What’s your chapbook about?
My chapbook is about the aftermath of a sexually abusive relationship I had with a male partner. While it stemmed from a specific relationship and moment, it’s also about other moments of sexual violence that I experienced growing up as well.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
I wrote the bulk of this book in 2013, so the pieces in general feel pretty older to me. I tend to write at a rapid pace, so things that I write a few months ago feel really old to me. But I wrote many of these pieces in and out of moments of extreme hurt, and I’ve healed a lot from the abuse in the book. So I look back on it and it feels like I’m conversing with layers of my younger self, which is great.
I think the poem that feels to me like a catalyst was the poem “Dry.” I wrote the poem and it actually scared me, because I knew something was wrong. I hadn’t been admitting it to myself before. But once I wrote that poem, I couldn’t hide from it anymore.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
I actually haven’t figured out how to edit a collection of poems or arrange them yet. This is where all my many readers and editors come in handy. At a Dark Noise retreat, a collective of poets of color I am a part of, we all laid the book out on the floor and consulted the ordering together. Nate Marshall made me read the first line and last line of each poem in order to see how I felt about it. I thought that was a really good strategy. Also, my editor, KMA Sullivan, was amazingly helpful in coming up with the order.
The title is a similar story. I’m not good at titles. The book went through many title changes—it started off as “Rewind/Play” and then became “Medusa Explains” and “Medusa, They Would Sing” and then finally became After. This was a process that included multiple emails with my collective and phone calls with KMA. My friend and collective member Jamila Woods suggested After, and I thought that was perfect.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
The cover was all Jess X Chen, who is an amazing artist. Jess had the vision for it and executed it amazingly. I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with Jess on another project as well, with their artist collective Love Hold Let Go, which was an animated video for my poem “Red.”
What are you working on now?
I have another chapbook I’ve compiled and am sending out to publishers called Super-Orphan about my childhood. I also am working on a nude photo project for people of color to chronicle our journeys with self-love called “Let Me Love Me.”
Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least, your clothing, to take with you at all times?
Danez Smith, Nate Marshall, Jamila Woods, Franny Choi, Aaron Samuels, Tarfia Faizullah, Lucille Clifton, Patricia Smith, Ross Gay, Ocean Vuong.
& that doesn’t include the Basquiat text tattoo I already have, because we all know he was a poet.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
I wrote a chapbook that I wish I had at the time. Sometimes I forget that my body is mine. That my voice is mine. I view this chapbook as a response to that forgetting. So I guess anyone who needs it. Anyone who also forgets.
What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?
Last year when I was going through a lot of rejection and feeling pretty low as a writer, Tarfia Faizullah called me and said, “Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” I hold that close to me.
I also love, from Terrance Hayes’s opening poem in his new collection, “never mistake what it is for what it looks like.” It took me a long time to figure out what the shit that meant, mostly because I was mistaking what it was for what it looked like. I think as writers of color, that can happen to us a lot. An acceptance to a journal or institution might seem like a seat at the table. We hope and hope we’ll get it. But in actuality, we might be the one being played, tokenized, eaten. An institution is an institution. A journal is a journal. It’s just a way to get your work out there and to keep learning. Nothing more than that. Sometimes I catch myself getting blindsided by a name, or a promise of what the thing seems to represent. Those things are false. It’s about the work. Keep it about the work. Don’t stop working.
Fatimah Asghar is a nationally touring poet, photographer and performer. She created Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first Spoken Word Poetry group, REFLEKS, while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-violent contexts. Her work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The Paris-American, The Margins, and Gulf Coast. She is a Kundiman Fellow and a member of the Dark Noise Collective. Her chapbook After is forthcoming from Yes Yes Books.