Poetry this evening, my friends. I love poetry. I love reading poetry out loud – doesn’t matter if nobody else is around, poetry just needs to be read out loud. Poetry just sums up emotions and situations. My guest this week is the gorgeous Iranian poet Kamand Kojouri. Her poetry is a breath of fresh air. Her poems have been read on the radio, in sermons in churches and synagogues, used as lyrics for a rock song, and even her poem about Aleppo, “Heaven And Hell” was placed next to James P Graham’s stunning artwork at his Desacration exhibition at Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome. Praise indeed. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Kamand’s 2nd collection, “God, Does Humanity Exist?” Having devoured the book word for word, I had some questions for the poet herself …. so hi Kamand!
Hi! I’m Kamand, an Iranian poet and writer living in the UK. I’ve written two poetry books and I’m currently writing a historical novel for my creative writing PhD programme.
I write to raise awareness about the injustices in the world, to remind us that we are all responsible for one another, and to instil hope and love into our lives.
What inspired you to write poetry?
It’s quite simple, really: I fell in love…
My brothers, Hafez and Khayyam, are also named after the great Persian poets. When we were little, my brother,Khayyam, would receive at least one collection of Omar Khayyam’s poems as a birthday gift. My mother often recites lines from poems mid-conversation as well, so poetry had always been an intrinsic, albeit dormant, part of my life. Funnily enough, the literal translation of my name (Kamand) is a lasso. But Kamand is actually an ornamental word used in Persian poetry to describe long beautiful hair.
“God, Does Humanity Exist?” was published on 2 March 2020 — your 2nd collection of poems focusing on suffering, resistance, and hope. I personally enjoyed reading the poems out loud. Actually, I don’t know if I can read poetry any other way. I truly believe poetry is also better understood by reading out loud. Interesting title to your book though, Kamand. So, was it hard to think up a title for your poetry collection that seemed to encapsulate the verses contained within? Why did you pick the title?
My collection is divided into four sections: Cries of Common Pain, Call to Action, Songs of Hope, and Echoes of Hope. It includes urgent poems about the devastation of war, the refugee crisis, the dangers of silence, mass shootings, the atrocities being committed across the pond and even the ones on our doorstep… And although the poems are rooted in dark realities, ultimately the message is one of love and togetherness.
I remember brainstorming ideas for the title and discussing it with my twin sister and my father. I decided to go with God, Does Humanity Exist? and my father said that it was very interesting but perhaps sounded a bit pessimistic, and that was far from my intention. In order to eliminate any ambiguities about the title, I added an author’s note at the beginning of the book that explained my reasoning. The idea is that for thousands of years people have been asking “Does God Exist?” I wanted to turn this age-old question on its head and ask God, whether humanity exists. Of course, I don’t doubt humanity’s existence, but I want us to think, speak, and act more humanely—with more compassion, empathy, and understanding. So the title is meant to make us think, and it’s also meant to make us act.
It was hard for me to pick a favourite poem from this collection — it was a tie between “We Don’t Find God” & “ Writers Aren’t Alchemists”. Do you have a particular favourite?
My favourite poem is “We Are, Each of Us, Refugees”. Whenever I’m reading it out loud by the time I get to this last stanza I get quite emotional:
When home turns into hell,
you, too, will run
with tears in your eyes screaming rescue me!
and then you’ll know for certain:
you’ve always been a refugee.
Have you always hoped for a career in poetry/ creative writing or did your career aspirations as a child lie elsewhere?
I always wanted to become a doctor to help people. As I became older, I chose neurosurgery as a speciality. I studied sciences in my undergraduate years and volunteered at a big hospital in downtown Toronto. One day one of my patients asked me to read to her. From that day on, I started renting out books from the library to read during my lunch breaks, and that’s when I fell in love with reading. It was a bit daunting because I had envisioned my entire life as a neurosurgeon but then all of a sudden I had found this ardent passion for reading and writing. I remember trying to intellectualise my decision—making a list of pros and cons for each career. I showed my friends and family the list and discussed it with them. It was a big risk but I decided I could still help people with my writing and I thought that I’d be doing something that truly complemented my soul. The greatest thing about pursuing a career in writing is that you become a life-long philomath. You develop this hunger to learn, and the more you read and the more you write, you realise how very little it is you know.
