An Interview with Nouri Sardar

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Nouri SardarPoetry comes from the heart and from emotions; that is essentially what it is. A poem doesn’t necessarily reflect reality; it reflects the emotion and heart of the writer.

Nouri SardarNouri Sardar is part of the ever evolving Shia youth movement in London, England. Nouri himself often reads his poetry to crowds, and has in the past appeared on Ahlul Bayt TV (Sky 842), as well as in a number of events and seminars. He holds a particular love of writing in English, with which he spreads the message of the Ahlul Bayt to the whole world in English lamentations and poetry. We asked Nouri to tell us about his poetry and share his experiences with others aspiring to become poets.

Were you always writing poetry?

Firstly I’d like to thank you and thank Islamic Insights for this opportunity, and I hope all your hard work here continues to push the website to blossom and to be the beacon for so many that it already is.

Have I always been writing poetry? Not at all, I began experimenting with poetry about 4 years ago, and I suppose we can say professionally writing for 2 years (although with every year I progress, and so every year I’m satisfied with my writing and would call it ‘professional’ – whilst looking back at my previous year and thinking these are not to standard!)

Name the 3 poems you are most proud of writing, the ones that you personally cannot forget.

I have a number of poems that are genuinely close to my heart. One would be “A Rose in a Garden”, which speaks about a wanderer in a garden who finds a rose – a metaphor for the Wilayah of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) which then speaks to him. Obviously this is a reflection of the blessing of being a Shi’a, however I don’t love this poem for the topic, but for the use of imagery. It’s probably the first time I wrote a poem so outside my usual forte, especially in terms of the way it is structured

“Muslim” is another personal favorite. My longest poem looks at member of the Ahlul Bayt, with one verse on who they are, and one on what I learned from them. This was a very important poem for me to write, because it was based on the balance between reflecting upon, loving and mourning for the Holy Household, and providing lessons to take home. As a third I would say “Revolutions”, because it embodies almost everything that I perceive the message of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) to be, and a poem that I’m very proud of. All of these poems can be found on my website.

Many poets have different methods of writing; some write on paper and then transmit to the blog, others type their work out in word and then transfer it. What is your preferred writing method?

Once I bought a book and a beautiful pen that I promised to only use for writing poetry; it was wonderful. But as a youth of the digital age, I actually love writing on my Blackberry. Simply because it is easy, comfortable and I travel a lot during the day, which is when I usually write.

What inspired you to write particularly for the Ahlul Bayt?

Poetry comes from the heart and from emotions; that is essentially what it is. A poem doesn’t necessarily reflect reality; it reflects the emotion and heart of the writer. So if I was going to go into poetry, there is nothing else I’d rather write about, because I am inspired by these personalities a lot. As for the inspiration itself, it only comes from Allah, and that’s a both a gift and a blessing. A man can hear or see something fascinating or inspiring a hundred times; it may inspire him only once, or even never. That’s from Allah.

Has travel influenced your poetry?

As a Shi’a I’ve only left England to visit Iraq (and Wales once). Seeing the people in the holy cities like Karbala, Najaf and the province of Kathemiyya, how much they love the Ahlul Bayt and Imam Hussain, and the experiences there, changes one a lot. In a good way, it broadens your perspective and it uplifts you beyond imagination. I still remember leaving Najaf and beginning the walk to Karbala, the things I saw are images that are still imprinted on my mind as clear as day. Even walking in Karbala, near the shrines, the feeling you get there are untold. It’s like you’re in Heaven, there’s no other way to describe it. It’s like how being in love is described, and I’ve even used that comparative in a poem. These experiences change you, that is one thing those who go to visit don’t seem to tell us. And most definitely my poetry post-Arba’een this year reflects that a lot. There’s a lot more emotion, there’s much more beautiful imagery, and the language has improved – I’m guessing because my mind is more open.

What types of poems do you find yourself writing most? Do you have a recurring type?

