February Feature: Tarfia Faizullah, author of Seam
February 18, 2015
We are proud to present you with Tarfia Faizullah. Tarfia, a Bangladeshi-American poet, editor, and educator, was born in 1980 in Brooklyn, NY and raised in west Texas. She received an MFA in poetry from Virginia Commonwealth University and is the author of Seam (SIU 2014), which United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey calls “beautiful and necessary, as well as Register of Eliminated Villages, (Graywolf 2017).
Below, see what she had to say to Katherine Frain, our poetry editor:
It’s somewhere between prose and song, closer to oration—closer to prayer.
One of the really key things you’ve done as a poet is share the stories of the birangonas, women who had survived horrific rape campaigns during the 1971 Bangladeshi war for independence from Pakistan, in your book Seam. What was the biggest challenge about translating these stories?
“How do I love as much as I say I do?”
You’ve spoken before about the difficulties of “the very thin line between witnessing and voyeurism”. How do you define that line, and how do you avoid crossing it?
The line is a seam. It isn’t about avoiding the crossing. It’s about acknowledging that the possibility of crossing exists.
How do you balance writing with the other aspects of your life?
I don’t. I’ve been slowly building a life in which, as a poet very dear to me has said, there is no distinction between who I am and what I do.
You’re currently a visiting professor for the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, a two-year graduate program. You’ve also been a teacher at the Kenyon Review Young Writers’ Workshop. Were there any unexpected commonalities between the program? What about striking differences?
We’re all students at different points in the spiral. I’m interested in learning as I teach, and teaching as I learn. My best students are the ones who learn quickly, revel in learning, and grow addicted to teaching themselves.
What advice would you give to young writers today?
You’ve served as an editor for a number of publications, but you also began and now run Organic Weapon Arts with Jamaal May. Why did you choose to begin a press?
We love literature, and we love promoting and sharing it in the shape of art objects.
What are your orphan lines?
Do you have a particular process for breaking through writer’s block?
I pay more attention.
What’s something you wish people asked you about more?