Born in Tehran, raised in Dubai & Toronto, currently residing in Wales; you have been to places that must have influenced your writing somewhere along the line. Hypothetically speaking, if you were able to visit any place in the world to get inspiration for a new collection of poems, where would you go and why?
That’s such an interesting question! My mother’s greatest passion is travelling. Every summer, she’d try to take my siblings and me to a new country. I have visited around forty countries and I think I don’t necessarily need to visit a place to get inspiration from there. For instance, the novel I’m currently writing takes place in three different cities that I have yet to visit.
I think it ultimately depends on what you have in your heart and your mind at the time of travelling. A few years ago, there was a revival of a very popular musical (based on Victor Hugo’s novel) in Paris called Notre-Dame de Paris. At the time I was doing my Master’s programme in London, so I hopped on the Eurostar to see it on opening night. I’d been to Paris a few times prior, so I planned to revisit my favourite places (the cathedral, Place du Tertre in Montmartre etc.) and a couple of new museums. I had taken a collection of Hafez’s poems with me and I remember being so inspired by the beauty (the music, architecture, paintings and sculptures) that I filled a small journal with Sufi poems. It’s uncanny to think that I wrote my most spiritual poems whilst on a trip to Paris to see a musical… Anywhere in the world that has beautiful artwork, a little bit of nature, a place of worship (like a temple or a church—perhaps it has something to do with the higher vibrational frequencies), inspires me. And if I go to a classical concert when I’m there, then I’m in heaven.
Are you a Bookworm?
I’m definitely a bookworm, but because of my OCD I’m quite a neurotic reader. That’s why I used to dislike reading as a child. What it means now is that I’m not a fast reader, because I like to highlight beautiful lines and often rewrite them into a journal. My favourite genre is poetry and I also love philosophical novels. I have too many favourite authors!My favourite poets include Nizar Qabbani, Rumi, Pablo Neruda, and E.E. Cummings. Favourite writers: Javier Marias, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Sarah Waters, and Anton Chekhov.
It’s funny because I bought my dad a Kindle (he reads many books concurrently like I do) but he regifted it back to me. I haven’t used it in years as I prefer actual books.
Is “God, Does Humanity Exist?” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes, it’s available on all the Amazon websites in paperback and eBook. It’s also available on Barnes & Noble and third-party booksellers online. For every copy sold, a tree is planted in Sub-Saharan Africa to help provide families with food, income, and a sustainable way of life. All of the royalties will also go to children’s charities in Iran.
Which other forms of writing, other than poetry, would you love to try your hand at? Songwriting, thriller, children’s books?
I would love to write a children’s book one day!
A brilliant American composer used my poem “War on Silence” to compose a piece for a choir recently, and a band used my poem “They Want Us to Be Afraid” as lyrics for one of their songs. Music is one of my greatest passions as well so I’d love to try my hand at songwriting—best of both worlds.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I’m always in business casual and a pair of black suede ankle boots, unless I’m going to a nice dinner or jazz night then I’m in stilettos.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
I lived in Canada for about eight years so my favourite shop is Aritzia, a Canadian boutique.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I don’t have a wish list right now, but I’d be very happy to purchase a bright-coloured top in-store because that’d mean that the pandemic is over and we can celebrate summer.
Boots or Shoes?
Heeled ankle boots all the way! I’m average height but my twin sister is much taller than me and my brothers tower over me so I like the extra bit of heel.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/Facebook etc
Thank you very much Kamand for chatting to us today. Thanks also for the copy of your fabulous poetry book and thanks also to Ben Cameron. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kamand Kojouri.