I’m known (and criticized) for writing a lot of sad poems, focusing on the tragedies of the Holy Household. I don’t perceive it as something that “holds me back” at all; right now it is my specialty and it is the pride of what I do. Their tragedies evoke our emotions and bring us to fall in love with them. Plus, no one can deny that there is a certain something that comes with mourning and our typical periods of mourning – Muharram has its own spiritual atmosphere that brings millions together in commemoration. I do enjoy exploring beyond though. Writing poetry in memory and praise of the Ahlul Bayt is a wonderful challenge that allows me to experiment and improve, and as you can see above, those poems that I hold to be my best aren’t typically ones of mourning. Yet first and foremost, for the moment anyway, I write for their tragedies before anything else. “By her (Fatima Zahra, peace be upon her) highness, I will not take after ‘The House of Sorrows’, a house of joy” – Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance).

Where do you perform your poetry?

I am invited to read at Islamic conferences and University seminars. I’ve only been doing this for a year or so, and to be honest it was me who at first had to ask for the privilege, which is what you have to do in the beginning. Now alhamdulillah I find myself invited, read at numerous events, and always accept any opportunity.

Your poetry is emotional, honest and stimulating. What do you try to convey to your listeners?

Poetry to me is emotion on paper. What I try to convey is firstly my own emotion, my own perception of the sorrows of the Holy Household; that is first and foremost. Its aim is to play with the heart. This is why on a side note, anyone who reads my poetry a lot will get an idea of what kind of person I am, because it is my own heart that I put on that piece of paper. And similarly anyone who picks up a volume of my poetry will be able to get an idea as to what kind of year I’ve had. Though I don’t necessarily intend it, it is always my own emotions and sometimes even experiences that I write down.

Beyond that, and I’ve used this metaphor a lot, I see peoples’ imagination as a canvas and my words as a paint brush. Often what I aim for is to lose the listeners or readers in the poem, to play with their imagination via imagery.

But what’s important to note is that I don’t always aim to fascinate and baffle an academic mind. Sometimes I do, but other times I just write poetry for myself, and a lot of the poems you may read, I have written simply for myself.

Essentially, whenever I see someone crying as a result of my words, or else entranced by them, that is when I can say I’ve accomplished my goal, and I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve in writing the poem. Now, some might say that means you write to please the people, which is wrong. I don’t do this for fame or to be praised; I don’t see myself as anything to begin with. Deep down all I only write for is myself and the Ahlul Bayt. Working to spread my poetry as far as possible is different than wanting the world to know what kind of person I am. And if I had to write poetry for my eyes only, not to be read nor published nor uploaded onto the internet, I would still write it.

It’s also words of encouragement that always push me to write better and improve. I sometimes get messages from people I don’t know and have never met, saying they’ve been touched by my words and thanking me for writing. These people will never understand how much those messages mean to me. It makes all the hard work worth it, truly.

What are you working on now?

It’s been a long time since I had an idea for a poem that took me ages to visualize and complete, since an excellent poem will always be a rarity in my eyes. But generally I always try to write in advance of the birth and death anniversaries of the Holy Household. I do however have a few ideas floating around in my mind. I love to personify things that the reader doesn’t expect. So for example I’ve just recently had this idea for the holy month of Ramadan, a poem depicting a conversation between Imam Ali and patience as he refers to all the calamities that befell him. I want to write a poem comparing Hazrat Abbas and Imam Ali as well, with some way to depict a contrast. Other poems that I end up writing start with an image that comes to my mind, for example, I had this image of Abbas kneeling on one knee on top of his grave in my mind, and he’s alert and looking at each of his visitors, and I ended up writing a poem about it. So I have a few ideas.

I’m looking to eventually expand to topics beyond the Holy Ahlul Bayt, although always relating back to them. Poetry on things like patience, forbearance and prayer sound simple but when you research about them, the way they are described in narrations by the Ahlul Bayt is mesmerizing. I’m also looking to start writing poetry about Allah.

