Adeeba Shahid – Residing in the universe of Urdu poetry

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“I had been residing in the universe of Urdu poetry– populated by its metaphors, tropes, and characters– the moth and flame, ‘aashiq and ma’shuuq, Laila-Majnu, and Shireen-Farhad– for so long, that all the poetry I ended up writing also resided in this universe.”

Adeeba Shahid Talukder is an American Pakistani poet, translator, residing in the city of New York. Her work has been featured in numerous publications like Glass Poetry Press, Solstice Literary Magazine, Washington Square Review, PBS Frontline, and the Huffington Post. Adeeba received her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, and is currently working on translating two books of poetry. When she isn’t writing, she spends a disproportionate amount of her time singing.

Photo by: Aslan Chalom

She is winner of the 2017 Kundiman Poetry Prize and as part of receiving the prize, her upcoming manuscript “Shahr-e- jaanaan: The City of The Beloved” is expected to be published by Tupelo Press in late 2018 or early 2019. Adeeba is currently a 2017 Emerging Poets Fellow at Poets House.

She is currently working on translating Jamiluddin Aali’s epic poem Insaan into English. She is also working with a New York- based Urdu poet on translating Sadequain’s rubaa’iyaat. Out of everything she has done till now, translating the Pakistani Children’s TV Show, Sim Sim Hamara, into English, is her favorite.

‘It spoke to the child in me, and taught me the importance of educating children through programs.’

Photo by: Christopher Lucka

Adeeba moved to New York City with her parents when she was a tiny baby just eighty days old. From a very young age, she was exposed to a considerable amount of Urdu. Other kids often made fun of her English, which was not very strong. This was perhaps the beginning of her love/hate relationship with the English language. She promised herself that she would learn it, and excel at it. Unfortunately, it was at the cost of Urdu.

‘I later rediscovered Urdu during my Undergraduate years at NYU, through Tahira Naqvi, who re-instilled in me a love for the language through the words of Faiz, Faraz, Ghalib, Ruswa, Manto, and Chughtai.’

Photo by: Christopher Lucka

Adeeba’s love for poetry is not limited by a single reason. Perhaps it is because she is attuned to words in a special way that she can’t relate with anything else. It is a way for her to learn more about herself, to learn why she thinks the way she thinks, to map out her own subconscious associations on a page. Language, for her, is also a way to create magic, an opportunity to transform and exalt reality, or at least to converse with it on her own terms.

‘I would say that for me in particular, poetry is also a search for beauty, a search for moment.’

Adeeba believes herself to be inclined towards Urdu ghazal poetry for its music, elegance, and density. Her favorite poets are Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Allama Iqbal. She is attracted to the grandiosity of their verse too: the idea that there is so much at stake in a single moment, a single glance.

Photo by: Christopher Lucka

For Adeeba, Pakistani music and poetry are among the most beautiful things about Pakistan. She believes that we have a tradition of intertwining the two in such a way that they inform, enrich, and exalt each other.

‘This, to me, is part of the very fabric of being a Pakistani. Music and poetry comprise our myriad languages and permeate the very air we breathe.’

Adeeba’s own poetry is simply an expression of her state of mind, with varying degrees of veiled-ness. For example, ‘What Is Not Beautiful,’ her forthcoming chapbook from Glass Poetry Press, has to do with the struggle of balancing her recent marriage, with her mental illness. The language and narrative in this collection are both relatively straightforward.

‘The difference between my poems just has to do with the difference in the configuration of my mind at the time.’

Photo by: Aldo Rafael Altamirano

Pursuing a passion is never easy. However, for Adeeba, the challenges are even more enhanced. It is very difficult to navigate Western society as a Muslim, especially during these times. She no longer feels safe stepping outside as a Muslim woman. Despite all this, the current times make her all the more adamant about her Muslim identity, and make it all the more necessary for her to affirm it.

Upon entering the world of American poetry, Adeeba quickly learned that it was an isolated world that seemed to survive quite on its own. If there’s one thing she would like to do, or be a force towards, it would be to encourage more intertwining of American poetry with music, so that as a society, they, too, might be able to breathe poetry.

‘I can only imagine how beautiful that would be, what intellectual space that would open up.’


Interview by Anum Nawaz | Written by Minahil Amin

Cover Photo by Aldo Rafael Altamirano

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