ISLAMABAD: Concepts that are familiar gain popularity quickly, but writers who introduce new ideas or break the norms of literature do not get fame as easily. They have to go through criticism followed by acceptance in order to become famous, said renowned poet Yasmeen Hameed on Thursday.

Speaking at Pakistan Academy of Letter’s 31st Meet a Writer over a Cup of Tea event, Ms Hameed said she is a self-taught writer and had no formal education in literature.

She said she comes from an army family which moved around a lot and that she had always attended missionary schools. She first had a taste of literature when she spent a year at an army school in Lahore.

“I always knew how to speak Urdu – I come from a Punjabi family – but it was not till I was required to learn poems that I realised how bad I was even at pronouncing Urdu words,” she said.

Ms Hameed said she went on to pursue a fine arts degree and finished her masters after she was married. She moved with her husband and children first to Saudi Arabia and then to Kuwait, which is when she started writing.

“I realised I did not know anything about writing. I knew I had to read in order to understand literature. My mother had always been in charge of what we read as children and I had only digressed from that restriction once or twice,” she said.

The poet said she found a small shop in Kuwait which sold some Urdu books. She bought a dictionary and would buy a week’s worth of newspapers every weekend.

“I would go over the editorials, look up the words I did not understand and would then use them in sentences,” she said.

“It is true you have to have talent to be a writer, but you cannot be a good writer without the right tools. You should always be learning,” she said.

Ms Hameed has since published five books and has translated literature from other languages into Urdu as well.

The poet said her rule for writing has always been not to follow the style of a particular writer, but to think, who do I not want to write like.

“All creative works should be free of ideology. Ideological poetry and literature is good, but they should not be bound to one ideology,” she said.

“There is no final destination for a creative person. There is no there. Your career will move forward as long as you are curious and want to explore. It ends when you no longer want to be on this journey,” she added.

Asked about the difference between writing a ghazal and a nazm, she said: “When I sit down to write, the feeling I want to express determines if it will be a ghazal or a nazm”.

Writer Mohammad Ahmed Shahid said many writers use their works to discuss problems but write in such a way that it is addressed to a specific audience.

“Yasmeen writes as if she is giving voice to that discussion in her mind,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2018