these unknown stories and I think its one of the most important things about novelists and poets, that they bring out these unknown stories in their people, in their times and age. They bring it out so people can see it, face it and begin to deal with it. Grenfell was one of those stories.

(The Grenfell Tower poem by Ben Okri on Channel 4 News)

Shehzar: You had written a poem about it as opposed to writing a novel or short story, in general you are regarded very well as a novelist and as a poet but which one do you feel closer to? Spiritually do you feel your stories are created as a novel or as poetry?

Ben: Everything I do comes out of poetry, I am primarily a poetic being. By poetry, I do not mean metre or syllables and beats. For me it is also angles of seeing, ways of being, the relationship between things, the tangents and spaces, suggestions, the pressure and space around things.

Shehzar: That reminds me of Khalil Gibran’s ‘Let their be spaces in your togetherness’. One of my favourite single lines.

Ben: Thats lovely. I know it very well. There should be spaces in our imagination to. We have gaps but not enough spaces. Big difference.

Shehzar: So what next for you? You had alluded to the success you had with The Famished Road, how it wasn’t there initially but after the Booker prize, things changed, but now when you write a new story, do you still go in with that original feeling of it being not so great. How do you feel about that?

Ben: I don’t particularly care what people think when I start to write. And I don’t particularly care what people think when I finish.I care really, mainly about the truth of what I am trying to say. I care truly about the truth of what I am trying to say and how deeply I can touch one person through this work. One person at a time.

Shehzar: Thank you Ben.

Ben: Pleasure

 

 

Advertisements

The Woman on the Other Side – A Review

To purchase the book from Doirepress, click on the image
To purchase the book from Doire Press, click on the image

 

TS Eliot once remarked:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time” (Little Gidding)

Stephanie Conn’s debut collection “The Woman on the Other Side” is a book of exploration. The poetry invites the readers into a world of fragments, between physical and internal landscapes. The collection is set in various locations and timelines, beginning from the opening passages inspired by the Dutch countryside and drawing a subsequent inspiration from its’ historic painters. However, Conn manages to superimpose her own vision and interpretation onto the paintings and leaves her written version lingering distinctly, like a melodious mid note hanging unobtrusive, in some corner of the readers mind…”He painted the lands lies below -/led us through small windows, into narrow interiors,/half-lit rooms draped with silk and shadow”( Vermeer’s Nether Land). The use of half-rhymes is used masterfully throughout the book to accentuate the significant pause for the readers to appreciate the same vivid details which was emanating from her spurts of inspiration. This reinterpretation is also given to other prominent painters in other locations, such as Chagal who resided primarily in the village of St Paul De Vence in the south of France; “Tell me of the green fields mapped in your mind/and the winding paths that always lead you back,/how your father held a scythe in his dark hands,/” (The Village)

In a 2016 interview with the Irish Times, Stephanie stated:
“Consumed by grief after my mother died, I felt terribly isolated and poetry offered comfort. The fact others had experienced this pain and survived also gave me hope” and the residue of this haunting grief and the resolve of hope can be seen and felt in the simplicity of lines like “it is June/but the curtains are pulled/and the candles lit/ … in an empty room/a fourteen year old girl/pores over her mothers diary” (Her Diaries).

Desolation and Resolution, a constant tug of war between the senses, ephemeral and empirical, act as a constant motif throughout the book. Attempts to balance between allowing the audience to gaze into her psyche and creating barriers play off each other in a manner that is truly remarkable. In Eclipse for example; “They said it would happen,/warned not to observe the sun/directly. I had been indoors” and “June.Again/ There have been too many/ birthdays and deathdays” (Abacus). The lines mimic the motion of a heaving breath but upon its release, we are left to somehow simmer in its bittersweet resolution.

Stephanie Conn was the inaugural winner of the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing, a prize awarded to her for the poem “Lavender Fields” .The line from the poem that could truly encapsulate the mesmerising quality of this book is summed up here;
“All this grew from a small bag of aromatic seeds”

___________________________________________________________________________

Review by Syed Shehzar M Doja

This review was published in the inaugural print edition of The Luxembourg Review.

