3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali

This post is the third of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali
Writer and Poet,
Lupus in Flight www.lupusinflight.com

Shaista Tayabali

 
Anna:
I’m quite envious of your delicate touch with words. You conjure evocative imagery with just a stanza. What brought you to poetry as a way of expressing yourself? In your writing, how do you feel about the economy of poetry versus the expansiveness of prose?

Shaista:
The art of economy is a discipline I learned at university. Up until then, I had been a fairly indulgent prose and poetry writer. My composition of language was often deeply emotive, highly subjective and heavy with the influence of romance and Keatsian turns of phrase. Often, but not always. There has also been a trend in my writing, since childhood, towards describing a snapshot visual, and towards epiphany. I began university with the shadow of a complex illness already threatening to obscure me, so I was determined to excel. 

This proved difficult for two reasons – I liked to answer questions in my own merry, meandering way, and I did not know how to edit myself. My Professor, Simon Featherstone, taught me this: “The line that you are most attached to, is the line that has to go!”  In learning precision, I learned economy. And I think, perhaps, my poetry has begun to adapt to my rather fragile body. These quick brushstrokes of poems serve me well in and out of hospital.

Delicacy aside, though, sometimes I yearn to write a tome in the style of Tolstoy; an epic blockbuster of a novel packed with 108 Dickensian characters. Yearning is what we artists and writers do best! 

The Names of Things

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

gazes out at me
behind the window frame;
Half content to be
in Billy Collins’ world,
half wishing to be me –
Cross legged in the evening sun
drinking rose petal tea.

I can name the Yellow Rose,
the frilly Poppy, the Bee
longing for that same tea;
the half-eaten bruised cherries,
the guzzling, drunken, blackbird feast.

Deep in the shadows,
lazy snakes of ivy curl
and the wind is a Tempest again –

I walk among the unnamed things
the secret, hidden lives,
I pronounce the names of Latinate things
and trip on the words
and smile –

Cerastium tomentosum,
snow in summer,
Galium odoratum,
stars in spring,
Lavandula angustifolia
where the herb garden sings.

 Anna:
When you begin writing a poem, do you focus on an image? A phrase? A song? What inspires the act of picking up the pen?
Shaista:
A line comes to me. I focus on a few words, a phrase, that forms the first line of the poem-to-be. Blog posts require titles, which  I often enjoy for their brevity, but my poems never used to have titles. Do poets think of titles first? When do the titles come? I prefer the idea of that first line being the clue to the poem. My inspiration as a poet is simultaneously influenced by the subtle and the obvious. Hospitals are waiting rooms filled with both. 
Two artists who have influenced my work are my parents; they paint their lives in very different ways. Father’s watercolours are mysterious, floating worlds, echoes of Turner and Monet; impressionistic – my Mother’s work is magnified detail, bright, strong, clear – O’Keefe comes to mind. Father talks in riddles, Mother is incredibly literal – I flit between worlds in my life, and make sense of it all when I write. 
Crocuses
My father knows
when the crocuses 
are out
And when the snowdrops
And when the bluebells
And how to listen, carefully,
to the nesting birds,
trilling
between our rooms.
Daisies will come
And roses will grow
And perhaps we shall walk
And reminisce about the snow
And kick up some leaves
And weave up some dreams
While the world passes by
My father and I.

Anna: 
I love ‘The Year of Yes’; it’s deeply inspirational. It speaks of great positivity, despite the challenges you face with lupus. How has keeping your positive energy and happiness been instrumental to your life and your writing? 

Shaista:

Have you read Victor E. Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’? He says, “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” I marry this idea with the engaged Buddhism teachings of mindfulness, and try to achieve ‘Happen-ness’. Living in the now, the here and now, is not easy with a sneaky systemic illness like Lupus. Lupus is an embodiment of many human fears: the What-Ifs and the If-Onlys. So the secret to happiness is being present for the happen-ness, the saying Yes! in gratitude for our ability as humans to be present. 
My friend Dr. Ho tells me to embrace pain, particularly the physical manifestations of it, because feeling pain means you are alive! And he is right – physical pain does not exclude twinkling eyes, sparkly smiles and the playful impulse to tease and be teased. The act of writing is instant happen-ness for me. Just holding the pen, the feel of my book of poems, the moment of connection between the physical materials and my soul, my thoughts, my sight… yes! yes! yes! It is the best of me. 
  
The Year of Yes
I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
When you asked me out to walk
among the leaves
the turning leaves
You were offering me
the sound of dreams, 
And I turned you down 
politely.
Not today, I smiled
Perhaps,
Maybe, tomorrow?
But I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
I wish we had shared this light.
Next time don’t ask
Just take me!
Order me to dress!
I am going to need your help
beloved
To begin the Year of Yes.
Visit Lupus in Flight, the serene home of Shaista’s writings and poetry: http://www.lupusinflight.com

Lucy’s Dream

I haven’t done any film clips in awhile, so I wanted to include this. It’s my very favorite moment from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), featuring the best character – Lucy Pevensie. I absolutely love the drifting flower petals that coalesce into the figure. It’s a thoroughly magical moment and actually redeemed the rest of the movie for me.

Have you ever experienced an afternoon like that? The sun falls a certain way; the light’s hazy and soft-focus. A breeze lifts the hair from your face and playfully blows it back again. A sense of expectancy hangs in the air – the word for it is not “magic”. Magic is oft an illusion, so what is that breathless moment where all that is impossible seems possible and the very trees would speak your name?

Enjoy.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight, 
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lilly on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery's song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.
And there we slumbered on the moss, 
And there I dreamed, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dreamed
On the cold hill side. 
I saw pale kings, and princes too, 
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cried--"La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!"
I saw their starved lips in the gloam 
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing. 
 
Poem by John Keats. 
Paintings by Frank Dicksee, Frank Cadogan Cowper, John William Waterhouse
For a great analysis of the poem, read here: 
http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/belle.html