Konya Shamsrumi: What is the process of writing a poem like for you? Is it a lot of hard work or easy?
Semiha Abdulmelik: I would say there is no process. Or maybe that’s just my lack of writing discipline showing! It just comes. I can never consciously sit down and write a poem. So in that sense it’s hard-I can’t write at will. It always appears, and requires to be written, either in part or in whole. And I scribble it on whatever I have at the moment. A post-it. My phone notes app. A scrap of paper. An open email. Sometimes, it happens at an inopportune time and I can’t write it down in time. But it always finds me again. Always. I do however sometimes play with what I’ve already inscribed. Lines become puzzles, and I sometimes combine, split, or jigsaw a poem into something else, repurposes it almost, when I’m feeling more playful, more cerebral.
Konya Shamsrumi: Please describe your sense of identity in this or any possible world in imagery or metaphor?
Semiha Abdulmelik: I’ve always felt that I navigate space, not time, so this is an interesting one but I’ve never thought of myself in another world.
Konya Shamsrumi: If any of your poems could literarily save a person’s life, which poem would it be and can you describe the person whose life you think it would have saved?
Semiha Abdulmelik: That’s a huge burden to put on a poem, isn’t it? But I wrote it in hope, so maybe it can offer that to someone else. Someone who has felt inundated and swept away by grief, or sadness. Maybe not save someone’s life but get them to hold on- hope that their relationship to that grief will change-which I guess could save them.
Be patient with Grief
On days It swallows you whole like Jonah’s whale;
Wraps its thick tentacles around you, forcing the breath from your lungs;
Crashes down on you like a tsunami wall;
Stains your skin like the smell of apple cider vinegar and chlorine;
Carries you away like mad currents towards a precarious waterfall.
Perhaps, one day you will walk side by side, with gently linked arms, into coves of quiet contemplation.
Be patient with your grief.
Konya Shamsrumi: What does Africa mean to you, as potential or reality?
Semiha Abdulmelik: Africa in its potential and realities is me, it’s us. It’s a reckoning with ourselves. It’s a becoming. Movement and stillness. Where past, present, and future bleed into each other.
Konya Shamsrumi: Could you share with us one poem you’ve been most impressed or fascinated by? Tell us why and share favorite lines from it.
Semiha Abdulmelik: So many! I recently told someone I write poetry, and they said, “people don’t read poetry anymore do they?”. Sorry to that (wo)man. I think there has been an explosion of published poets globally, especially voices that are usually not in the mainstream. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Some poems are magnificent throughout, and others slowly build up, and suck the breath from you in the final two lines. Two lines that stay and linger with you. Ambush you with truths and vulnerability after luring you into safety. But I have to start somewhere, so I would like to share Love after Love by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Semiha Abdulmelik has been writing poetry since the 7th grade, mostly as an alternative to a diary. Langston Hughes was her first introduction to poetry. His attention to beauty and joy – not just pain – remind her of the radical potential of poetry. She has also started writing short stories, and hopes to write a full set someday, but mostly reverts to poetry as her native tongue. She is an African of eastern extraction, specifically Ethiopia.