Fatima Hirsi: Poet Interview

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Maybe because I'm a parent of young children, I don't get out to local poetry events as much as I'd like. Whatever the reason, I usually meet poets online before I ever meet them face-to-face (btw, click here to learn about the Face-to-Face event in September).

However, today's interview is with a poet I first met in person in Austin last year; she was excited to participate in the April PAD Challenge and even wrote the winning poem for Day 8.

Fatima Hirsi

Fatima Hirsi

Fatima Hirsi comes from the water. She has appeared in various Sound Culture stage productions and her work has been featured across Texas. Her poetry can be read in Vagabonds, Life in 10 Minutes, and the anthology Poem Your Heart Out, Volume 1. She can often be found in public spaces creating poems for strangers on her typewriter.

See her work at flowerwordspoetry.com.

Speaking of her winning poem, here it is:

A Taste for Pain, by Fatima Hirsi

I love the wind when he is violent.
I like it when he forces up my dress or
Slaps my face. I am the opposite of a sadist,

Finding pleasure in displays of power and
Being taken without warning
In broad daylight.

When he comes, bending trees,
Moving seas inside me,
Sometimes I find myself crying--

I am a child of water--
Holding back is no option
When I love the way he loves.

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What are you currently up to?

I was welcomed into a few performance pieces that integrate other aspects of art. Disembodied Text is a spontaneous collaboration between poets and musicians. Looped will feature poetry I’ve recorded played into a room aesthetically designed to fit my words. The space will resemble a desolate nursery.

I’m also working on blending my poetry into the realm of visual art. Painting has recaptured my attention, and after arriving at an intimate relationship with the typewriter, splicing the worlds of poetry and mixed media is exciting.

I noticed you're a lead instructor at The Writer's Garret. Could you explain what The Writer's Garret is and what your involvement means?

The Writer’s Garret is a non-profit based in Dallas seeking to make wordcraft more accessible in North Texas. I sometimes teach for a program called WINS, or Writers in Schools and Neighborhoods, where I conduct workshops in schools, museums, community centers, and shelters. My involvement means I often have the chance to be a child’s first experience with poetry. I get to spark the fire that someone will keep lit for a lifetime. That’s pretty cool!

A couple things interested me in an interview with you now. First, your street poetry. How does that work for you? Do you just set up with a typewriter in a random place? Do you charge for the poems?

There’s someone writing poems for people in almost every major city. I was lucky enough to become friends with AR Rogers, the typewriter busker of Austin, at an Austin International Poetry Festival. After receiving her encouragement I decided to try my hand in Dallas, and now the residents and business owners of the Bishop Arts community really make me feel at home.

I leave it to those passing to initiate our interaction. Curiosity inspires someone to ask what I’m doing and I tell them that I’m writing poetry about whatever they want – pick a topic, tell me a truth, and get a poem. The patron decides what they can donate, and I ask only that they give me what I give to them – equal reciprocity.

Second, I noticed that you're opening up your services for events, festivals, and commissioned poems. What's involved with those services? What inspired you to offer them?

It’s hard to find income as a working poet. Providing entertainment at events involves an hourly rate and a memorable experience for guests. People at birthday parties expect cake and a DJ. When they see me and muster the courage to make themselves vulnerable enough to get a poem, it completely changes the atmosphere of a gathering. Can you imagine the air in a room where everyone feels treasured?

People normally feel bound to a certain persona, and making the person beneath the act feel truly seen is so rewarding. My work at events is a great way to support myself and experience human connection. I don’t have the stature to go to universities and speak to the people, but I can go somewhere with my typewriter and share a type of intimacy that I don’t think can be found on a larger scale.

A favorite poet who nobody knows—who is it?

I’m lucky enough to live near Natty Roots & Rhyme, a local open mic hosted at a Jamaican restaurant. I haven’t seen much of the country, but I find it extremely hard to believe another place exists with as much talent and life hidden behind its walls. Natty Roots is where I became familiar with the poetry of Sasha Banks. Her work speaks of history and all the ways it manifests in the present. Her persona pieces are heavy with the influence of Patricia Smith. Sasha goes deep into language the way an old tree buries its roots in the ground, rises up, and disrupts the person walking who has no choice but to fall. She leaves us all with open mouths, uncomfortable and in awe.

Best experience related to poetry—what is it?

Part of my apprenticeship into the Writer’s Garret was teaching an eight-week class in a shelter for children between foster homes. We wrote with those we taught. This was at a point in my life when all my poems were about my empty house and vacant womb. Regardless of the exercise each week, the kids would find a way to weave in their desire for a family who loved them and a permanent home. It felt like a cruel joke from the universe. I would go to my car afterward and just cry, both from the irony and from the privilege of knowing such resilient children.

One of them stole my heart entirely. Lucía was a young girl who had already seen the worst parts of life and still managed to smile. I watched her transform from being shy and introverted to being the first one volunteering to share her work. It was always beautiful. Seeing the kids with a new light in their eyes at the end of our last class cannot be topped. Being part of Lucía’s transformation into someone who owns her talent is the best gift I’ve been given by poetry.

If you could share only one piece of advice for fellow poets, what would it be?

Find your support network. Recognize the teachers in your life and surround yourself with people who believe in your potential. You don’t need constant cheerleaders. You need a coach who can break you out of your comfort zone. I’m very fortunate to have such people in my life.

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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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