Khadija Rouf is a recent graduate of Manchester Metropolitan University’s online Creative Writing MA, and is set to be published in The Six Seasons Review, a Bangladeshi literary journal undergoing a rebirth from its original stretch of publications beginning back in 2001. Humanity Hallows picked up the official office telephone and had a little chat with her, eager to learn more.
Humanity Hallows: Can you tell me about your contribution to The Six Seasons Review?
Khadija Rouf: Well, it’s really come out of doing the MA at Manchester. I’ve finished my dissertation now, I’ve handed my poetry in, and I thought I would start sending stuff out – I hadn’t been brave enough to do that before. I’d heard through a friend of a friend that there was a re-launch of Six Seasons happening, and I thought I would try some of the Bengali poetry journals. Partly because I’m part Bengali myself, and also because there is a rich tradition of poetry in Bangladesh and Bengal.
HH: Were you familiar with that tradition?
KR: A little; I don’t know much about the contemporary poetry but I’ve read bits and pieces of Rabindranath Tagore’s work and I know there is a rich tradition of music and poetry in that part of the world. It felt like a nice thing to kind of connect with that and try to send some of my work out there to see whether there was an interest in it. They have published one of my poems, which has gone forward in my MA, which obviously I’m delighted about. I’m very excited to be part of this re-launch.
HH: That’s great. So did your online degree – as well as producing that poetry in the first place – help you develop the creative skills, which you used in the process of contributing your poetry?
KR: Absolutely, one hundred per cent. I’m a distant learner, living in Oxfordshire, and I was really keen to participate in creative writing – but on practical terms because I’m working and I’ve got a family. There’s no way I could be a full-time student. There’s no way I could travel to lectures during the day. There’s no way I could be doing any of that. So I was looking around at online courses and I was really impressed by what I was reading about the Manchester course. I was lucky enough to get on it, and the teaching turned out to be fantastic. But I think in some ways it can be hard to be an online student – there’s some pros-and-cons to it. The advantages have been that I can wrap it around family, wrap it around work, and the electronic resources have been fantastic. In the first two years of the course they take you through a structured program and you cover poetry – twentieth century poetry – you have assignments, and you get a peer-group. We would meet over ‘t’internet’ and have live discussions. It was like being in a very noisy – but silent – pub! It took a bit of getting used to because I can’t type that fast, and sometimes I’d be answering questions that were two or three lines back in the conversation. But once I got into the rhythm of that it was really fantastic. One of the big advantages, I think, in that format is that because it’s not face-to-face it’s somehow easier to be honest – constructive, but honest – about the criticism that you’re giving, and there’s also something less personal about getting that feedback as well.
That was the first two years, and there were obviously some online lectures, which you could also take part in. They had guest speakers coming in to talk about different aspects of publishing and different genres, and that was really informative. Then the final year was writing your portfolio – writing the pieces which you will submit for your MA, which is a lonelier business.
I feel like I learned a lot from my peers on the course, but also a huge amount from feedback and tutorials from established poets. It’s wonderful really. I would never, ever have had the confidence to send [my work] off before now. There were people on the course who were already sending stuff off, and were already established poets, and I was a bit awestruck by that really. It’s only been towards the end I’ve felt like I’ve actually got more confidence now, and that I can take that step.
HH: When you were shopping around for all these degrees, what specifically drew you to the MMU one?
KR: I think the calibre of the people on the course did it for me. I know Simon Armitage has moved on now, but [he] was there, Carol-Ann Duffy’s still there, Michael Symmons Roberts is there, Jean Sprackland’s there… there are very well regarded, critically acclaimed people on the course and that was a really big draw for me.
HH: Aside from Six Seasons have you been doing anything else creatively, after your degree?
KR: I’m kind of getting in the writing habit now, which I’m pleased about. It would be very easy to stop right there. I’ve made a pact with myself to try and spend a bit of time on a Friday – which is my day off – sending stuff, reworking stuff, writing new stuff. One of the things I’ve learnt through the course is that poetry is a relatively small market and it might actually be quite difficult to finally get published. The thing to do is send [work] off to magazines and enter poetry competitions. That’s good practice because it makes sure you’re keeping writing, and keep sticking to some kind of deadline – doing a bit every day. Maybe this sounds familiar to you, but I’ve always got a small notebook in my bag now, and a pen.
HH: It’s familiar to me but I haven’t got a job and a family to look after, so kudos to you.
