'Poetry allows people to slow down'
As the countdown to National Novel Writing Month nears an end, poet Jean-Sim Ashman talks about why the verse is as important an escape as the prose
In the age of digitalisation and instant consumption of content, poetry - with its layered meanings - may seem like a genre that no longer resonates with people. While the rise of instapoetry may have given it a different form, many argue that the verse is an ideal platform to simplify the complicated while complicating the simple. Arab-American poet and scriptwriter Jean-Sim Ashman's new collection of poems Cathartic Pillow Talk is as much a celebration of life as of the form itself. In a conversation with WKND, Ashman talks about her new book and worth of the verse in the time of quick-fixes.
What drew you to poetry?
I like the ambiguity of poetry. I enjoy the fact that there is no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to interpreting poetry. You can be as creative as you desire. The simplest words can be interpreted in a plethora of ways. In a world where there is so much pressure to be "perfect", poetry allows us to get a little messy in the most beautiful manner.
How did exposure to different cultures in your formative years influence your writing, if at all?
I think my exposure to different cultures has enabled me to encapsulate various viewpoints as well as global issues and current affairs, which are reflected in my work.
Was writing cathartic?
Most definitely. There were times when I couldn't share my thoughts with other people, not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't think people would understand or care. When I first started writing poetry, it was my outlet to vent. I wasn't necessarily looking for answers or solutions to my problems, I just wanted to get everything out on the table.
Cathartic Pillow Talk is broadly divided into different stages of life. Could you describe them a bit?
Yes, Cathartic Pillow Talk is divided into four sections - Hasra, Questioning, Prema and Becoming. Hasra features poems inspired by heartbreak, not only love- or romance-induced heartbreak, but also the heartbreak one experiences from sadness. Questioning is the inquisitive stage one experiences where they may question themselves, society, and so forth, as they try to find answers to what's going on in life; and Prema is elevated or selfless love, the love one may have for their country, family, friends, God, and so on.
Prema leads to Becoming, the last section of my book, which is the stage in life where one has reached their definition of optimal satisfaction. In other words, this is the stage where one is ready to turn over a new leaf and put their past behind them.
What was the biggest challenge of writing poetry that's so close to your own experiences?
The biggest challenge was mustering the confidence to publicly share these experiences with everyone because once it's out there, there's no turning back.
November is NaNoWriMo month. Novel-writing is something people find themselves more naturally drawn to. What sort of readership does poetry have in a world that thrives on instant consumption?
In a fast-paced society where instant consumption is so commonplace, poetry allows people to slow down and savour life.
Poetry is so intricate and can be fathomed in so many different ways by different people. I like to believe it is a means of escape from this instant consumption.
Tell us about the style of your work.
Metaphoric. Raw. A lot of personification. I want people to really analyse my work. The meaning behind my poems are rarely overt.
Instapoetry is now a thing. Many poets like Rupi Kaur and Nayyirah Wahid have also been criticised for making poetry a lot more simplistic than what it ought to be. Your take?
I think instapoetry is one of many forms of poetry. As I mentioned before, there's no "right" or "wrong" here. Simplistic poetry can be as meaningful as any other form. Perhaps it is simplistic because these poems were penned to get people thinking outside the box.