Books / Poetry

Interview: Shagufta K Iqbal

By joe melia, Tuesday Jul 25, 2017

Shagufta K Iqbal has been a star performer at poetry and spoken word events for several years, both locally and nationally. She also produces work for the theatre, contributes to magazines, runs workshops and is an accomplished film maker. Joe Melia found out more about the Bristol-based writer’s work and her recently-published poetry collection, Jam is for Girls, Girls Get Jam.

You’ve been performing your poetry for many years; how does it feel to have a collection published?

Scary, and exciting, and nerve wrecking and one of my proudest and humblest moments. Being a spoken word artist I must admit the permanence of print was, at first, very intimidating.  But it doesn’t beat the joy of sharing something with the world, with a publishing company that have such an amazing list of poets on their books.

With such a vast body of work how difficult was it to select poems for the collection?

I think it has been really useful to have such a selection to choose from, so I can offer what I consider are the best pieces. Most of these poems have been written over a ten year period, so finding a coherent way of putting the poems together was challenging.

While doing some research on Punjab it seemed logical to me that the chapters should be divided into rivers.  Punjab literally means: five rivers. And each river comes with it’s own story, myth, tragedy, and magic.  Of course the collection starts with the River Avon!

You said in a recent interview that you’re working on a film based on the title poem; how visual is your poetry to you when you’re writing or performing it? 

Much of my writing is visual, it is about placing the reader into the world of my imagination. I enjoy creating a sensory experience through words alone.

You have also said before that “dyslexia made me a poet”. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

Growing up I had always struggled to stick to the rules of grammar, so poetry finally gave me a place to be playful and experimental with language. It is about how you see the world, and how the language that makes sense of your world can relay that to others.

Which performers and writers have had the biggest impact on you?

Arundhati Roy, Lauryn Hill, Bjork, Plath, Warsan Shire, Shazea Quraishi, Maragret Atwood, Austen.  In fact too many to list.

The live poetry scene has arguably never been stronger, not only in Bristol but throughout the UK. Why do you think that it is flourishing so well?

I don’t know, I can only guess that people want to hear an alternative narrative, people are tired of the same stories coming through mainstream and traditional outlets.  You can go to an open mic night anywhere across the UK and hear something you are waiting to have reflected back to you.  I think that is really quite beautiful.  Finding belonging in something, knowing that others feel the same way as you, deal with things the way you deal with things, experience what you have experienced.  You don’t feel alone when you hear those words.

Where can people see you performing and reading over the next few months?

This summer you can catch me at WOMAD, Shambala, Burnt Roti Launch in London, and Superheroes of Slam at Watershed on September 26.

Shagufta’s debut poetry collection, Jam is for Girls, Girls Get Jam (Burning Eye Books, £9.99) is out now.

Read more: My Bristol Favourites – Shagufta Iqbal


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