An Interview of B.J. Sadiq
As a publishing professional, I had become nearly instinctive (though not an expert) on the equilibrium between a good manuscript and commercial promise. So when I received B.J. Sadiq’s manuscript, I almost instantly knew that it is something I would love to go through the process of. I took the liberty of reaching out to the brilliant author of Of Kings and Nobilities (published under the pseudonym B.J. Hughes). We spoke about his poetry, delved into his creative process, composition, and more.
SD: I’d start with a question that may take you back to when you started writing poetry. What is the strangest thing you know to be true about the art of poetry?
BJ: When I think of poetry, I think of it as the first source of human entertainment; the first source of human expression; I can give you an example drawn from fourth-century Britain—this is a time when English as a written language had not yet developed in the manner we know it. We only had a few letters brought into Britain by the Anglo Saxons called ‘Runes’—which people in those days carved into stone and wood; and one very beautiful poem that emerged from those letters is called Beowulf, which by most European historians is considered the dawn of English literature.
I give this example, because you pick any language of the world, from any place, from any region, it is made great simply through verse. I mean researchers of western thought would always start their discourse with Homer, of course, we have scholars like Aristotle and Socrates, and playwrights like Aristophanes; but none of them are revered like Homer, who only wrote verse. The Assyrians of yore would sit by the fire and recite poetry. It is the immortality of poetry that has always attracted me, that feeling of saintly reverence a poet enjoys, and that is why I was really tempted to dabble in verse writing. I first started writing poetry as a nineteen-year-old student at Cambridge University.
SD: Was there ever a moment, an image, a memory, or a feeling from childhood that you think in some way indicates that you’d ultimately find yourself writing poetry?
BJ: I think here I must blame my relationship with God. I think of all the various forms of poetry, I find immense satisfaction in metaphysical verse. That form of verse gives a great feeling to man’s relationship with God; you may talk about Iqbal, Milton, about a certain George Herbert and the immense power their rhymes had in defining that obscure relationship man has always had with God. God is one being, one entity that I have given much thought, all my living years; this does not mean that I am a very religious person, far from it, but there had always been a pent-up curiosity within me to learn about God, to know him, his method of operation, his inner workings, and while it is true that we can never fully have satisfactory answers to most questions pertaining to him, poetry does a fabulous job of clothing that desire for the unseen.
I believe that is how I was drawn to poetry. I would quote once more with all my heartfelt assertiveness, that this yearning for God, must never be misconstrued as faith, for faith is a different matter, faith has a certain code to it, a certain set of laws you must abide by to be known as faithful, but here, through poetry, what you are basically trying to do is that you are attempting to explain your own self, by way of explaining God. I believe this poetic search for God is a far more convincing way of unlocking a great many of the mysteries that cloud our judgment.
SD: Could you elaborate on this unearthing process of Of Kings and Nobilities? Could you talk a bit about its composition?
BJ: This book started as a fairly rough idea whilst I was a student at Cambridge more than a decade ago; I wrote a couple of pages with a certain wayward passion, but very soon put it aside as a thing too ambitious and even arduous for my age. As a sophomore, I only knew that I am going to attempt something like Byron’s Don Juan or Beppo—and I had immersed myself in a good deal of Byron in the years that followed, him and Alexander Pope, I think, are two poets who influenced much of my book as far as the form is concerned. I have a very deep regard for history and have been an avid history reader for much of my active reading life, which is well over a decade now; and this book is a result of all that desultory reading.
SD: Are there poets whom you consider your mentors in the confluence of your poetic as well as social, ethical, or political imagination? What did you learn from them?
BJ: To answer this question is no easy task. My leanings towards poets have been very flexible; at certain times I am drawn more to satire, which leads me to poets like Byron, Pope and Dryden; at other times, one finds oneself in a rather dissipated mood, which leads me towards the poet of the moods, and so one contemplates intimacy with men like Lord Tennyson, and on days when I am more observant of nature, I do also sniff a bit of Wordsworth. Among eastern poets, Iqbal has always been the mainstay, but I have increasingly become too fond of Daagh Dehlvi, who is the Hilaire Belloc of Urdu verse, Belloc is another name I am fond of, by the way.
I don’t think there is one poet who has given shape to my political and ethical imagination; all of them have had a role to play. I am a big admirer of Vikram Seth’s poetry as well who, I believe, has been the finest South Asian poet writing in English; I don’t think we’ve had that many great names in English poetry, and if there’s ever a list of ensemble English poets from this region, Mr Seth should clearly be the first in that line. As a passing remark, there’s a great culture of giving out names from the great romantics, all of whom were brilliant, but of late I find myself immersed in limericks too, a very funny, yet a very difficult form of poetry; and here the name of Edward Lear comes to mind.
SD: Last but not least, will you write another? Book? A poem, perhaps?
BJ: Indeed, there’s a novel that I have been labouring on for some time, and I hope to finish it soon. I don’t know when but soon, for the feeling of drudgery while writing a long novel is immense. And there’s some poetry as well; I am working towards an anthology with a far greater conviction.
Sara Danial is a mother of two. She is a communications professional, born, raised and survived in Karachi, though to be precise, reared in the dunes of Dubai. Her writing has been published in Dawn, The News on Sunday, The Friday Times, Pakistan and Gulf Economist, South Asia, BOL, The Nation, American Kahani, and The Express Tribune. She can usually be found musing about over a cup of coffee, or occasionally ranting.