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Interview with Setareh Ebrahimi

Setareh Ebrahimi is an Iranian-British poet living and working in Faversham, Kent. She completed her Bachelor’s in English Literature from The University of Westminster in 2014, and her Master’s in English and American Literature from The University of Kent in 2016. She has been published numerous times in various journals and magazines, including Brittle StarConfluence and Scrittura. Her poetry has also been anthologised numerous times, most recently in Humanagerie by Eibonviale Press.

Setareh released her first pamphlet of poetry, entitled In My Arms from Bad Betty Press in 2018. She regularly performs her poetry in Kent and London and has also hosted her own poetry evenings. She recently featured at SpeakEasy at The Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury, hosted by Harry Baker, and Rad(ish)! Rhymes at The Monument, Canterbury. Setareh is currently an editor for Thanet Writers. Recently she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Wordsmithery for her poem ‘Reckless’. In 2018 Setareh was one of the poets in residence of The Margate Bookie, at The Turner Contemporary Gallery.

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When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?

I’ve told this story quite a few times so I’m almost embarrassed to tell it again, but I first realized my affinity for poetry when I was bunking lessons in year 8 at school with my friend Liz. She showed me two poems, ‘Onion’ by Carol Ann Duffy and ‘Funeral Blues’ by W.H. Auden and I just fell in love with poetry then. That was the first time that I realized that writing could be sacred and special and that it could give you something.

Which is your favorite genre to read? Which is your favorite to write?

I suppose that I mainly read contemporary poetry, but I try to read everything I can really, although I’ll be honest, if it’s really dreadful I tend to avoid it because I find that it messes up my internal rhythms, like putting bad fuel in a car! I think it’s important to read everything within reason and to read as much as you can. Only then can you truly understand what you’re writing.

I think I write contemporary poetry, but looking at my writing from my perspective, it’s hard to know what genre I write, I simply write what I write and often feel I have no control over it. I think that your poetry is going to come out however it comes out, and all you can do is approve, reject and edit it. My poetry covers family, relationships and female issues.

Do you feel like your poetry falls under a certain category, such as experimental, contemporary etc? If you could have your work associated with another poet, who would it be and why?

I think my work falls under contemporary poetry simply because it is contemporary. I think it also falls under feminist poetry, which I’m proud of. I would love to have my work associated with other young contemporary poets writing in the UK now, because they’re doing an incredible job and there’s such variety between them. However, whether or not it can be is a different matter!

Do you participate in spoken word/slam poetry? If so, where can we find your performances? How is writing spoken word different from ‘traditional’ poetry?

I participate in slams when I can and perform my poetry a lot, most recently at the event Speak Up: Celebrating World Book Night as part of London’s Big Read, although I’m just about to have a baby, so I don’t know how many performances I’ll be able to do after that!

I find that there are lots of different genres of poetry events, whether they be open mics, traditional readings, themed events, launches, or other kinds. It’s good to go along and enjoy them all and get something different from them all. There are poets who I greatly admire who I wouldn’t have met were I to only go to one kind of event. Having said that, as a poet, you eventually realise what kind of event best showcases your work.

What is your ‘process’ for writing poetry?

There may be something that I am passionate about that I want to write about, something that’ll play on my mind and echo until I write about it.

However most commonly, an idea that I like or find attractive for whatever reason will present itself to me, and that’ll be my starting point. Other times a few lines, a word or a sentence will come to me, and this will be the starting point of a poem. The more initial information that comes to me about a poem, e.g., the more lines I get initially, the more I find I’m able to finish a successful poem.

Sometimes I keep an idea or a phrase for years before I do this, which is quite interesting, and I know other poets who do this. A friend of mine who is a poet was telling me just yesterday that she used to spent a lot of time doing what seemed like nothing, but actually this was perfect, and important to her writing process, it meant that her ideas could gestate, which is priceless. As a poet you have to allow yourself to think and dream and explore.

Which do you prefer more: writing poetry or reading poetry?

This is a very hard choice. I would say that writing poetry brings me more joy, after all I had to work a lot harder at it than simply reading poetry. However, I do love both dearly and wouldn’t be the poet that I am if I didn’t read so much poetry. I know a lot of poets who rely mostly on their own ideas and internal processes to produce their work, which is absolutely fine, but for me, I need to read poetry in order to feel inspired enough to write it. I like seeing the mechanics and bones of other peoples’ poetry; how it came together.

