Scott Thomas Outlar: First off, Sheikha, I’d like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me here at W.I.S.H. I suppose a good place to start would be in the beginning. At what point were the artistic embers of creativity initially sparked in your life? Have you always been drawn to poetry and literature?
Sheikha A.: I wasn’t always drawn to poetry and literature. We studied literature extensively in High School but my real interest in it sparked in University. My understanding for many classic and contemporary literary works was simple and matter of fact, it was in university that I began to see through prismic lens how characters and settings were deliberately moulded by a keen sense of behavioural sciences by every writer that, I began to, literally, believe had some psychic message to pass on through to future generations. Surprisingly, many were far more modern than us at this age and era! And honest! We worry about social media in these times of ours because we want to stand politically and verbally correct and sophisticated, arousing as little as possible any negations or cross examining/debate. I tend to envy the classical times. Perhaps, they were the toughest, but what went in print, first and foremost, went through much gruelling and then when the words were printed, they are considered sublime by readers of now. I worry about the subliminal aspects of literature now. I worry if my work will ever be perceived as sublime. These aspects take over my interests in and about literature. The future of this current age of writing as a classic and contemporary for our generations.
Outlar: Is there much appreciation for poetry where you live in Pakistan? How do you think the local environment and culture affected your development as a writer?
Sheikha A: Literature in Pakistan is rich. Urdu literature is a mix of majestic, humble, opulent and modest. I am ashamed to say I never studied Urdu literature because I grew up in United Arab Emirates where, even though the country’s first language was Arabic, due to a multi ethnic and national populace, we spoke English as our first language. I learnt to speak the language in Pakistan, when I arrived here and started working at a school. I can read and write in it now, but not prolifically or professionally. Urdu was taught, to me, as a second language in High School. We learnt the alphabets and how to read and write, as well, but a lack of communication in that language with the people around me didn’t give me the inclination to explore books and novels in Urdu. There is a special section published by Dawn Newspaper in Pakistan that caters to arts and literature, that publish reviews, articles, interviews of classics and contemporaries that have gained acclaim worldwide, marking a niche for Pakistan globally.
I wasn’t influenced by the literary works here. It was circumstantial leverage that induced my writing for want to express my many experiences (initially frustrations) for being unable to cope with the environment. It would be hard for people to relate to my saying ‘culture shock’ for being of the same culture, but I led a completely different lifestyle in UAE with friends of many nationalities that I began to find certain mindsets here biased and even oppressive to some degrees. Despite a decade spent here, I still find myself lost in crowds. I have managed to make a few friends, though, that have no writing background but are skilled and specialized in either artistic and/or non-artistic fields.
Outlar: You’ve successfully published your work internationally in both print and online markets. What are your thoughts on how the internet has helped to connect so many poets globally through the innumerable venues that are now available? Also, what have you found to be the pros and cons of social media?
Sheikha A.: Internet was my only respite and oxygen when I arrived to Pakistan. It was the only way I could stay connected to my original life and not lose myself in the kind of influences surrounding me. I was, automatically, opened to a plethora of literary venues through the online friends/contacts I made. My first proper publishing experience was with eFiction India. It was from there I started looking out of the window, and then walking out the door to travel in different modes of transports that led me to publishing destinations. My goals haven’t been met, as yet, though, but I’m glad to have started, even if quite late (than most ahead of me), but I hope to stay steady at least, if not sprint at fast pace. Soon, Hammer and Anvil followed after Poetry Sans Frontiers. These were the venues I started out with. Facebook introduced me to poetry groups that directed me to links of a variety of magazines and journals whereto I started submitting, only to be met with a tirade of rejections. It was a good thing I didn’t stop and continued striving, otherwise I wouldn’t have succeeded to exist on a global portal as I do today (even if on a small scale). The fact that many magazines and journals now link/share their posts and published works to social media allows every writer to have their work travel countries all from a click away! For people like me who are pathetic at (self) marketing, social media is somewhat helpful in getting me some hits on my shared links. Becoming an admin on Poets, Artists Unplugged, a poetry group on Facebook gave me the opportunity to edit three of their anthologies that has added on not just to my experience, but expertise as well.
