The Lounge Chair interview: 10 Questions with Nausheen Eusuf
By Farah Ghuznavi
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
I write because I feel compelled to commemorate something that’s important to me, or communicate something that needs to be said, or grapple with some thorny issue that won’t otherwise let me rest. Making art of any kind (whether it’s poetry or paintings) is a way of creating order out of the chaos of human experience. That’s why it’s necessary.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
I just recently published my first full-length collection of poems, titled Not Elegy, But Eros, which appeared simultaneously in the US (from NYQ Books) and in Bangladesh (from Bengal Lights Books). The book is in part about grief and loss, but also about moving beyond that and affirming life. It’s about the making and unmaking of the self, and the role of art and literature in helping us live.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I would say my writing is ‘traditional’ in T. S. Eliot’s sense — i.e., my aesthetic is informed by the poets of the past. At the same time, what I learn from past masters is, of course, refracted by the prism of my own individual personality and life experience. The work that results is, I hope, something that is both personal and universal at the same time.
Who are your favourite authors?
Well, there are many. In the 20th century: Stevens, Yeats, Eliot, Crane, Moore, Auden, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, Donald Justice. In the 19th century and before: Keats, Tennyson, Hopkins, Whitman, Dickinson, Donne, Milton, Shakespeare. Among living poets: certainly Frank Bidart, who was my first poetry teacher.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
I think the most challenging was a poem that was commissioned for a poem-film project. I was given the theme (‘inheritance’) and the length (at least 3 mins when read out loud), but that’s not what made it challenging. It was difficult because I ended up interpreting the ‘inheritance’ theme in an existential sense, i.e. what we inherit is really the human condition—that we are frail, fallible, and mortal. So it was an ambitious poem, very abstract and philosophical, but I think it’s one of my best poems.
What’s your idea of bliss?
A hammock, a cool breeze, and a good book.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Seeing or reading about people being mistreated or victimized, especially vulnerable groups such as women, religious or ethnic minorities, and the poor or underprivileged.
What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
Selected or collected editions of the poets I mentioned earlier.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
My laptop and a family photo album.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
I think it’s our duty to use our talents to contribute to society in a meaningful way and make a difference in the world, no matter how small.
Nausheen Eusuf is a Ph. D candidate in English at Boston University, and a graduate of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. Her poetry has appeared in The American Scholar, The Guardian, PN Review, Wasafiri and World Literature Today, and has been selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2018. Her first full-length collection Not Elegy, But Eros was recently published by NYQ Books (US) and Bengal Lights Books (Bangladesh).