Ayaz Pirani’s books include Happy You Are Here (The Word Works, 2016), Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets (Mawenzi House, 2019) and Bachelor of Art (Anstruther Press, 2020). His work recently appeared in The Malahat Review, ARC Poetry Magazine and The Antigonish Review. He lives near Monterey, California.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t have a lot of extravagance in my style and I suppose I thought it could get easily overlooked. There’s a lot of MFA writers out there, a lot of technocrat poets, with lots of flashing lights. Who would go to the trouble to notice my poems? But my first manuscript, Happy You Are Here, did get noticed by a few editors and was finally picked up by The Word Works. I feel like everything changed for me and I lost some of the anxiety that accompanied my writing. It’s like when you tell a dog to sit and its face becomes placid because the dog knows what it will take to get rewarded and they’re already doing it anyway. Habit is my style I guess.
I think my new work, the chapbook Bachelor of Art, compares favorably with my full-length books, Happy You Are Here and Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets. The preoccupations are similar though perhaps I’m starting to take bigger bites.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My heritage includes a living oral tradition of singing ginans and granths in communal settings. They are also wonderful as private experiences. I recommend the University of Saskatchewan Library archive of audio ginan recitals for the interested. On the page itself ginans have a further dimension as exquisitely syntaxed lines that are just packed with tone and nuance. A single line is sometimes the hardest nut to crack, full of diverse truths. I enjoy translating them to emphasize the peculiarities. So I guess poetry came to me first, I didn’t have a choice.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I don’t do any kind of particular or sustained research for my poems or my books. So far, for my two books, I just start with a new notebook each time and start writing. Generally speaking, I write first, make decisions later.
The writing comes a bit slow I suspect, considering my disposition. If I’m writing for an hour, 20 minutes is devoted to noticing the curtains. I don’t give up on a poem, I keep writing it till I’m done. Even bad ones, I’ll finish with them. Later, I come to like a few lines here or there and take them for new poems or start that poem again. I also suspect a lot of my writing time ends up being reading time.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Where a poem begins is quite a question. I’m starting to think it’s all about getting one good line, one really good line, that unlocks my thoughts and the poem’s subject. I’ve noticed that I can take a line from Pope if I’m feeling a bit old-fashioned or a line from Deborah Digges if I’m feeling a bit wry and write it down. Sort of impose their line as my one good line and that will work fine for me. I’ll take off from there. I also like to use chance methods to get going in the same way. For me, it seems to be that very first step where I need a bit of the Spirit.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do like to have an assortment of poems that are suited for readings, they just have that tone or sound, or they might have just the right narrative touches to give some ground to the audience.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I think my concerns are mostly practical. I like to make good lines, I like economy, a kind of puritan syntax. I like the different forms of playing with lines, like rhymes and various alliterations. I like cornering a word with its other meanings. I guess pretty much what you would expect from the British tradition that I grew up with in my Kitchener children’s libraries.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I am not yet able to say.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Most knowledge comes from just observing the sun and the moon.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
After tea and walking our dog Kona, my wife and I go into different rooms. I read and write. Not sure what Afreen does. At some point one of us gets hungrier than the other and breaks the deadlock by poking a head in the door. Lunch. That’s it for writing. Later in the evenings I usually teach. Saturdays and Sundays are not included.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Over the years I’ve assembled about a dozen volumes of poetry that are always with me, that I always turn to. Sometimes a few get traded out, a few have never changed. For example, for the past couple of years Suzanne Buffam’s The Irrationalist was always nearby. I like her tones and wit. I’m always turning to Jack Myer’s As Long As You’re Happy. I’ve been reading it for 30 years. Or Saloko Nano by Pir Sadardin. When I’m not able to write, I just read. If it feels right I’ll resort to chance methods to get a poem started.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
19 - What are you currently working on?
A new manuscript was just picked up by Gordon Hill Press, to come out in summer 2022. I suppose I’ll be editing that book and starting a new notebook, to get another thing going. I have no ideas right now.