“Dheet Haddi” (Thicker Bone): An Interview with Fizza Abbas by Arden Hunter

Fizza Abbas is a writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She is fond of poetry and music. Her work has appeared in more than 90 journals, both online and in print. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Idle Ink, Poetry Village, The Cabinet of Heed, Petrichor, Riggwelter Press, Poetry Pacific, The Stone of Madness Press, Better than Starbucks, Serotonin, Versification, One Hand Clapping Magazine, London Grip, and elsewhere. Her first chapbook, Ool Jalool, won the Fahmidan Publishing 2021 Chapbook Competition and was released the same year, whereas the second collection, “Bakho” (A girl with unkempt tresses) has been published by Ethel Press in 2022. She has also been a Best of The Net nominee and Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition 2021’s shortlistee. She has also won a monthly poetry prompt contest organised by Oxford Brookes University. Besides writing, she runs an interview series for writers on her YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZrZRCg9m_Nk5HR3MOkLfsA). She can be reached out to at @fizzawrites on Twitter.

Arden Hunter: The title of your collection is, ‘Bakho (A girl with unkempt tresses)’. Where did the idea for this title come from, and how does it relate to the pieces?

Fizza Abbas: First of all, thank you so much for asking this question! “Bakho” is an Urdu word that means A girl with unkempt tresses. Since I’d not comb my hair that frequently (not kidding) and if I did, I’d never carry a hairdo the way it should be—they would go all messy within an hour or two. So to embarrass me to change my habit, my mother used to call me bakho. While thinking of a title for this book, I realized my poems somehow emulate my disorderly life and the world at large, so why not go with the name, bakho. This is how the title, “Bakho” was born.

AH: What is the main theme that ties these pieces together?

FA: Chaos that you find in prolonged silence—whether it’s in the form of worldly issues or a kaleidoscope of shades that nature emits.

AH: Do you have a favorite piece in the collection? Which one, and why?

FA: “A Rejection Letter” and “Bonfire.” Not favorites exactly but closer to my heart, yes! These two pieces are like those hardy seedlings that withstood all hardships and adversities yet didn’t give up and remained with me. While “A Rejection Letter” voices my deeply embedded self-hatred, “Bonfire” shares my environmental concerns.

AH: You use language to touch on all five senses in your poetry – what effect do you hope this has on the reader, and how important do you think it is to your writing?

FA: I didn’t realize that, honestly. That’s very kind of you to feel this way. I didn’t make a deliberate effort to do so, it just happened by itself. However, I hope it will give my readers a more visceral experience, so to speak; will have a deep impact on them.

AH: Many of your pieces ask questions, either to a character or to the reader themselves. How do you see these unanswered questions creating a dialogue with the reader?

FA: My intent was to ignite curiosity within my readers so they too can become a part of my quest to answer some of those questions that I haven’t yet found the answers to yet. For instance, in my poem ”The Unburnt Tower,” I’m questioning the establishment that profits off our issues for foreign aid. Similarly, in my poem, ”Words,” I’m acknowledging and criticizing the power of words at the same time, making my readers reflect upon their own relationship with language.

AH: Many of your pieces deal with difficult and important topics—grief, loss, secrets – how do you as a writer maintain your creativity when working with these topics? How do you practice self-care?

FA: I haven’t yet learnt the art of practicing self-care, so I simply put out all that’s there in my heart. In my case, grief is intrinsic to my creative process. I need to ‘feel’ it in order to write about it. I have a propensity to mirror the emotions of people, and it helps me in my craft as well. But I know it’s not healthy; it drains me physically and emotionally. I’m working towards changing my thought patterns, so let’s see.

AH: Throughout the collection, you employ different strategies to emphasize portions of the pieces. In ‘The Unburnt Toast’, there are surprising line breaks. In ‘Trepanning’ and ‘Room 411,’ there are sections of italics. In other pieces you use all caps to bring our attention to certain words. When you are writing, how do you decide which of these strategies to employ, and what do you think they bring to the reader reception of your poems?

FA: I don’t think of these ‘strategies’ when writing a poem. I simply write and then look at a poem to decide what I want my reader to take away from it. Then I read it from top to bottom, from a reader’s perspective to analyze whether my point is coming across to the reader.

AH: Some of your pieces are almost meta in nature—poems about not only the content of that poem, but about the process of writing poetry as well. What draws you to exploring that relationship between writer and writing, and what does it bring you to share that exploration with others?

FA: I’m an exophonic writer. English is my second language, and I’m not the only one who writes in a second language, so I believe when I’ll be sharing my struggles as a writer, other writers who are trying to write in a second or third language will feel they’re not alone in their struggle; somebody else is going through the same process too. Nobody made me feel that way when I was starting, so I want to let other similar writers know that they are not alone. It may encourage them to hone their craft and never stop writing.

AH: In your piece, ‘Inbox,’ you write about that inevitable writer’s experience—rejection. In regards to literary submissions, how do you deal with rejection?

FA: I guess I have grown a thick carapace with the passage of time. In Urdu, we mockingly call this “dheet haddi” (thicker bone). Jokes apart, over the period of two to five years, I realized that rejection is never personal, it’s a formal way of saying that I need to improve my craft, and that’s exactly what I want to do: which means me and the mag’s editor have the same goal, i.e. to help me hone my craft, and that’s what I’m supposed to do. Rejections hurt yes, but they are never to be taken at face value.

There is a very popular self-awakening song, sung by a celebrated Pakistani singer, Nayyara Noor. It’s called “Ay Jazba-e-Dil.” There is a line in that song “Us waqt mjhe bhatka dena jab samne manzil ajaye” (But do let me go astray, when the destination is but a step away). This one-liner has taught me that, in reality, there is not one destination you could aim for in life, everything you aspire to achieve or be, is a far-reaching goal, a means to an end; and since we don’t know “the end,” we keep striving towards one thing or another, and the cycle goes on and on. This always helps me to persevere and continue making deliberate efforts to better myself as a writer.

AH: What would you like readers to take away from your collection? What would you like to be left lingering in their minds?

AF: I want people to feel that you don’t need to have an artistic bent of mind to write. You can write all that you want and people will still read it if it comes across as a genuine piece.

Arden Hunter is an ND aroace agender writer, artist, and performer. They have words, audio and art hosted and upcoming with Full House Literary Magazine, Fifth Wheel Press, and Kissing Dynamite, among other places. They have two books of experimental visual poetry coming out later this year, ‘Drifting Bottles’ through Gutslut Press and ‘Stop Fidgeting’ through IceFloe Press, and a book of poetry ‘Pull Yourself Together’ out through Alien Buddha Press. Find them on Twitter @hunterarden, Instagram @thegardenofarden and at ardenhunter.com.

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