Outlar: Being the poetry editor for eFiction India, can you talk a bit about what you are generally looking for in submissions?
Sheikha A.: eFiction India is a venue that harbours the vision to read and publish all kinds of works without bias to themes or style or form or even content! We invite submissions of literally every and any kind, from poetry to prose to short films to scripts to reviews, etc.! We aren’t looking for anything specific that should discourage submitters from shying away from our venue for vacillating in doubt about the theme or quality of their work, because our acceptances and rejections carry personalized feedback with suggestions.
Outlar: What writers and artists have inspired you through the years? What are some of your favorite books? Are there any particular magazines or journals that you return to regularly and would recommend to readers?
Sheikha A.: I read many online magazines. It’s hard to pin point names of venues and artists because I read and get inspired by so many! I have always enjoyed reading comics. I love the graphics and witty lingo. Archie comics is something I grew up on, apart from Snoopy, Cathy, Garfield and a host of other comic strips that I can’t recall from the top of my head right now. I still prefer comics to full length prose. Though I love reading short stories, and Oscar Wilde has always been a source of inspiration for descriptive, lore-like, insinuatingly parable-like, intellectually pensive material. I have read some classical books over the years; I was never a voracious reader because I was always moved and intrigued by visual sensations that comics, short tales, fantastical movies provided. I enjoy thrillers as well. If I were to advise readers on magazines to read, I would tell them to try and read every link they came across and if they liked the material on it, despite the fact they were rejected from that venue, to always let preference of material overrule the pang of rejection. And to continually look for newer venues to read in order to discover new writers and their styles, irrespective of how huge or small its popularity is.
Outlar: 2017 isn’t too long in the tooth just yet. What are your expectations and goals for this year? Are there any exciting new projects you’re involved with at the moment?
Sheikha A.: I’ve started out fairly by getting published in a few magazines already. I have a few upcoming publications as well. But, to talk about goals, I haven’t set any for myself. I went through a self-ambiguity phase in the latter half of 2016 that led me to contemplating spirituality and diverging my course from love and spiritual themes to dark arts and spiritual themes. I think I’m still discovering what I really want to be known for through my writing. This is also a reason why I’ve never been able to put a full-length book together because I write like a two-headed squirrel – getting pulled into different directions. I am not disciplined when it comes to writing. I don’t set myself a target of the day let alone target of a book! Hopefully, soon, I’ll have a collaborative digital chapbook coming out by Praxis Magazine Online, during this year. It’s a chapbook I look forward to because mine and Suvojit’s, the other collaborator, writing complements one another commendably. I am certain it will be noticed and enjoyed by many readers.
Outlar: Here’s one that’s wide open. What is poetry’s purpose in this modern day and age? On a more personal level, what does poetry mean to you?
Sheikha A.: An outlet to express has been important in every era past and present. Poetry is one of the finest forms of expression, as the Dean of our university always emphasized, and rightfully so! It is a medium that can work without rules, and restriction of language too. Poetry can be containment, I guess, when there is too big a truth to speak and the voice isn’t aiding, one can resort to unconventional-ism in the form of written and spoken art in order to release and relieve. Many poets are discovered from slums, working under harsh and inhumane conditions, that are illiterate, prisoners, minor offenders, and many such places where a person’s creativity convenes with conditions and a shocking truth is born. Poetry is personal business that is traded to the emotional socio-economy of people. I have been able to tell a great number of secrets through this form without ever having had anyone revert with a judgment. Poetry allows freedom to not be judged. It is the beauty of telling that makes any truth easy to accept.
Outlar: Thank you again for your time, Sheikha. For all those who are interested in reading more of your work, where can they go to do so?
Sheikha A: I try to maintain a blog, which is more of a publication log book, at sheikha82.wordpress.com. Anyone interested in reading my published content can find them on this link.