A postgraduate student is using poetry to write about her personal cultural experiences. 

Qudsia Akhtar graduated from the University of Salford in 2018 with a degree in English and Creative Writing. She is now working towards an MA in Creative Writing: Innovation and Experiment, a course which allows students to be experimental with their writing. 

One of seven children, Qudsia began writing creative pieces in a private journal when she was younger. She explored writing poetry seriously when she was seventeen years old.

Some of her work has seen Qudsia probe the nature of Pakistani culture and the influence of tradition over women.

Speaking about her work, Qudsia said, “My focus is on identity politics covering faith, race, and gender politics. I use the Fictocritical approach (a blend of creative and critical writing) to discuss the effects of colonialisation, patriarchy, and Islamophobia. 

“The form of the Fictocritic allows me to contrast the voices of the informed intellectual voice and the personal creative to represent the struggles Pakistanis experience whether we are conscious of it or not.”

Qudsia said that although the Pakistani culture is a rich and diverse one, she admits there are “pitfalls relating to patriarchy” and says the confusion between Islam and south Asian culture is a charged terrain.

She said, “I have heard stories in our local communities on how women were and still are being mistreated. 

“The silence around women makes me feel very uncomfortable. 

“I started to write about Pakistani culture to inform those who always mistakenly felt that patriarchal traditions were derived from the Islamic faith. 

“So, my first intention was to establish a distinct line between Islam and Pakistani culture.

“My poem ‘Inheritance’ explores the delicate matter of how patriarchy has influenced how Pakistanis view the Islamic faith. The loss of spirituality and religion can be manipulated by men who oppress women by denying them basic rights and justifying their actions by referencing a misreading of the Quran.

“In our Pakistani communities, we need to have open conversations about our social issues and to listen to the youth when they have something to say about social change.”

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Qudsia won the Performance, English and Creative Writing Award at Create Student Awards at the University of Salford this summer

When she began writing, Qudsia said she was initially apprehensive to articulate her cultural experiences and was concerned about the interest in her work.

She has since been published in the literary journal ‘Acumen’ and was also accepted for a place at the Tower Poetry Summer School based at Oxford University, with her work due to appear in their poetry Anthology.

“When I first started writing, I was weary of writing specifically about my cultural experiences afraid that there would be no readership or publishers who were interested. 

“I felt isolated. However, at University, we studied poets from a range of different backgrounds who write about their personal cultural experiences.

“I made an important contact when I was encouraged to send some of my work to the poet Daljit Nagra. 

“He was so positive and encouraging about my verse, and that in turn pushed me to submit poems to literary journals.

“I feel I have been really very lucky thus far.”

Poetry is a genre, Qudsia maintains, will always remain relevant and will resonate with every generation. She said, “I know this sounds like a cliché, but as long as humans exist, poetry will exist.

“Throughout centuries, we have had good poets who have had something to say. 

“The one thing that good poets have is the unique worldview that comments on the universal experiences of the human. 

“This is why we can read a poem from any century and still find common experiences today with those writers of years gone by. 

“Universal human experience is the common factor which enables people of all times, cultures and backgrounds to relate to poets from every age. 

“Poetry has sprung from all kinds of human experiences: revolutions, death, happiness, tragedy, protest, love. It has been written to commemorate, and to express powerful emotions, in forms and language that are out of the ordinary, and in those ways poetry has the power to make the ordinary special. 

“I am aware that many people do not actively seek out poetry books in bookshops or online, but the beauty of poetry is that it still thrives in a niche market and when one needs comfort for the soul, poetry will always be there. 

“So, I will continue to write to engage with my worldview and attempt to inspire others.”

This article featured in the September edition of Asian Life here