Zahra has been writing since the age of fourteen, and been on a journey ever since to discover her identity as a poet. Most of her poetry and prose is written to convey a message that she hopes readers can discover. She is currently working on a book about marriage and divorce, and a compilation of poetry about human emotions and the turbulent nature they can possess.
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions Zahra. Where are you originally from, and where did you grow up?
I grew up in Bahrain. I’ve been here since I came with my parents and sister when I was six years old. It’s become more of a home to me than Sri Lanka, because it is where my childhood was. I do however think often of going back to Sri Lanka to better understand where I’m from and my roots.
Were there things growing up in Bahrain that still influence your writing now?
I think all writers are influenced by their life, but not all of us realize it instantly. I’ve always been a very compassionate and sensitive person, and as a result, my childhood and teen years were filled with a lot of emotion, that still exists within me and makes up my being. These emotions translate themselves into my perception of the world around me, and make themselves more visible in my writing than in my every-day life.
A Place To Go
By Zahra Zuhair
Let us disappear
into the lush forests of nature,
the magnificent canyons
with deep corridors;
the green islands
surrounded by turquoise waters;
or the grey and red beaches of Santorini,
to watch the orange sun as it rises and sets patiently.
Let us vanish
into the giant walls
of lost civilizations,
China’s grassland and mountain
that lie around the giant dragon,
into Europe’s fire and ice,
the volcanic islands,
as they slowly sink,
or the coral reefs that guard them, red, blue and pink.
Let us dance
in Mexico, amongst the crystals
buried inside their caves,
the still blue lakes
and their green neighbours,
the cotton castles of Denizli;
the springs and pools of Turkey,
or with the green, grey and azure of Lika,
the waterfalls of Croatia.
Let us frolic
with the migrating monarch butterflies,
the living jewels
or the emerald green,
turquoise and aquamarine
that play with the pink and blue marble of South America,
or the orange and white daisies of Namibia.
Let us go where lovers go;
be but be invisible,
Let us pray and let us play
Let us be but be unseeable.
Can you remember your early structured words at school?
My first words were a poem. It was a cheesy romantic poem with a lot of repetition and common rhyming words. I was 14 when I wrote it and since then I have written many poems and stories, some of which I have preserved, and some of which I no longer have with me.
Did you have a love of words back then?
I think I have always had a love of words. I grew up around books, and used to read all the time. I still would if I had the time. I think there is a lot of music in words and there can be an immense amount of emotion in them too. Words are like brush strokes. Just as strokes come together to create a painting that presents an alternate reality, words come together to create a different means of presenting an alternate reality.
Did you go to University?
Yes, I studied English Literature in the University of Bahrain. Naturally, I was drawn to it, but little had I realized then how much it would expand my love and understanding for words and the million possibilities they present. In studying literature, I met all the different types of writer I could be, and watched as they all merged into one that defined who I was, and what I wrote. I thought I was passionate about writing when I was as young as 14, but studying literature allowed me to tap into my potential further, where I discovered so much more in me than I thought was possible.
By Zahra Zuhair
I know Aylan Kurdi
and the others who came
but didn’t live,
to see the end of this game.
in your fancy suits,
The floor is red
but you wear boots.
I know my sisters,
Noor, Raneem and Najla.
and my brothers, Baalousha and Aslan,
Almataouq, Aashoor and Jumaa.
you cannot run forever,
the lives you have taken
will be avenged by another.
I cannot join them
but I know the freedom fighters;
young Ahed Tamimi,
Rachel Corrie and the others.
I have no weapons with me;
I have everything to lose
but I also have my prayers and my love,
and I have my words and my views.
If that is all I have,
then that is what I will give,
because they are fighting death
while I live.
Is writing your full-time job?
I’m an English Language teacher, and this has perhaps added more to my appreciation of words and language. I think that for me, writing should not be a full-time job, as I am the type of person who needs to have different things going on. I feel that experiencing different things, and working with and responding to the environment around me keeps me going, and ultimately feeds into my writing.
