“Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame...” Wallace Stevens said. Poetry is a gift to man as it exposes the treasures hidden in words in a divine manner. Today, my guest is one of the few that are using poetry to paint time. Mr Imran Boe Khan.
Ebube: Please can you tell us about yourself?
IBK: I am a poet and researcher based in Dorset, England. I live with my partner, our two children and two gerbils whose names have caused some argument within our household – their ‘official’ names are ‘Artemis’ and ‘Renfield’, but my ten year old daughter wants them to be called ‘Rocky’ and ‘Chip’. Meanwhile, my two year old son calls them ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ and ‘Dad’. Aside from trying to resolve these arguments and writing poetry, I work for Amnesty International where I give talks on creative activism around the world and injustice within British courts.
Ebube: What inspired you to start writing?
IBK: When I was about seven, I had a teacher at school called Mrs Gladwell. She was wonderful, and used to sit my class on the floor and sing us all silly rhymes. Whenever I felt anxious as a child, I used to remember her rhymes, and write some of my own. My sister talent-spotted me and commissioned me to write poems in her cards to her boyfriends in exchange for chocolate. I tasted my first rejection as a poet when I was nine. One Valentine’s Day, instead of using my poem (which I still think was one of my best) she copied lyrics from a Spice Girls song. As I grew older, I began distracting myself from anxieties by other means and I became addicted to things that damaged me physically and psychologically, and harmed the people around me. Writing became a way of distracting myself from those addictions, and something I immersed myself in. Ever since, I’ve found huge joy in being absorbed by the music of poetry, either when I’m writing or reading. I feel passionate about promoting poetry as an outlet for people suffering from mental illness – being creative is so important, especially for young people.
Ebube: So far, how many poetry works have you published? If you don’t mind sharing any short poem of yours.
IBK: I’m not sure of the exact number, but I’d say somewhere in the thirties. My partner joked a few days ago that I should have Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter collections because my style changes according to season. I prefer my poetry in the warmer months – In my experience, being tucked up in bed with gloves, a hot water bottle and my son’s ear muffs, and weeping desperately as I sip tomato soup in a forlorn attempt to stay warm, isn’t normally conducive to good writing. Sure, the poem I’ll share is titled ‘Body Squatters Caught Dancing’. It was first published by Juked earlier this year:
Body Squatters Caught Dancing
The knot homed in my lungs will scamper and fly,
depart through orchards of bone,
brushing whatever loneliness feeds my skin. It’ll dance
to the popping beats of my vessels
without even thinking of staying.
My grandma said that’s how you get old,
things come to stay.
She had a tumour squatting in her throat no one found,
said something doesn’t have to be real to be killing you.
Months later she was breathing laser light
and coughing up herself.
Decay was her wilderness, body her spring.
I sensed she was putting off telling me something which might have been important,
like how the vastness which would come between us will shrink to the size of a bee
and spread its hive through my lungs.
Ebube: That’s a very wonderful piece. Can you say writing has changed you? If yes, in what ways?
IBK: Aside from improving my mental health, writing full-time has been great for my little family. My little girl and I have always been best friends, but since she’s been part of the high points I’ve had along my career, she has really opened up to writing, and writes stories herself. I think she’s proud of me – a few months ago she found a black and white picture of a man with a suitcase. She proceeded to colour the man brown and said that was me holding a suitcase of poems. That picture lives dead centre of our lounge, right above the fireplace. As for my two year old son, I think he resents me for not being a pizza chef – the career he pursues. Often I catch him ripping the covers off my books and using them as ‘pizza bases’. He then places bits of soggy cereal on the base which, I believe, represent anchovies. I like to convince myself he’s just teasing me – often he cuddles up to me and asks “How is your poetry doing?”Writing has also made me think about the scenes I come across, just on my daily travels, in a deeper way. It’s taught me to imagine different perspectives and look for the poignant in images I’d otherwise pass by.
Ebube: What’s your writing process like?
IBK: I write when I can. My partner and I have two young children, so it can be tricky sometimes. Often, I find myself writing when the children are asleep. My little boy finds it difficult to sleep on his own, so normally I write in his bed as he tries to get to sleep. I type with one hand and cuddle him with the other. The problem is he can only get to sleep by pulling and digging his nails into my ear, and I’m defenceless because I’m balancing a laptop on one knee, so I can always tell how much I’ve been writing by the amount of physical pain I’m in and how bruised my left ear is. I haven’t been able to bring myself to look at it for the past few days and a small part of me wonders if it’s even there anymore.
Ebube: 😁 wow, okay. Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
IBK: I think that, for most forms of creative writing, being able to empathise, and key into a particular emotion, is crucial. I’m in awe of Samuel Beckett for his ability to create wonderfully absurd plays that say a huge amount about us as human beings. Many of his characters are waiting – as we are – and it’s in that waiting that a lot of life takes place. As people, I think we respond to writing that we can relate to and emotional truth plays a big part in that.
Ebube: What does literary success look like to you?
IBK: Ah, this is tricky because it’s so subjective. Personally, I feel really satisfied when one of my poems or essays finds home in a publication that I enjoy reading. There are things that I aspire to – literary awards and book deals, but the most tender and acute urge I have is for my family to see me as a writer – and a good one. I want my children to look at their birth certificates when they’re showing their own kids, and for the word ‘writer’ to make sense beneath my name.
Ebube: Who are the writers you can say have had an impact on your own writing?
IBK: I love this question – there are so many but i’d pick Michelle Bitting, T.S Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Sharon Olds and Edward Albee as my top 5.
Ebube: What are you currently reading?
IBK: I’m worried my answer is going to be a bit of a let down – I’m doing a PhD at the moment and I’ve been reading ‘Beginnings’ by Edward Said. I did read a good bedtime story to my little boy a few nights ago though. The book’s called Jungle Jive and it’s about ten pages long (the pictures take up most of the space). I particularly recommend it to folks who like reading about what monkeys get up to on their birthdays. Not to give too much away, but an electric- guitar-playing elephant makes an entrance at the end and is quite possibly my favourite character of all time.
Ebube: What are the issues you try to address with your writing?
IBK: It’s rare that I sit down to write with the intention of confronting a particular issue, but it does happen. Usually it’s based on a human rights issue that I’m passionate about. Looking back at my poems, I’d say the key themes are obsession, intimacy, faith, paternal relationships and race.
Ebube: What should we expect from you, do you currently have a work in progress?
IBK: I’m hoping to get a chapbook out at some point next year. My daughter put some of my poems together in a folder as part of my last birthday present. It’s inspired me to have a little collection published.
Ebube: That’s so sweet of her. Alright. Mr Imran Boe Khan thank you so much for being my guest today.
You can reach him on social media via
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/ImranBoeKhan/
LinkedIn: Imran Boe Khan.
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