When writing poetry, do you write from emotion? What usually inspires you? When putting together a chapbook/collection of poetry, what do you keep in mind? How do you keep it a cohesive piece of work?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t write from emotion a lot, and I think that’s apparent in my work. But that’s ok, it means that I actually care about my work and that it means something. I was writing a poem of mine, ‘Seams’, which was published in Scrittura magazine, and that poem more than any others maybe just made me stop and realise how much I write from raw emotion.

In the past pain has inspired me a lot, but this is just because I’m inspired by what’s going on in my life and unfortunately at times there has been a lot of pain. Nowadays I am still inspired by emotions and experiences, but not necessarily those of pain, for example recently I am writing a lot about the process of being pregnant. I just write about whatever is going on with me at the time of writing.

Luckily when me and my publisher were putting In My Arms together, all of the poems were cohesive anyway. I think if you’re writing over a set period of time, when you look back you see that all of the poems are linked in some way. This is what I’m finding at the moment with my writing.

I think the order in which you present poems is important in providing cohesion, and even a narrative within your book.

I know a lot of poets/novelists, writers in general, struggle with marketing themselves and their services. Have you ever encountered this feeling? If so, how did you overcome it?

Marketing can be difficult and it can seem like an obstacle, but the more you view it as an obstacle, the more of it becomes. I deal with it by not worrying about it too much and just doing what I can, when I can. As long as I do as much as I can and feel that I’ve done all I can, that’s good enough for me.

It helps to be social media savvy, and to follow the work and careers of other poets, writers and organisations to see what they’re doing in terms of marketing.

As you go on, opportunities come up as a writer, including promotional opportunities. It’s about making the most of opportunities when they come along.

Do you feel that social media has helped poets? Why or why not? If so, what platform do you believe has helped you the most with marketing yourself?

I think social media helps poets massively, I can’t imagine having become successful without it. It helps you share your work with your community and to experience theirs, which is the most important thing. In a world like poetry connection with others is one of the most important things, and social media helps with that immeasurably. My favourite platform to use personally is Instagram, because it’s the one that I feel helps me express myself and my aesthetic best. It used to be Tumblr, but their anti-nudity rules have made things a real drag. I’m currently in the process of creating a WordPress website.

What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?

Is there such a thing as writer’s block? Maybe sometimes you’re just not meant to write something. I believe that some of my ideas are just that, ideas. They were never all going to be poems and that’s ok.

Also, writers need blocks of time away from their writing to come back with new themes and ideas. Otherwise work can become too self-referential. Carol Ann Duffy said that she has long periods of not writing and that she’s happy with that. So am I, there have been years when I haven’t written. It’s crucial for a writer to have time to think and gestate ideas. The incubation period of creativity cannot be underestimated. A writer may think that they have writer’s block and that they’re not actually incubating ideas, but I would be tempted to say that they are.

A lot of writers struggle with time management. Do you have a

day job? If so, how do you balance work, writing (poetry and your novel), family, and personal time?

When I was working a lot, about 40 hours a week, I wasn’t writing at all. To be honest I was pretty depressed about it, but there just wasn’t the time physically. So yes, doing that much work does very literally hinder you from writing.

But having said that, the idea that a ‘normal’ day job takes away from creativity to me doesn’t ring true, I think if anything it works the other way, a regular job stops your creativity becoming stagnant because you have something outside of yourself to concentrate on and you’re interacting with people. You’re also not under pressure to write, which can be one of the biggest killers of creativity.

If you’re a poet then you’re a poet, there’s no helping that and having a day job is not going to stop it, it’s going to come out sometime. Personal life to me is often the inspiration in my poetry, so I can hardly call it a hinderance. As for balancing family life, I’ll have to tell you how it goes when my baby is born!

What do you want the readers to know about you?

That my poetry is genuine and sincere, that it comes from a place of real emotion and an actual desire to communicate with people and form connections, to make myself and others less lonely. I once told a famous poet in a seminar that I wanted normal people to be able to read my poems, and he said ‘that’s nice’ as if I was a lunatic. The rest of the seminar was a bit awkward…

To me poetry is too important for posturing or obscurity for its own sake or elitism. In poetry we need to talk about the experience of being alive right now.

Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five

years? The next ten years?

I would like to continue to write the best poems that I am able to write and to publish more books. Obviously all writers would like as much success for their work as possible and I am no exception. I plan to take advantage of all opportunities as they come to me and be the best writer that I can be. Being creative is wonderful in the sense that you can do as much or as little as you want to do.

Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?

My next performance will be at the event New Found Land: Maidstone Fringe Festival Poetry Afternoon at the Maidstone Fringe Festival, Kent, UK, where there are a lot of other fantastic poets reading. As well as this my poem ‘Spring’ will be appearing in the audio poetry magazine Mind the Gap, which will be released on 30th April 2019.

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