I actually try not to offend people with my political pieces. For me poetry is about communication and I don’t want to shut people’s ears/minds to what I am trying to get across. Also, I don’t think one can write successful political poetry by screaming at people, so I try to be subtle, which is sometimes hard for me in real life. It sounds cliche, but I am interested in dialogue and hope to bring that about with my work. And, if people hate my stuff, I want to know and I especially want to know why.
Do you think there’s a difference in personal and political art?
For some people, yes. For me, no. Besides poetry, I also practice Butoh which is an avant-garde Japanese modern dance form which was conceived as a style of dance protest to the Westernization of Japan after WWII. I have a 25-year dance performance background and dropped all other dance forms when I found Butoh. Since Butoh is not about making pretty forms in space or having specific technical skills it is pretty much opposite of all other dance forms which makes it automatically political.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Suttree (Cormac McCarthy), Every Love Story is a Ghost Story (D.T. Max), Savage Sunsets (Adrian C. Louis), A Brilliant Novel in the Works (Yuvi Zalkow), Calamity Joe (Brendan Constantine).
You grew up here in Los Angeles and moved away and came back. Why move back to LA?
The hot, hot weather – seriously – the hotter the better. I grew up in Altadena and in 1990 I moved to an island in the Puget Sound outside of Seattle. I lived up there for 18 years and I never thought I’d live in LA again, but I knew I couldn’t stay in 10 months of cold and grey every year. Also the freedom the space gives us here and the diversity and open attitude of most people. People hug and kiss you on the street here. And the smog is pretty much gone!
Where does your name come from?
My name is an Arabic woman’s name and it’s the name of the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad. I am a Muslim convert and converted 20 years ago. That sometimes confuses people but my poetry is very much in line with the socially conscious ideology of my religion. Seriously.
What is the poetry scene in LA like?
LA is huge and spread out and has a pretty significant poetry scene to match. That means that there is poetry happening in most corners of the city several nights a week. The downside is that the logistics tend to segregate the community and you have to really spend a lot of time traveling around to catch all the wonderfulness that is the poetry out there happening in LA.
Why do you write about place so much?
I am pretty obsessed with place. I find it fascinating how place affects us. For example the difference between my kids’ experience of, say, 4th of July in Seattle – some years it would rain so hard we would have to sit in the car with the windshield wipers going to watch fireworks, and most years it’s at least cold enough to need a jacket, which is so opposite of my experience growing up in LA waiting in the heat of the day wearing tank tops and shorts, our bare feet getting scorched on the hot cement waiting for it to get dark enough to shoot off fireworks. I am also interested in how and why place haunts some of us so much, the weather, the geography, the birds and plants.
How important is storytelling to you as a poet?
For me, storytelling is really important in the poetry that I like to read. When I write though, I don’t consciously think about it too much. I think that all poems are stories however, and I get caught up most in those poems that I feel are true stories, even if they obviously are not!
What is your writing process like?
That’s a sort of complicated question. I don’t write every day, although I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have another job I would. Usually poems get stirred up by some kind of emotional response to something and other times reading or, more usually, hearing other people’s poetry inspires me to write. I respond well to prompts which is why I like to go to workshops. I also am completely interested in other people’s reactions to my work – not just as an ego trip, but to find out what doesn’t work for them in a poem, even though I know it’s impossible to connect with everyone I am interested in discovering what works for most people.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a chapbook about growing up during the Civil Rights and Cold War eras in a dysfunctional family while Leave It To Beaver was the epitome of what families at that time were supposed to be like. It’s rather depressing and repetitively obsessive. As a break from those poems, some of which have been pretty challenging to write, I maintain a little stockpile of poems from various prompts or random tries and pick away at those to cheer me up and feel like I’m working.
Wait – didn’t you just have your first book published?!?
YES I DID AND IT’AWESOME!!! It’s called History of Butoh and uses poems about Butoh to weave through my other poems about place, politics, Islam, and sex. My son Flynn made a limited edition CD of music that comes with the book if you order through the publisher (writ large press), and an amazing artist (and actress) Melora Walters created 7 woodcuts that are used as the cover artwork and in the different sections of the book. It’s a wonderful collaboration and I am especially proud of it because of that.