Ramsha Ashraf loves dancing and this passion is reflected in her poetry.
A free, spontaneous dance full of vigour, joy and bitterness. The element of shocking surprise is the major ingredient in her poems knitted apparently like a personal diary using very ordinary, simple, even seemingly mundane experiences and observations of life as a metaphor for poetry.
“I believe that poetry should be like dance, one hand here and the other there and all the moves synchronised to make a circle,” she narrates.
She started learning kathak from Naheed Siddiqui,\ but it was interrupted after Naheed left Lahore. Writing from a tender age, she ended up writing English poetry.
“I am familiar with four languages, including French, Punjabi, Urdu and English. I can fluently communicate in all of them but to compose poetry, one must know the language thoroughly. So I chose English because of my intimacy with English literature,” she further explained.
Her first collection of English poems titled Enmeshed published last year stirred controversies and criticism, but also received appreciation from serious readers.
“Most men appreciate my poetry without reading. More than the poetry they seem interested in socialising, having photos taken and a cup of tea. Majority of the women gave me feedback after reading.
It was well-received in India and Karachi and it was a pleasant surprise to have positive and profound response from interior Sindh, Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. They talked about metaphors, various dimensions of poetry rather than asking shallow personal questions.
“In Punjab, people would ask ‘Why do you write about your husband when you are not married?’, ‘Are these poems inspired by your boyfriend?’ and so many such questions."
"Some find it obscene. I wonder why people take work of literature as a biography of the writer when even biographies are a work of fiction,” Ramsha went on.
She said: “Writing in the first person doesn’t mean these are my own experiences penned as a personal diary; they may be observations narrated by my poetic self. Pseudo liberals were also shocked, they would say ‘this is so blunt, does she know what she is doing?’, while some of the established literary pundits criticised my work to the extent that they judged it as an attempt to get cheap publicity,” she said in a bitter tone.
“I was reluctant to touch sensitive parts of society. My publisher also had concerns about the possible reactions, but it got absorbed and accepted,” she added.
Amrita Pritam was her first love while she appreciates the almost-classical metre and rhyme of Ernest Dowson. She also counts Rimbaud, Neruda, Sylvia Plath and Kamala Das as important influences, but it is the work of E.E. Cummings and Ezra Pound that she references as inspiration for her free verse.
Yet Ramsha consciously, and successfully, resists falling into the trap of imitating her favourite writers. She writes short stories, which are published in journals abroad, but poetry remains her true love.
She writes in simple diction which communicates the intensity of strong content. She dares to break taboos and express emotions which are usually forbidden.
Her poetry could be termed as a combination of the aesthetics of dance, lust for life and the bitterness of a deeply wounded sensitive human being.
Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2016