An Interview with Orooj-e-Zafar

When Orooj-e-Zafar isn’t writing and reading to ventilate, she is trying to make it through medical school in her hometown, Islamabad, Pakistan. She volunteers at cahoodaloodaling and The Uncaging, and has had writing published previously at Melancholy Hyperbole, Sula Collective, and two anthologies by Pankhearst (America is Not the World and Slim Volume: This Body I Live In). She won the first Voices In Verse Slam and was a runner-up in Pakistan Poetry Slam 2016. You can find Orooj on Facebook here, and listen to her spoken word poetry here.


Tiegan Dakin: So this is happening.

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Orooj-e-Zafar: I’m ready! (and tingling with excitement!)

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TD: The first thing I’d like to know… How did your life reach where it is now, from being a young child to someone who has their own recorded spoken word album? What started it all?

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OZ: I think a lot of who I am was paved by my parents’ relationship with each other and spending most of my time with my mom, watching her with her friends and siblings. The shift I saw in my mother- how differently she’d treat people, like they are different experiences and you cannot have preconceived notions about people you’ve never met before- was the first thing that I believe made me a better writer. She has this startling empathy for anything and everyone and I tried very hard to be just like that, if I haven’t inherited it myself. Along with that, the music I listened to growing up was a lot of her favourite poetry turned to song. So she would sit hours with me explaining the words and their connotations. It made me fall in love with words, in general. I dedicated “the articulation of my vertebrae” to her.

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The album was a lot of self actualization and about channelling my curse of empathy towards myself and finding out why I am the way I am or feel the way I do.
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TD: That sounds really well thought-out. Can we look forward to any more albums in the future, perhaps dedicated to another person or group of people who are precious to you?
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OZ: Yes! I’ve been working on multiple ideas for more spoken word albums and they all include poems about my family, and some of my friends. I’m just waiting for a break from school so I can dedicate more time to making them all happen.
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TD: What process do you go through in order to produce an album?
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OZ: For “The Articulation of my Vertebrae,” it was purely impulsive. I had had a terrible night and didn’t sleep a wink. In the morning that followed, I got together all the anatomy books I had, plus a laptop, and jotted ideas for the concept of the album and what poems I could include. The days after, I wrote and rewrote the poems I had chosen until I was sure they were truly ‘done’. In the next two weeks I had finished recording and my sister made beautiful artwork for the album as well. After all the digital work was done, my father and sister helped me make physical CDs by helping print, attach and snail mail them to the people who had signed up for the first 25 copies. It was exhilarating!
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Now, I’m only at the blueprints stage for the next albums.

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TD: I bet each of your family members each signed up for a copy!

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OZ: Haha. I think we have one lying around the house, but they were happy to have just one for all.

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TD: They probably all share the one copy to show how united they are in support of your endeavours.
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And has your role as Poetry Reader at cahoodaloodaling shaped the way you write and perform poetry?
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OZ: I used to think my opinion about poetry was irrelevant because I never took literature classes in college (I was pre-medical) but working as a reader made me realize I knew more about the poetry world than I let myself believe. I found out how crucial endings are for me to like a poem, what writing trends soon become cliches I need to avoid, listening to poets reading their works helped me learn even more about diction. Especially with our Trigger Warning Issue, I learned that writing is a movement on its own, and how the most seemingly simple poems can be made political with the right words. I have learned humility by reading the work we received, for Trigger Warning in particular, and harboured great empathy – the strongest tool one needs to be a writer – for struggles I haven’t experienced personally. The editors are a joy to have around and learn from; Rachel and Raquel, together have made me a much stronger writer than I used to be.
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TD: I’ll link them to this, just because of that mention.
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OZ: My heart is complete goo at their mention, so it’s only fair. Haha.
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TD: But back to the topic at hand, I do know that poetry really is a subjective craft. As an associate editor at Zoetic Press- and also the Founder and Chief Editor at The Drowning Gull- I know there are those poems that you read, take a step back afterwards, and say to yourself, “Wow.” Do you have any advice for writers hoping to achieve those pearls of poetic wisdom?
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OZ: Trust your struggles and stories to give you the ‘edge’ you think you have to try for. While it seems that some writers write “better” than you, the world already has one of them. What readers want is one of you. So experiment with your voice but trust the power your own lessons have.
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TD: I’ve never heard such wonderful and original advice in my entire life. Definitely the truest cherry on top of a cliché cupcake.
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