Sarwa Azeez – Remote

Can you tell us a little about your life in Iraq?

I was born immediately after my parents got displaced from their village due to Iraq-Iran war and settled in a small town called Soran. Two of my aunts are poets. They read and write in Kurdish. They used to read their poems to their friends and relatives out loud. I was around 8, I did not exactly know what these poems were about, but I knew they included themes of freedom, war and gender discrimination. I remember how excited I became each time I went to their homes and picked poetry books from their library shelves. They had two half-walls of bookshelves.

I taught Creative Writing in Soran University after I finished MA in English Studies in Leicester University. In 2016 after joining NGOs, I worked with Refugees and IDPs, supporting their women and children in our region.

When did you begin writing?

I began writing in high school. I started with non-fiction writing for my assignments. My first work of writing was an article about aesthetics of Kurdish Traditional Indoor Games

Are you mainly drawn to writing poetry or do you also write prose?

I tend to write poems more often. Sometimes I write prose, especially for my blog. I really enjoy it, but to me it takes me longer to finish prose than poetry.

When and where were you first published?

My first poem was published in a Kurdish local journal for children in 2002 which was about hazards of landmines and ways to avoid them.
My first chapbook Remote is published by 4word in June 2019.   

Can you describe your journey to publication?

Growing up in Kurdistan, it was really difficult for me to find a publisher in the UK or other western countries. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do Creative Writing in the US. But I was fortunate enough to know some great writers from the UK before I move to the US. I showed my poems to them and got positive reviews for them. Among these writers were Drs Muli Amaye, Graham Mort and Peter Kalu. Graham Mort showed my poems to Stella Wulf, 4word’s publishing manager. She accepted to bublish my first chapbook Remote.

When and where do you write?

I don’t have a specific time or place for writing. Different things inspire me or push me to write. For example, I read an article, watch a documentary, if it is about contemporary issues such as migration, war or violence, I want to cry, when I know no one cares or listens, I grab my notebook sometimes my laptop and write a poem about it.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

I start with writing prose, then comes my favourite part which is trimming and adding words. Sometimes a long poem will turn into few lines, other times the complete opposite will happen.

Do you think your style has changed over time?

When I first began writing poems I worried too much about the style, I tried to care extra attention to stanza, rhyme, syllables and so on. But then I tried to focus on tone and subject matter, I realised that your own unique style will always be created afterwords. When I compare my early poems to the recent ones, I see that style has changed significantly.

What writers influenced you and which poets do you continually go back to if any?

Raymond Carver, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Warsan Shire, Elif Shafaq, Ursula K Le Guin, Tarfia Faizulla and many more. I believe that throughout all their stories and poems one finds a remarkable spirit of universality. When I travel I realise that I cannot stop myself from re-reading those especially Carver and Le Guin’s books on the plane or bus.

What are you reading now?

Solmaz Sharif’s LOOK. It is an amazing poetry book.

What advice, if any, would you give to an aspiring poet?

Observe things, see life then paint it with your own words. Believe in the magic brush in your head, it always knows how to stroke and bring life and hope onto the page.

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