Jam is for Girls is the debut collection from activist, poet and film maker Shagufta K Iqbal and is as rich and full of bite as we were expecting. We asked Shagufta a few questions on the book…
Hi Shagufta! We’re finally here! The release of Jam Is For Girls, how excited are you right now?
Aaaaaaah! 15 years of Aaaaaah have been built up. It is very exciting, and also very nerve wracking, as all the poems that to date have existed in public orally are now tied to paper.
The title of the book comes from the poem of the same title Jam is for Girls, Girls get Jam, why did you decide to name the collection after it?
It was one of the first performance pieces I wrote, that just worked. It was also the first time that I have been able to put so much content in terms of ideas/ thoughts/ narrative into one piece and it came together in a cohesive way. For me it lays the foundations of much of my work and the things that matter to me.
What first inspired you to write poetry?
Reading. I could not read anything without trying to imitate or respond to what I had read. This is how I started writing, it also became a coping mechanism for me to deal with my emotional/ mental health. A way to write myself back to myself. There is something incredibly empowering about writing your own story, giving it weight, and knowing that you too are worthy of and entitled to take up space. So many artists have helped me on that journey of finding my “voice.”
How did you find the process of putting your collection together? Was there any particularly difficult aspects?
I think this collection spans so much time and has writing collected from even 10 years ago, that it’s journey was difficult to lay out in a book. The style, voice and content has evolved and changed so much over time that it took a long time to thread the work together. But I think with the help of BEB, we have managed to put together a collection that tells an interesting story that will resonate with readers.
The poems are split into section named after rivers, can you elaborate on why you decided to do this? (I really love this btw!)
I think identity is such an elusive and constantly evolving part of us, that the best way for me to share this narrative was to go back to the five rivers: (Punjab). It anchors my sense of self history, this area that spans across India and Pakistan. And of course growing up near the River Avon, this too had to be included. Each river has its own history and journey, and while the five do eventually meet, their myths, stories and paths vary until that meeting point. Growing up as a Muslim, British Pakistani, with Sikh ancestry I felt the Rivers conveyed that message well in my work.
This year is India’s 70th Year of Independence – how will you be celebrating?
This is always a bitter sweet celebration, while I honour and celebrate all those who fought for the independence of the sub-continent, I also mourn the violence and loss that was inflicted on the geography of what was once an India for all. The conflict is an on-going one, and the border lines haunt our collective sense of history.
I am part of a poetry collective that goes by the name of ‘Zarrin’, which offers space, support and a sense of community for South Asian female spoken word poets. We feel it is important to have a hub to tap into for growth, inspiration, collaboration and an exchange of ideas. South Asian bodies, in particular female bodies are often talked about, with conversations happening around us, not including us. While an unbalance of genders occurs in the spoken word and poetry scene throughout the UK, a greater racial unbalance occurs. This group was created to take control of that narrative through poetry. We hope to work on a project over the month of Aug to reflect on this part of our history through our art.
Tell us about your upcoming gigs and what’s next for you!
Wow, so I am currently organising a book launch (details TBC). I am performing at Bristol’s Harbourside Festival, (22nd & 23rd July), WOMAD Festival, (27th – 30th July), Shambala Festival (24th – 27th Aug). I am working on a poetry film following on from ‘Borders’. I am really excited to be working with Elizabeth Mizon again, where we will be filming a project based on the ‘Jam Is For Girls, Girls Get Jam’ poem.