Literature
9:00 am
Mon April 29, 2013

Dilruba Ahmed: An Outsider Turns To Poetry

Originally published on Sun April 28, 2013 6:40 pm

April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate, Weekend Edition is talking with younger poets about why they chose to write poetry and why it's still important in our everyday lives. This week, we spoke to Bangladeshi-American poet Dilruba Ahmed.

Ahmed says it's a little difficult to tease out exactly why she started writing poetry. "I can only guess that it was sort of two major factors," she says. "One was that I grew up in a literature-loving household. ... My parents are from Bangladesh, which is a country where poetry is very much a part of the cultural fabric. I think probably the other reason is that, growing up, my family moved a lot. And so that experience of being an outsider over and over again, sort of, small towns in western Pennsylvania and rural Ohio, and just trying to figure things out, sort of where I fit in, and I'm sure other people were trying to figure out where I fit in too, and we were all sort of trying to figure each other out. Being an outsider had a large influence on my poetry — maybe not my earliest efforts, but when I really started trying to write in earnest."

"There's potential for poetry to have more of a presence in public life," she continues. "At formal events like readings, or things like the poems that have been posted on buses — you know, I love that idea of that sort of carrying a poem in your pocket. That might be a way to start incorporating poetry into one's everyday life."


Ghazal

It's wine I need. Is it a sin to have another?
No harm in merlot, no harm in another.

In Ramadan, we'll break our fast with dates and wine —
Must we pray in one room and dance in another?

Crushed blossoms at the end of the summer: teach me
how to coax nectar from the bloom of another.

Burned rice on the stove again: what's to love
but my imperfections — you'll forgive me another.

Butter by a kettle always melts, warns the proverb.
Heated, greased, we slip one into the other.

When, inexplicably, you enter my prayers,
I hear messages from one god or another.

Me encanta cantar, cuando estoy sola, en el carro.
My mother tongue dissolves. I speak in another.

Heart-thief, enter the fields like a woman in love,
vase in one hand, shears in the other

From Dhaka Dust, copyright 2011 by Dilruba Ahmed. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.


Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

April is National Poetry Month. And all month long, WEEKEND EDITION is talking with younger poets about how they began writing and the importance of poetry in everyday life.

DILRUBA AHMED: My name is Dilruba Ahmed and I am a writer. And I'm a current a lecturer with the low residency MFA program at Chatham University.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AHMED: The reason I first started to write poetry is kind of hard to tease out. I can only guess that it was sort of two major factors. One was that I grew up in a literature-loving household. My parents are from Bangladesh, which is a country where poetry is very much a part of the cultural fabric.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AHMED: I think probably the other reason is that growing up my family moved a lot. And so that experience of being an outsider over and over again sort of small towns in Western Pennsylvania and rural Ohio and just trying to figure things out> Sort of where, you know, where I fit in and I'm sure other people were trying to figure out where, you know, where I fit in too. And we were all sort of trying to figure each other out.

There's potential for poetry to have more of a presence in public life, whether that's, you know, at formal events, like readings or things like poems that have been posted on buses. You know, I love that idea of that sort of carrying a poem in your pocket. That might be a way to start incorporating poetry into one's everyday life. The poem I'm going to read is a Ghazal, and the title is "Ghazal." This is a poem that is ancient in origin from Persia. "Ghazal."

(Reading) It's wine I need. Is it a sin to have another? No harm in merlot, no harm in another. In Ramadan, we'll break our fast with dates and wine. Must we pray in one room and dance in another? Crushed blossoms at the end of the summer: teach me how to coax nectar from the bloom of another. Burned rice on the stove again: what's to love but my imperfections? You'll forgive me another. Butter by a kettle always melts, warns the proverb. Heated, greased, we slip one into the other. When, inexplicably, you enter my prayers, I hear messages from one god or another. Me encanta cantar, cuando estoy sola, en el carro. My mother tongue dissolves. I speak in another. Heart-thief, enter the fields like a woman in love, vase in one hand, shears in the other.

MARTIN: That was Dilruba Ahmed reading her poem "Ghazal." She's from Pennsylvania and the last poet in our series. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.