‘Parted’ by Justina Semetaite. A Review.

Parted                                 (Click on the image to check out the book)

From making intellectual observations to relaying the most sensitive and cherished emotions and thought, poetry encompasses an innate ability to express and reflect the most intimate of emotions. That inspiration can derive from the most tangible source or simply, a moments’ pensive surrender.

In our first Literary Review, we take a look at the chapbook “Parted” by Justina Semetaite, published by CorruptPress in November, 2011. Justina was born in Lithuania, in 1989 and currently resides in Vilnius. Both the author and the chapbook deal with the subject of parting from the most intimate perspective conceivable. The eight poems displayed in the chapbook are written in a touchingly poignant manner. From reflecting on the separation from a homeland to the departure of a lover, the chapbook covers a wide spectrum of emotions that are profoundly articulated through a gritty and raw arsenal of metaphors.

All the poems are imbued with a deep sense of separation. Each title hinges on this overarching theme, vindicated by the motif within each title with words like “‘goodbyes, postcards”, culminating in the final poem “‘When we parted, things started dying and the city grew even bigger.’” Every poem in this chapbook resonates with that despair. A sense of longing is brought into the forefront with simple and accessible imagery that refracts the complexities of dealing with the subject of parting in a surrealistic form of poetic catharsis.

The last poem in the chapbook is an exceptional poem that with each line; carries thematic imagery that continues to accumulate (beginning from the first poem) throughout the chapbook. However, this, in no means, detracts from the quality of the other poems. There are great lines sewn into each work, but, as a critic, it would be negligence on my part, not to discuss this
concluding poem in further details.

‘When we parted, things started dying and the city grew even bigger’ is a poem that reflects on a failed love. It follows the narrative exposition of a memoir, with the stylistic freedom of a post-modern piece. The poet expresses her anguish and raw emotions through using intricate, classical allusions, as well as creating an entirely new set to draw from in future works.

The poem is told as a memoir of golden days laced in an undercurrent of bitter foreshadowing. It is perhaps enduring because of its juxtaposition between a hopeful beginning on the surface and the carefully construed cynicism lying underneath (that proves justified as the failure of the love prevails).

“I will ask you to bury me in the basement of your laughter and I will promise to be a shy flower, translating itself into dust “(lines 55-57). The constant recurrence of the motifs in the poem are embedded systematically throughout, The words and phrases are repeated constantly to reinforce the readers with a sense of impending, provocative empathy (not sympathy however) for the narrator of this poem.

‘Dying, Remember, Forgotten’ repeatedly used, reinforces the thematic overture of ‘Parted’. It completes the chapbook in terms of definition and resolution, attributing the sentiment of ‘Parting’ to deep rooted separation beginning from the opening lines of the first poem “The jelly shadows of the birds, sitting on the fence, teach me to fly with my eye” (Lines 1-3, I’m talking to myself about the good-byes’).

The line ‘The streetlights are of no use at all’(lines 131-132)  mimics the candor of W.H Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ to further illustrate the dramatic extent of that void of separation in all forms..

All eight of the poems in the chapbook share with us, a little part of the poet’s soul. An attribute any poetry enthusiast can perhaps, connect with.

I would recommend this chapbook to buy and read.(The link to purchase the book is placed on the cover)

In conclusion, I will perhaps ‘remember the dying things’ as was pointed out and use both the poet and chapbook to vindicate and highlight the search of young poetic talents like Justina Semetaite for ‘The Luxembourg Review’.

 Syed Shehzar Mukkarrim Doja

Founder and Editor-in-Chief
The Luxembourg Review

____________________________________________________________________________
*Next week we will continue our review with an exclusive interview with the poet*

*If you have any questions for the poet, please leave it on the comment section, we will do our best to include some of them in the interview*