Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed Umar Siddiqui about his writing and his recently released, Weightless, Woven Words, a collection of poems that beautifully explores themes of despair, authenticity, resilience, courage, and believing in yourself. (Read the review here.)
Umar Siddiqui lives in Riverside, CA. He received his BA degree in Media and Cultural Studies from University of California, Riverside and his MA degree in Mass Communication from California State University, Northridge. He is a voracious Disney fan and fashion aficionado. He also loves writing, reading, alternative music, and working out.
Facebook: Umar Siddiqui
Instagram: @umarrrzy__ and @uniquelyumar
The poems in Weightless, Woven Words are grouped into seven sections. Did you go into the writing with a plan to categorize each poem into one of those seven sections, or did you find that seven broader themes developed organically as you were writing?
Truly, the categories occurred to me after I compiled my poems. I thought to myself, what are some categories no one thinks of but would fit here? The process required a few questions. I then asked myself how relevant every category was to mental health, which was strange and unique, mainly because the categories in my book, with the exception of the human condition, are not typically associated with mental health. The sections are meant to not have the most organic appeal, but when they do relate (because they do) it is quite liberating to the mind. The mind can navigate the book easily with these categories.
I actually do not plan my writing altogether. I definitely incessantly get thoughts in my brain and jot them down. Next, I say to myself, this can be a poem. Then, when I can get to my quarters (my room, where I have my Disney trinkets and what have you to inspire me) I write profusely. Sure, I make edits, but in general the process of it all is not fundamentally planned.
Many of the poems in this collection have a lyrical quality, and you even mention in the collection’s Introduction that you tend to give your poems “a chorus.” Is music an inspiration for your work, and if so, what kind of music? Have you ever dabbled or considered dabbling in songwriting?
I have certainly seen my poems as songs; I know that isn’t the most direct answer to your question, but I am glad this question came up. Just like a song can be interpreted in many ways, my poetry can too. There is intention and a premeditated meaning to a song as well as to each of my poems. Evidently, there are myriad resemblances, like, as you mention, the chorus. I did that to make my poems more musical and user-friendly.
My poems visibly have a lyrical quality. They can have an appeal as songs and can be seen as musical with a rhythmic appeal. The chorus repeats or coheres with flow. A lot of poems do not have a chorus, and that was not to set some poems apart, it was just a matter of happenstance.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
My earliest linguistic experience was when I was thoroughly encouraged by my second grade teacher that I had an expansive vocabulary and to use it. That just taught me that words carry and ascertain their own power. They carry meanings that are denotative and connotative; being somewhat precocious, I knew this at a young age. I remember in that class we learned what homonyms and heteronyms were; I just remember being piqued and amused.
The power of language, to me, has been a conspicuous and fascinating idea. It is my main motivation to communicate through written language and/or written words. I firmly believe in it.
Weightless, Woven Words was released on August 14th – which is, incidentally, also Independence Day of Pakistan. Was it important to you that your poetry collection be released on this important day in Pakistan’s history?
This is exactly why I had it released on August 14, especially since the country is incessantly misconstrued and also direly in turmoil with the floods and corrupt politicians who hunger for power and money and not for their constituents. Sorry for getting into it; I just know Pakistan is in desperate need of a sound leader like Imran Khan and releasing a mental health and well-being related poetry book seemed very appropriate.
Which poem in the collection is your favorite? Why?
I love my Disney poems, because I am just really proud of how I rhymed the Disney terms (songs, characters, and more). In general, my favorite is “If You’re not the One.” I admittedly did not know where I was going with this poem. I usually have an idea of my intention and purpose for a poem, but this one, at first, felt somewhat random. It felt arbitrary but that turned out to be a positive thing. I kept writing and rhyming and soon I felt more direction. Then I was wondering if it is just a curious poem that asks what if you’re not the one? Then I realized I framed it as a love poem, but it speaks to uncertainty, which is an enormous aspect of the human condition.
Poetry seems to be an important element of your own self-care. Can you tell us what originally drew you to poetry, and how you discovered that it was necessary for your own mental health?
It’s inwardly therapeutic. One of the most important things in life is to express yourself—to be authentic. You have to be authentic with your voice, and poetry is an ideal outlet for that. It allows you to be resonant and relevant while being passionate about your favorite things. It allows you to belong. For example, I have two poems in my book that I wrote using Disney characters, since I am a huge Disney fanatic. I have one poem, “Silhouettes,” that is about fashion; fashion is one of my passions as well.
Mainly, poetry helps me to connect creatively and uniquely with my passions through words. I think it is direly important that we all are comfortable with putting our thoughts down on paper. I stress in an upcoming self-help book, Float Your Boat: You Have Power and Control, that vulnerability is not to be connoted wrongly or negatively, and we have to see it positively as cathartic.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
First off, my artistic process is very multifaceted. I write poetry, but I have never hesitated to venture into other nonfiction writing. In any way, literature is art. The most challenging part of this for me is avoiding my own wordiness. I can use convoluted language, and I overthink the fact that I am not using user-friendly language.
Collectively, I’d say the challenge for me is not being jargonistic; I also need to be better at avoiding complicated language. I have gotten better at that.
What do you hope readers will take away from this collection?
In a word, therapy. That is honestly so redundant, but it is the safest hope. My hope is that readers will feel change and catharsis—hopefully a connection—while reading my work. They do not know my process, so I cannot count on them fully resonating with my work. Of course, they should appreciate what I am envisioning, which is self-help. This is a combination of self-help and poetry. I hope present and future life becomes more foreseeable and easier for people who read this collection.
I want my poems to make people feel better; that will satisfy me. I hunger for a world devoid of worries and a fixed world. Right now, it is a fragmented world without any specified direction, and I truly believe books and minds like this can help heal. Of course, we must act and realize there are more commonalities in us humans than barriers – things that essentially set us apart. Once this is idealized, we then enact initiatives and prerogatives in spreading collective love, joy, and understanding. If we pave the way for fertile and common ground for understanding, the coming generations will have less anxiety to confront and more modalities and/or methodologies to follow in their lives to create and perpetuate ideals like peace.
What one piece of advice would you give a reader who is about to pick up Weightless, Woven Words for the first time?
I would say be open-minded, long-sighted, and persistently inquisitive. In other words, readers must be observant. I also want to say a tremendous thank you to whoever picks up this book, and then to tell them to approach it with vigilance. What I mean by that is be watchful for the underlying motifs and nuances of the book. In the poems, people can see their past and future. I always say that past is irrevocable and holds lessons but can give people morbid feelings of regret. Respect your past; don’t regret it, is what I would say.
For a reader picking this up for the first time, I would just say approach the book with that open mind and leave the book with a candid, curious mind. Be perceptive about your world and do not be afraid to really let the horizons open up for you!
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