Creative Friends is a new series of blog posts I’ll be doing, spotlighting friends whose creative work inspires me.
First up…one of my best friends: the poet, journalist and all-around superstar Laala Kashef Alghata! Laala has just released a new poetry collection entitled Cupid’s Rage. I helped to edit the collection and I was so excited to read the final version. Laala’s poems blend raw emotionality with tightly controlled verse, playfully subverting romantic tropes (roses, stars, even Cupid himself) in ways that are intriguing and sometimes haunting. The poems mostly deal with romantic love but there are also some beautiful ekphrastic poems and poems exploring loneliness, family and hope.
Laala took some time out of her schedule interviewing dignitaries and travelling around the world (you know, the usual), to answer some questions about Cupid’s Rage and how it came to be.
CB: For some people, ‘Cupid’ might conjure up images of a cute, benevolent baby cherub. Why this title – Cupid’s Rage?
LKA: Cupid has never struck me as particularly benevolent, but that’s compounded when you think about classical mythology. Cupid isn’t the little cherub we’re presented with by Hallmark cards – Cupid is a god. We seem to forget that and see him as a messenger, but he’s powerful. I also find it interesting that in contemporary dialogue we rarely discuss that Cupid carries two kinds of arrows – one to inspire uncontrollable desire and the other to create aversion and the desire to flee. With that in mind, he’s a god I’d really rather not anger. The title, which comes from the title of a poem in the collection, really touches upon how we could make Cupid angry by “fall[ing] for the wrong one” and thus either ruining his plans or simply making him work harder to ‘right’ situations. That said: is he a god who would want people to live happy lives, or does he have a sadistic streak?
This is your second poetry collection and it was put together between 2008 and 2011, both in Bahrain and Scotland. Can you tell us a little more about how this collection came together?
It’s been quite a gap between my first poetry collection, Behind the Mask: A Folded Heart and Cupid’s Rage – nine years. I hadn’t stopped writing in that time, although it my once-prolific nature dwindled while I was completing my university degree. I realised I had quite a large archive of poems I had never collated, so I started working earlier this year on sifting through them. I think I went through about 400 poems to choose the 26 poems that make up this collection. I had about 50 at first, but through the editing process I ended up whittling it down pretty ruthlessly. It’s been quite a labour of love in that regard. The most difficult aspect was editing the poems to a state I was happy with, without editing out my younger voice.
Stars and stargazing are a recurrent motif in Cupid’s Rage. Sometimes the stars look down from afar with judgment, as in ‘Regard Me Sadly’, other times they are close at hand, as in ‘Neighbors’. What drew you to writing about the stars?
I’ve always really loved the stars. I’m afraid it’s not a particularly profound answer. Stars have always had the ability to enslave me. Growing up in Bahrain, I never saw starry nights unless I was away from home. We barely see any constellations. I can still remember the first time I saw the sky lit up with stars. I fell in love. In St Andrews, when I would be at the very outskirts of town, the light pollution would be so low that it was almost nonexistent. I’ve never seen such a gorgeous starry night. The memory of that lived with me for a long time, and most of the poems written about stars were written about my experiences while living in Scotland.
There are many references to painting and painters in the collection, as well. Your poem ‘The Painters and I’ imagines how famous painters would paint your portrait and ‘I Want to Feel Van Gogh’s Night’ vividly evokes a Van Gogh painting. Do you have a background in visual art and how does it inspire your poetry?
I both do and don’t. I do in the sense that I was very interested and very involved in visual arts as a teenager, creating many small- and large-scale paintings ranging from oil paints to acrylics, pastels and various mixed media, including sculpture. It was something I enjoyed very much and was an essential part of my life. That said, it’s not actively part of my life now except through photography, so it feels a little fraudulent to continue to say I’m also a visual artist, although I do hope to return to it.
Finally, do you have a favorite poem or lines from the collection?
Oh, that’s not a particularly easy question to answer. Cupid’s Rage is definitely a favourite, considering I named the collection after the poem. There was something about the moment straight after writing the line ‘a modern pair of star-fucked lovers’ that has meant it’s stayed a favourite for a long time. I’m also very partial to Regard Me Sadly, Roadside Flowers and Green Fields.
Laala Kashef Alghata (b. 1990) is an Iraqi-Bahraini poet. She graduated from the University of St Andrews, having studied English Literature and Psychology. She currently works as a journalist in Bahrain. Her debut, a middle-grade novel called Friendship in Knots, made her the first Bahraini to publish a book in English and, at 13, the youngest (at the time) to publish a book. Her second book, a poetry and prose collection, Behind the Mask: A Folded Heart, was published in 2006. Cupid’s Rage, a new collection of poems, is out now. You can get a copy here.