Q. Please tell us a bit more about yourself and how you started writing poetry?
I’m 18 years old, studying A levels in English Literature, Sociology, and Psychology, and I am from the wonderful city of Birmingham! I started writing poetry around four years ago. I would say my love for poetry was firstly born out of a love for people, really. I’ve always enjoyed all parts of human nature; love, sadness, anger, grief. All of it. Even tiny details like the way someone’s shoulders slouch fascinates me. Poetry was a means for me to capture that.
Q. It’s been a year since you won the Foyles Young Poet of the Year Award. What was that day like?
Oh, gosh. A whirlwind, at best. It all just felt a bit of a blur, especially as at that point, I had never really read my work out loud to many people. It was definitely inspiring too. Having such a concentrated amount of young talent in one room was incredible, and being able to hear such a diverse cross section of poetry was an experience I’ll never forget. That day undeniably proved to me that hearing poetry is a whole other experience to reading poetry.
Q. What impact has it made on you and your work?
Ever since winning the award, my love for poetry has just grown and grown. I have become a much more confident reader, as well as being able to appreciate other’s work more. As part of winning the Foyle Young Poets Award, I attended an Arvon course in Shropshire alongside Imtiaz Dharker and Glyn Maxwell. That experience has had such a profound effect on my work, especially in terms of structure. When I come to edit my work, structure is always at the forefront of my mind- is that line break appropriate? Do I want to increase the speed of that particular stanza? Can introducing a traditional structure help add another dimension to my work? These are all questions that I never really considered before attending the Arvon Course. I have also learnt the beauty of writing under pressure. Having a set time to write is something I have always found extremely daunting, but attending the course has shown me that what can be produced in a set time frame is usually very interesting.
Q. And what have you gone on to do since?
Since winning the award, I have taught a workshop on structure (oh, the irony!) and meaning at Newstead Wood Girls school in Kent. I have also been featured on a few online magazines, as well as being included in SL magazine (a youth magazine that circulated most of the colleges/schools/sixth forms in Birmingham, as well as local libraries).
Q. Who would you say has had the most influence on your work?
Ah, such a hard question. I definitely have a lot to owe to the American Beat poets such as Ginsberg and Kerauc, as their concentrated passion is something I try to emulate in my work. Other writers who have had a massive influence on me include Margaret Attwood, and the Japanese love poet Yosano Akiko. Despite the huge gaps of time between both writers, they both capture so much in such little words. It is so incredible and even ‘incredible’ fails as an adjective to describe how I feel about their work.
Q. And what is your favourite poem?
The moment- Margaret Attwood. Wow.
Q. What do you think makes a poem?
I don’t think we’ll ever find the ‘answer’ to this question. However, I shall try to have a go despite how inadequate I feel to be answering such a vast question! Personally, a poem for me is the capturing of the ‘gaps’ in our lives, the moments that seem so, so fleeting that we often try to dismiss them, but they just need to be untangled in our minds.
Q. Tell us a bit more about how you find inspiration for a poem and what the writing process involves?
As I discussed before, most of my inspiration comes from observing different people and trying to examine an event, or an emotion from a different angle. Another massive part of inspiration comes from reading different works, albeit if its poetry or not. I definitely believe that the best way to inspire ones self is to read, read and read. My writing process is unfortunately very chaotic usually. I try to just pour all the words out, no matter how much they do not make sense. The editing process is consequently, the most crucial part. It is when I start to consider structure, and language choices to give my work another meaning, or another dimension.
Q. Do you think a poet is born or made?
I’d like to think everyone is born a poet, and sometimes they just need a bit of encouragement to see it’s there. I also think it’s important to note how the definition of poetry is so wide now. It isn’t just sticking to a conventional structure and using a rhyming scheme. It can be spoken, or performed. It may now be the case that someone is a poet without even realising it.
Q. Finally what do you think your poetry says about you?
That I can always see a situation in a different way.
Safrina Ahmed I have been commended in the Foyle Young Poets Award (2010), won the Foyle Young Poets Award (2011) and therefore have had work included in the anthology ‘Fools for love and salt’. I have also had my poetry appear on thesquawkback.com, bluejewyorker.com, and have been published in SL magazine.