ISLAMABAD: A new collection of poetry in English that documents personal experience and people’s suffering was launched in the capital on Thursday.

Organised by Kuch Khaas at a cafe in F-7, Harris Khalique, the poet, described his collection No Fortunes to Tell as the culmination of a decade of observations on society, politics and culture as well as the evolution of his craft in English poetry.

Poet Ilona Yusuf invited him to begin with a rendition of his ‘Poems for my Father’.

The poet explained in response to a question by Ms Yusuf that poetry was his prime concern. It was a family tradition to read and recite poetry, including Persian poetry, a tradition handed down to him by his parents, both accomplished in the arts themselves.

The poet cited his English poetry influences as the translated English literature he has read, in particular Polish, Spanish, Latin American, African, Arab and Persian poets.

Ms Yusuf commented that it may be a commonality in themes that influenced his liking of these countries poetry but the poet responded that themes and contexts play a part but it is the appreciation of verse and the sensibility of verse he has developed through his study of Urdu poetry that has influenced his lyrical prowess in English.

Ms Yusuf remarked that many of Mr Khalique’s poems were like stories and asked him the source of his inspiration, which the poet said was real political events and the suffering that humanity endures across the world. He said that his poetry is an attempt to show the world that there is an artistic response to these events and a human understanding of politics and power and oppression.

Ms Yusuf then asked Mr Khalique how he had experienced the lack of a formal publishing industry back in the 90s. He replies it was good luck and the kindness of friends that allowed him to make headway into getting his poetry published.

He said poetry is now self-published more, as the medium of communications has changed. He urged people to publish online more.

Asked if he could make a political impact through his English poetry, Mr Khalique replied that he was not striving to make any particular impact rather he was recoding his observations of life and society and since he writes in both Urdu and English he did not suffer from the embarrassment of not being adept in his mother tongue.When asked how he decides which language to write in, he said it is simply a habit of expressing himself in both English and Urdu.

Publisher and CEO of Folio Books Bilal Zahoor in his introductory remarks said that the interest in Mr Khalique’s manuscript was because of the power, pathos and vivid imagery captured in the poet’s verse which he employed beautifully to examine Pakistan’s most pressing political and social issues from a wholly unique perspective.

Responding to a question about challenges to publishing in Pakistan he said that people simply are not in the habit of reading.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2019