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‘My inner hell’: Anjum Saleemi on what inspires him to write poetry

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Anjum Saleemi is one of the few poets who has been able to get recognition not only in Pakistan but across the borders in India too.

He was born on 10th October 1963 in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) in a family of businessmen. The home atmosphere was not congenial for literature although one of the uncles was dabbling in poetry.

Anjum’s first writing was printed in a children magazine.

In the old days, poets would get ‘Islah’ from seniors but Anjum is self-taught poet. He claims that he learnt mostly from the meetings of Halqa-Arbab-e-Zaoq, Faisalabad. In seventies, like the Pakistani society, there was division among writers too. The writers were also divided on ideological basis.

His publications include Sukay Athro (1980), Santaap (1996), Aik Qadeem Khyaal Key Nagrani Mien (2005) among others. According to Anjum, poetry itself is neither progressive, reactionary, imperialist, communist, resistance or revolutionary, religious, regional or sectarian—poetry is poetry or no poetry. The labeling on poetry is the result of such ideological movements, which want to sacrifice poetry to achieve its non-literary ends.

Poetry demands from poets that they should be seen in the perspective of beauty, love, peace and truth. So poetry cannot be divided into compartments. It is the time that shallow and temporary nature non-literary movements should be condemned.

What motivates you to write poetry?

My inner hell. A conscious, sensitive human being cannot get rid of the hell of society in which we are living. The purpose of my creation is to see human beings in their true colors. Love, beauty, good people, good birds, good seasons make me gloomy. This is the source of my poetry. The complete, the and incomplete which forces me to create.

Would you like to comment on your Punjabi poetry?

You cannot experiment without distorting the world. I have done successful and unsuccessful experimentation in my book of Punjabi poetry ‘Santaap.’ I don’t beg mercy from the literary critics. The role of the literary critic is to judge. I did try to liberate Punjabi diction from nostalgic and old attitudes. The poet should give new meaning and find out new dictions.

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The literary persons have been divided into groups?

It is not my problem. There may be literary groups because contentions give rise to new questions, open new vistas of debate. Unfortunately the dialogue is missing. New questions and issues are being discussed in literary circles. The serious and genuine writers are not part of literary sectarianism. Creativity waits for time and is created in a specific period. The writer waits for that time.

Don’t you think electronic media damaged culture of reading?

I don’t think it has caused great damage. There is lot of propaganda; no doubt it has affected the peace of the home. The ‘dish’ does not give you food for thought. There was a real joy of reading book in the bed while lying. Book would be only be affected if you show serious movies and films on TV.

Would you like to comment on the high prices of books?

It depends on your paying capacity. One may be able to buy Rs. 500/- book or one may not have money to pay for a Rs. 20 one.

You are a publisher as well a writer. Would you like to comment on this relationship?

Publishers have played a very important role to make the book attractive. There is dearth of genuine publishers. Most of them are printers. Only such publishers would be remembered who play the role of a bridge between writer, book and reader.

You have been visiting India would you like to share your experience?

In India, there is good work being done in fiction and literary criticism and good poetry is being produced. They are producing good songs but Nazam and Ghazal are missing. The songs are popular and produced due to film and religion.

In East Punjab, they read poetry in lyricism. And due to Taranum, good poetry is not being produced. Good poetry is found in books not in songs and it will only survive in books.

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Have you been getting ‘Islah (Guidance)’ from someone?

No I did not get formal Islah from anyone. I had/have been consulting friends. I am still learning. This process is still on.

What did you write first, Nazm or Ghazal?

I started with Ghazals and then I wrote Nazms, mostly in Punjabi. Later I started ‘nasri nazm’ (Prose poem). I think this is the most difficult genre.

Why did you start writing prose poetry?

To highlights the problems of issues of today in a way that people understand them best. Ghazal is different because you have different ideas and you have to use different words. In poem, you have a wider and unlimited choice.

What should be the role of a poet/writer?

The role and aim of a writer had/has been to seek truth. Everybody knows the half-truth and no one has complete truth. The effort to find the complete truth stimulates the writer to write.

Did any poet or book inspire you?

Lots of books and poets have inspired me. But young writers and poets of 1980’s amaze me quite a lot. I have a lot of friends from this generation.

Why you thought of publishing a literary magazine?

It was because the writers of Faisalabad did not get space in national papers. I thought there should be a local Faisalabad literary paper to represent poets and writers from the area. This was the aim. Fortunately, it has been very popular here and aboard.

The interview was originally contributed to The Herald

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