She writes her life in the form of prose. Although we can say that poetry, in general, is the unveiling of one’s most inner self, Amerah Saleh writes her autobiography in the form of poems in her book, “I am not from Here.” This unique technique truly moves the reader just as prose and rythm normally do, but with a mixture of the speaker’s (poet’s) recollection of the past that has shaped the person she is today. See interview below:
R.I love how your poetry book “I am not from Here” is your own personal memoir, a narration of your life from birth to now? How did you find the courage to tell the world your story? What made you want to share it?
A. One of the scariest things is to publish your words in writing, the idea that it will be forever really scared me. What I talk about, the complex relationship with your parents, relationships/love in whatever sense that is, the identity aspect of being British-born, but feeling an overwhelming sense of connection to Yemen and the people there. I knew I was putting permanent words on a page that are seen as ‘3yb’ (shame) and things that should be kept within the four walls of a home. For me, that is fundamentally damaging to our children, to hide our trauma, to pass that trauma on, to not talk. I guess, to answer your question, I wanted to break the cycle of generational trauma coming from us normalizing our complex lives.
R.What advice do you have for writers who want to write their own memoirs, but are too afraid to open up? What does it take?
A. A lot of courage if I am honest. Knowing your story is so valid. It is real. It is heard. It will be heard. Most importantly, it is crucial for others to hear it, those who can say ‘omg yes I feel this too’ and those who can say ‘omg I never knew this’ – which is those who have similar life experience vs those who are ignorant to your life experience, educate and teach them that the White middle-class male perspective needs to stop being the only view in the world.
R.How was the writing process for you? How long did it take? How was each piece birthed?
A. The writing is over a good few years, there are some old poems in there that felt needed to be read and others which I wrote specifically for the book. For example, the Title Poem(s) were written as I was curating the book, and I wanted to break the book up into sections /themes of my life, but also allowing a space for a young person in Brum to showcase their work. That is why each section of my book has a poem by another locl poet. Honestly? My love section was the only section that was the hardest (hence the least amount of poems – that could be a signifier of my love life or lack of ha) but also one of the themes I was adament to keep in the book because my complex relationship with love is because of my complex relationship with myself/my body/my emotions and with men, directly because of the trauma I have experienced with men my whole life. So it felt super significant to include, even though I don’t introduce it or talk about it like that. I guess you’re getting a little bit of the ‘behind the scenes.’
R.What is your favorite beverage when writing?
A. Oh, this is such an interesting question. I am not a big fizzy drinker, I will always have a cup of tea in-hand. I write a lot less than I did before, when I was dangerously addicted to coffee and Redbull. I feel like I should say water though! Drink water!
R.You are also a spoken word artist? Did you first speak poetry or did you first write poetry? How do these interrelate in your life?
A. I first read Owen Sheers in College, but then I was in theatre writing and radio playwriting to begin with. When I first heard spoken word the idea of not having any one that didn’t sound/look like me read my work fascinated me. I can read my own work and be in control with how it lands with an audience? I am in!
R.I have to say, as we love fashion here at Hayati, I love your fashion sense! I love how bold the colors are and how much it shows you as a true individual of the 21st century, the age of individualism! What inspires you to wear what you wear?
A. Prince. Ha. I do love the idea of not conforming to what I should or shouldn’t wear. I love seeing clothes and thinking how would I wear this as a visibly Muslim woman. I am very short, so for me, growing up, I felt like I needed my signature externally so people stopped pointing me out as the short one, the Hijabi (specifically in the white creative world I exist in), so I thought a bowtie, a hat, glasses, socks could be the way people point me out. I enjoy clothes, I have just turned my spare bedroom into a walk in wardrobe so I can’t wait for post covid life and picking out my outfits, haha.
R. How can we purchase your book and follow your journey?
A. Ideally from Verve Poetry Press directly . I say ideally as I know that is not always possible but Verve is Brummie, independent and overall great. Amazon takes fees out but it is also available there. My journey is on Twitter or Instagram @voiceofthepoets – I stopped posted publicly on Instagram so my journey is mainly through IG Stories. That is whole other explanation for another day.