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“… not very optimistic about the future of poetry”

Syed Kashif Raza is a young poet, with two books to his credit

“… not very optimistic about the future of poetry”

Syed Kashif Raza is a promising poet whose forte is prose poetry. He has two poetry books to his credit: Muhabbat Ka Mehelle-Wuqu (2003), and Mamnuu Mausmon Ki Kitab (2012). He has also translated a few books of Noam Chomsky into Urdu. Recently, he has also translated Mohammed Hanif’s bestselling novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes into Urdu.

Born in Sargodha, he was raised in Rawalpindi, and later moved to Karachi where he is currently based and is working for Geo TV.

Recently he has been elected as secretary of Halqa Arbab-e-Zauq Karachi. An avid reader of modern fiction and poetry, Kashif Raza’s poems are the outcome of existential angst. In an interview with TNS, he talks about what made him a poet and what sustains him.

The News on Sunday: What made you a poet? Can you survive without composing poetry?

Syed Kashif Raza: When I was a child, I was a feeble weakling and resented my being because I was not able to compete with other children in games, fights etc. At the same time, I cultivated within me a love for beauty, symmetry and fantasy in order to compensate for this injustice. I was fascinated by children’s story books and adventures but I never thought of becoming a writer. I always wanted to do heroic things like becoming a cricketer, a pilot or a scuba diver. Poetry seemed to me a means by which you can not only express a personality but also ‘create’ a personality.

I have always lived with poetry and it is part and parcel of my body and soul. Yes I do live on without composing a single poem for months on end. But you cannot change the way of seeing things. For me, poetry is a weapon against injustice and also a garland which I make with so much care to lay at the feet of beauty.

Good poetry is mostly lost in translation and by translation here I mean any attempt to interpret the poetry as well.

TNS: Why were you attracted towards prose poetry?

KSF: I had started with ghazal and then went on to write blank verse or azad nazm as well, but found that these genres, especially ghazal, take a lot from tradition in a way that the personal voice of the poet does not remain as distinct as I would have liked. But there was a bigger reason as well: I have been reading more fiction than poetry and have always thought that fiction is the genre which encompasses more aspects of the human reality than any other genre. I met many writers in Karachi, but those writing prose poems seemed to me better than others. I had a choice of creating my own literary milieu and I decided to remain in their company, which must have inspired me to carry on with writing prose poems. Though I still write ghazals and azad nazms as well.

TNS: How would you define the gestation of prose poetry in Pakistan and its future prospects?

KSF: I am not very optimistic about the future of poetry in world. The genre for our age and for the immediate future is fiction; or may be non-fiction. The worth of poetry as a genre has been questioned since the times of Sir Philip Sydney in the 13th century. In fact, we Pakistanis love poetry more than the Europeans or Americans but I believe the future of prose poem is brighter than at least the azad nazm in Urdu. Ghazal will remain our most representative genre because of our love for aphorisms and brevity. Ghazal is a genre of objectivity while fiction and prose poem are the genres of subjectivity.

I think, given the vicissitudes that we are facing in our country right now, we need to be subjective and develop an eye for detail.nazm-1

TNS: Who and what inspires you?

KSF: Not a day passes when I am not inspired by anything. Love and hate are the two forces which ignite my poems. There are so many things around me which can kindle my love or hatred. While there is injustice, blood-letting and brutality all around to fire hatred in my poems, there are also things which inspire me to love life with a renewed passion: nature, music, books, movies and the scent of a woman.

I write poems but I am mostly inspired by fiction writers. Milan Kundera, Marquez, Borges, Joyce, Tolstoy and Kafka are all very different writers but they have all inspired me. I am also very fond of Hemingway and R.L. Stevenson. The list of inspirations would be un-ending I believe. In poetry I like Rilke, Noon Meem Rashed, Faiz, Afzaal Ahmed Syed, Paash and many others. The list would be un-ending, I presume.

TNS: How would you evaluate your poetic journey and are you satisfied with it?

KSF: No I am not satisfied nor would I like to be satisfied soon. I am also wary of fame and would rather like to go on loitering the streets without being recognised. These are the years for experiences, adventures and explorations for me. Early recognition can also make your personality a hostage and you may not be able to grow on your own and more naturally. So I would like to read more, travel more, experiment and explore and write more before thinking that I should be acclaimed. There are many seniors who deserve to be acclaimed before me. At this point in time, I am more interested in life than anything else. And life for me is a fabulous phenomenon.

TNS: How do you assess the role of critics in evaluating good poetry? Are they doing their duty?

KSF: Good poetry is mostly lost in translation and by translation here I mean any attempt to interpret the poetry as well. But good critics provide a background by which we are able to better understand a poem or any other piece of art. The criticism mostly found in Urdu is barely useful for MA Urdu students. The critics can play a very vital role in inculcating a true sense of poetry, like Milan Kundera has done for fiction. He is the greatest novelist of time and also the greatest critic of fiction.

I don’t see any writer doing the same for Urdu. Even Askari sahab was not good enough. Hameed Naseem was good when he wrote a book on five of our major poets. Firaq sahab had a good eye for evaluating poetry; Shamim Hanafi is good in our own times. Basically a writer should take criticism into his own hands and discuss how he felt about poetry, literature and society as Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot and Kundera did it in their times.

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