Tuesday, November 24, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Bahar Orang

Bahar Orang is a writer and physician-in-training living in Toronto. Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty is her first book.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Where Things Touch is my first book and so far I’ve been changed most of all, humbled, moved, and disquieted, by the very frightening and exhilarating move of putting oneself out there, by saying something and staying somehow with it, becoming newly vulnerable, and facing all the intimacies and tensions that inevitably come.

2 - How did you come to non-fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or fiction?

I admit I came to poetry before non-fiction, though the delineation between these two, or perhaps the delineation between non-fiction and anything else, I believe is really very porous, more open than we ever expect. But my parents took my political education very seriously, and poetry had its role in such an education, and I wrote poems to better imagine with them. 

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 would say all of these things happen at different times, where the writing comes rapidly and excitedly at times, painfully slow at other times, the final shape looks in some parts close to earlier drafts, and elsewhere, well everywhere, there are copious notes.  

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose 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?

The concept of a “book” for conceptualizing my own writing is still somehow unusual to me. Very often I start with a single word (that I like very much) or a phrase (that I think is singular or strange) and from there, I don’t know if it will turn into a poem or a sentence or an essay. It’s a disorganized process that allows me to attend closely to intuition and experimentation, but at the same time I do want to get better projecting a more coherent goal or plan when I start.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I love to attend readings, but I don’t love to give them. I can’t think clearly in front of a crowd, even a small one.

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?

In Where Things Touch, I was interested in theorizing alternate frameworks or paradigms for beauty, ways of thinking through beauty that have to do with care, repair, and attentiveness. 

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?

There might be many roles for writers, and these roles probably shift based on who and where the writers are. Broadly speaking, though, I believe in a role for writers to name and describe all the peculiar and painful conditions of our lives. Martín Espada says the role of the poet is “to dissent from the official story,” which I believe in, too.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Working with Meg Storey on Where Things Touch, which was my first time working closely with an outside editor, was a totally enriching process. She brought so many new meanings to the text and I am grateful to her.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Figure out the conditions you need to create.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (prose poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I suppose different questions call for different forms, but writing between genres, and sometimes doing away with genre altogether feels most comfortable to me.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

None really. It would be wonderful to have one. I write on weekend mornings mostly, when I can.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Other than reading more, I love to listen to talks or interviews given by writers, artists, and academics.  

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Coffee – I have woken up to its aroma nearly every day of my life.

14 - 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?

Visual art, definitely. For whatever reason, I consistently feel very open to being moved by visual art.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

So many. Solmaz Sharif. Forough Farrokhzad. Linda Gregg. Sharon Olds. Zaina Alsous. Aria Aber. June Jordan. Leila Chatti. Canisia Lubrin. Shazia Hafiz Ramji. Muriel Rukeyser. Etel Adnan. Adrienne Rich. Many others.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Learn to develop my own film.

17 - 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?

I’m not too sure. In another life, maybe I’m a visual artist.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I believe it must be because I loved to read so much. The closest intimacy to the poems and writings I cherish has been to write back to them, to write with them.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

A great book I’m currently reading is Social Poetics by Mark Nowak. The last great film I watched was Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Celine Sciamma.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’m writing a very short essay on monuments.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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