What projects you are currently working on?
I am currently working on a book of poetry about emotion, but it’s been a slow process and I cannot say how much longer it will take. I also do a lot of work for my community and my teaching center. That sounds like a selfless thing, but I think I do them more for myself than anyone else. I am driven to do what I do because of the need to have a purpose in existing, and to be able to affect things around me, rather than to just be there. I further find a lot of strength for what I do in my faith, and what I do is a way to preserve my faith in a way, because one of my fundamental principles of self-preservation is to be of service to others.
What really inspires you?
Emotions are what inspires me. Being able to feel, and allowing myself to feel has been the inception point of some of my best work. I love to write about the human mind and the human condition, and be able to look at a normal situation through a lens no one would dare look through. This is not an easy task though, and it can be quite overwhelming, which is why I find I cannot be a full-time writer. Sometimes, one needs a distraction from one’s own mind.
By Zahra Zuhair
Thorns lined the dark green thicket
and dying flowers, like a thin blanket
lined the walls of this web.
'Follow me', his father said, ‘and do as I say.
Daddy always knows the way.'
Deeper and deeper they went.
Darkness loomed over them as the sky
began to fall. 'Why, daddy? Why?
Why so far away?'
'Hush now and stay here. I won't be long,
I will be back before the tumult has begun.'
And the sky cracked as he departed.
Reds, blues, whites, greens, yellows and blacks; all the colours of the flags;
more dull than his brown rags.
Withered, worn and stepped on.
Run! Run! He thought and finish the fight
so that when once again there is light,
Daddy will come back.
'No. My child. He is forever gone.'
All he's left behind is the song,
for singing for freedom
and chanting for justice, for aspiration,
and standing up against oppression.
That is all that is left.
The flowers have come and gone in this thicket,
and our blood lay over it like a blanket.
We stand alone, and leaderless.
Daddy is no more, but you must remain silent.
He has gone after oil and diamonds
and taken your future with him.
What is the process of transforming that initial moment of inspiration, or idea, into actual words on paper?
Everything I write sits in my mind for days, or weeks brewing slowly, until it becomes too big to keep contained. When this happens, I write it down and it usually stays the way it is written down the first time. I struggle with taking my initial ideas and turning them into bigger things, when they are no longer alone in my mind, but out on paper for everyone to see. So, I let my work build itself first before I release it from my mind.
Do you have a particular writing location?
I do not. I can write anywhere as long as I am mentally alone.
Name your THREE most favourite books and why.
It’s hard to pick just three out of many books, but I think the ones that top the list would be Morisson’s The Bluest Eye, Dicks’ Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend and Herge’s Tintin. I have read a lot of books that I like just as much as the ones I’ve just listed. I usually like books that are full of symbolism and that challenge me intellectually, opening up doorways to a million realms within my mind. Sometimes, I enjoy a light read and Tintin entertains me very much.
As someone drawn to emotion, I find myself more a lover of poetry than fiction, but while I have favourite poems, I do not have a favourite poem or poet.
By Zahra Zuhair
In a moment of absolute despair,
I shut my eyes in search of You,
believing that You would not come
but I could only watch as my distress grew
with the swelling inside my chest,
and so great, it smothered my breath.
The whispering in my head
putting all goodness to death.
So I turned around and looked
where I had never dared before to look;
There I found You
and earned back what Satan took.
You had been there all this time,
your angels guarding me and You waiting
with a patience unmatched by any man
waiting for me to come to You.
and I ever so desperately
turned to you and decided to stay
because You gave me happiness
the kind that would never drive my hope away.
Lastly... what does writing MEAN to you?
I think that what you create embodies your soul. I see writing in much the same way. I do not think I would ever write for money, or for fame. I would like to be known as a writer, but I like to write for myself. It is one of the things I do to stop hurting. I do it for myself, and I do it for others.