KR: (laughing) It’s just about keeping your eyes open, and just making observations, and overhearing a conversation on the bus and thinking oh that’s interesting, and just jotting down random notes and coming back to them later. It’s changed my day-to-day thinking.
HH: It’s great when something changes you like that. Going back slightly – is it a one of a kind thing, Six Seasons?
KR: Six Seasons started a while ago, it then folded, but it was a well-regarded journal and because there was a need for it and people asking for it to come back, they’ve re-launched it. Because of the recession at the moment it’s quite unusual and inspiring to hear of something being launched.
HH: Absolutely. Are you going to keep contributing?
KR: Yes! I’ve already sent some [work] in for the Spring 2014 publication. Hopefully they’ll consider me for that.
HH: It looks like Six Seasons is on its way to greater success.
KR: I’m very hopeful that it will be. I’m hopeful that it will get Bengali writing more of a profile, more recognition overseas. I think there is a large vibrant community there of contemporary poets and authors and artists. It’s just about getting that international reputation established really.
HH: Do you think it’s a style that could become popular over the world?
KR: Yes, I do, yes. Some of the voices coming out of Bengali poetry are about social justice and contemporary political concerns, and I find that very heartening. They’ve got a lot to say.
HH: How does your style of poetry writing fit into all of this?
KR: (laughing) That’s a very interesting question! I don’t really know – but that’s probably not the answer you wanted to hear, is it? What’s my style…
HH: Or what have other people said about it?
KR: I suppose my MA dissertation is really focused on the juggle of family life. What have people said? They’ve said that it’s very honest. When I was trying put ideas together for my poetry collection I kept going online to talk my to peers and saying ‘I can’t find the time to do it because everything else is getting in the way.’ One of the people on my course – Janet Fisher, who is involved in the poetry business in the north and is a fantastic poet – just said ‘Well why don’t you just write about that?’ I just thought, ‘Oh, okay, I will,’ and I didn’t realise I had so much to say! It’s about housework which sounds incredibly dull but it’s about trying to juggle being a working parent with family life and it kind of went from the domestic, to the cosmic, in the end, which I wasn’t really expecting. I just took vignettes from family life really, magnified them, explored them, and explored what they mean. My partner and I had a massive argument over – you wouldn’t believe it – ironing a skirt, the symbolic loading of that argument…kind of came down to within the household who’s doing the housework and who’s busier and who’s tired-er, and so on. So I wrote about that because I felt I should, and I showed it to my peer-group and there was a definite gender divide. The women [in the peer group] went: ‘Ooh yeah, I recognise that,’ and a lot of the blokes went, ‘Ouch, I recognise that too and it’s really uncomfortable.’ So I suppose I’m trying to shine a light on corners of domestic life that aren’t inspected very often because they don’t seem very grand or important.
Some of my poems are political. I started off thinking about housework and a house, and then ‘what does a house actually represent?’ And that then took me to places about being homeless, thinking about the recession and the increasing numbers of homeless and the bedroom tax… Thinking about how important bricks and mortar actually are.
HH: Just to wrap up; firstly is there anything else you’d like to say about Six Seasons?
KR: I feel very excited about Six Seasons, I think it could be a fantastic journal, I’d love to see it publicised on the course at MMU, and I’d like people on the MMU course – in particular those with a Bengali background – to feel confident about submitting. If not, just take a look at the writing in there – you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
HH: Finally would you recommend your online degree to other people?
KR: With the MMU course I’d absolutely recommend it. It’s given me the opportunity to do something which has actually been quite a long-standing dream for me.
HH: It changed your life?
KR: Has it changed my life? Yeah, it has. It’s really changed the way I look at the world. I think I look at the world with a different eye now. At work especially I think it’s made me look with a different eye. I work in mental health – I’m actually a psychologist – and having that attachment to creativity and scrutinising things in detail and the meanings of words, and how to put feelings into words and express oneself…it’s really made me think quite differently in my day job. I’d really recommend it.
HH: Do you think it could really change peoples’ lives?
KR: Yes, I think so, if that doesn’t sound like too grand a claim.
Find The Six Seasons Literary Journal on Facebook
For those interested in further reading into Bangladeshi literature, Khadija recommends Bengal Lights.
Manchester Writing School hosts a wide variety of Undergraduate and Postgraduate degrees as well as short courses.
Angus is an aspiring writer, hobbyist photographer, and undergraduate student of English and Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is originally from Dundee, Scotland and has been living in Manchester, England since the summer of 2011.