Who are some poets you’re reading now?

In my experience, writing poetry is like being overcome by emotion and energy which you are pouring out into words. So when I put it down and come to read it later, without that inspiration and emotion, I read it as an outsider. Therefore I do like to read my own writing, look over it and see what I enjoyed, what I’ve overused, what I need to elaborate on, and generally what I could have improved

I also have a very adaptive mind. Whatever I see, experience and read comes out in what I write. I always read and listen to Arabic poetry, whether it is via spoken words or recited as eulogies and nasheeds, mainly because I love it and secondly, because my understanding of Arabic is far from perfect. The gaps of what I don’t understand from the poem are always filled by my imagination, and are based on the parts I do understand. This refreshes my creative mind and by listening to a lot of it, it moulds the way I write.

Aside from Arabic poetry I read Taher Adel’s poems on www.shiapoetry.com. What I do is more like lyrics, with its essence poetry, while what he writes is true English poetry. And since it is so genuine, it’s very important on a wider scale, particularly to the academic non-Muslim world.

When do you expect to have your own collection of poetry or have a CD published?

I was close to rushing to release one not long ago, but I think I’ll take my time with it. Much like the book, I have no idea how it’ll be received, since no one has really done anything like it. But I do know that some people prefer spoken words to English latmiyat just as others prefer English latmiyat to spoken words, so I feel it is very important to make one. I will release one insha’Allah, I’m thinking for Muharram 1433, but I want to ensure it is perfect and I don’t want to rush it.

What advice do you have for other Muslim writers out there who are having difficulties with their writing, or who have yet to see their work in print, or who are afraid to perform their poetry?

In terms of writing, it is simply practice that makes perfect. I continuously write and I learn new things all the time. I look back at some of my poems that I used to really love, but now I think about how much better I could have done. And in the years to come I’m sure I’ll say the same about my favorite poems now.

Poetry is from the heart, if you’re serious and passionate about it, it’ll show in what you write. If you take it as nothing more than a hobby, it will show. What comes from the heart touches the heart

In terms of being “successful”, as long as you write, particularly for the Ahlul Bayt, you will see success, 100% guaranteed. And the rewards are immense which is enough of a reason to do it.

The world is in dire need of Islamic-related arts. A religion that still suffers from the perception of old-Arab traditions needs to be spoken about to the people on their level. Speaking through poetics is one way to guide, invite, or simply open a closed mind, and is a wonderful and beautiful way to do so. If anyone does feel the passion to write, they should do so. More often than not, the heart to write exists but the writer has no idea which words to put down. My advice to these people: it happens, it’s normal, but just be patient, be steadfast, and eventually you’ll write gold. As long as the intention is pure it will happen.

In terms of performing, public speaking was never my strong point, in fact it scared me. But reading from a paper is easy, the words are all there, the wonder is just in how you read them. And even though you are simply just reading, there is still an art to it, and you still have to practice otherwise it’ll show. In terms of fear, you just have to push yourself up there, and remind yourself there’s a bigger cause to fight for and a fearful or shy heart isn’t more important than it. And once you do start reading more and more, you’ll get used to it. Once thing I notice is once you’re reading in front of a crowd, especially if it’s near a pulpit, a surge of strength always comes to you.

In terms of how to read, I personally have a strong tone with powerful verses, a soft or sad tone with touching ones. I try to start soft and end strong. It’s a bit like reading a story, and your mission is to capture the listener, the way you read it is an important aspect of it. I’m yet to master it so I wouldn’t call myself an expert.

Poets are often said to be eccentric. Please end this interview by creating 2 sentences poetic, strange or quietly profound.

I’ll end with a verse that puts forward a paradox to what I do – yet encompasses exactly why I write:

O’ who asks define this Household,
I reply with words silent
Let my tears show them this Household
As my tears are defiant
Tears I cry because your beauty
Leaves all my heart impatient
As no poet can do justice
To describe a golden chain

Nouri’s poems can be found on his website.

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