In this article, The Glasgow Guardian interviews Shehzar Doja, founder of The Luxembourg Review, and a PhD student of Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Shehzar’s passion for poetry and the impact it has had on his life made him want to use it to change the world. This ambition prompted him to apply to the Future World Changers, a programme organised by the University of Glasgow to provide its students with support and opportunities to develop their ambitions. This is the first article in a series that will feature the Future World Changers participants and their ambitions.
The Glasgow Guardian: Can you tell me about your involvement with the Future World Changers?
Shehzar Doja: At the moment, I'm trying to continue the trajectory that I set for myself when I joined the program last year. My ambition was to show how poetry is capable of changing the world. I think I've managed to achieve this but I also want to go on and see what other avenues open.
GG: How did you find out about the Future World Changers program and what inclined you to apply?
SD: I knew about the Future World Changer before I got into the University of Glasgow. I came to Glasgow in 2018 and I found out about this project and saw a lot of inspiring stories. I felt that it was a program that highlighted a lot of important things that needed to be done and said. So I gave it a shot, to see if they will accept me into the program.
GG: Why poetry?
SD: This question takes me back to my childhood. I didn’t have a voice when I was very young. I grew up with a sort of disability because of which I couldn’t speak properly. Through poetry, I found my voice. I found the written form to be my voice. And so I fell in love with it. Instead of lullabies, my mom used to read me poems before I went off to sleep. So poetry sent me into this new world of imagination that showed me what the poetic form is capable of achieving. It gives you space where you can express what you’re feeling and what you're going through. As I grew up, I fell more and more in love with this art form. I knew I wanted to be a poet ever since I was eight years old and I have stuck with poetry ever since.
GG: What's the creative process behind your poems?
SD: For me, there are two ways. Most of the time, poetry is about harnessing your craft. It’s great to be able to put down beautiful lines and beautiful sentences, but the art of writing poetry is also in cultivating and curating what you want to say. I have a small notebook that I carry with me everywhere. Even in the middle of walking, or doing other random things, I can take out my notebook and start scribbling down lines that have come to me. Writing it down is one thing. The second part is sitting down and looking through them and trying to make out what my head was trying to say at that time. It’s a mixture of inspiration and editing work over a long period of time.
GG: What poets inspire you the most?
SD: From my childhood, there were a few poets that I admired. One poem that I remember in particular is Sea Fever by John Masefield:
“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”
For me, this poem manifested as a sort of metaphor for going into the abstract world of poetry and imagination. And then as I started reading more poems I became a big fan of the modernist poets, for example, T.S. Eliot. At the moment, I'm reading a lot of contemporary poets. In most cases, what I read depends on my mood. There is never a lack of wonderful poets around me to dive into. I'm always reading new literary journals, new books that are coming out. Yes, it depends on what my mood is for the day.
GG: What is it about Glasgow University that made you decide to study here?
SD: After I finished my Bachelor’s degree, I started looking for universities that offered a Master's in Creative Writing. At that time, my younger brother was studying at the University of Glasgow, so I decided to visit him. Scotland was always one of the places where I wanted to study, with how it was portrayed in all the movies and shows that I saw when I was growing up. Moreover, a lot of the poets and writers that I’ve read are from here. When I came to Glasgow to visit my brother I even got a chance to interact with some of the teachers in the Creative Writing department and I saw how wonderful they were. The University is also very beautiful and the environment in Glasgow made me feel really good here. This is where I want to study, I thought.
GG: I heard about “I am a Rohingya: Poetry from the Camps and Beyond” that you co-edited with poet James Byrne. Can you tell me more about the experience of curating this anthology of poems?
SD: I first went to the camp in 2017. I heard some murmuring about what was happening in Myanmar and with waves of refugees coming in. So I went to the NGO Friendship and they took me to the refugee camp to see for myself. I couldn't stop thinking that I had to do some sort of cultural preservation of what was happening to the Rohingya people. Next, I met with James Byrne, who was also working with the Rohingya poets at the time in the camp. We knew that we had to come up with something substantial so we went to Bangladesh to give poetry workshops. We had a group of 20 refugee poets, in this building within the refugee camp. It was one of the study spaces for children, and we held the workshop there for two days. The poets who came to the workshop, they knew they were making history. They wanted to mark history through poetry, to get their voice out to the world. Most of them chose to write in English because that’s how the world would get to hear them. We knew from the beginning that we were onto something very special with the anthology, and from there it just took off to where it is now.
GG: Where do you hope your project will get you?
SD: With everything that's been happening in the world in the past year, I’ve been thinking very deeply about the space for poetry within this global context. At this point, I don’t want to jump into something new without giving it much consideration. I want to continue to be someone who helps to find voices that need to be heard. I’m not sure what I'm going to do next, I'm just waiting and thinking about how I can help through my project.
You can visit Shehzar's World Changers profile here.
This article previously stated Shehzar Doja was a Masters student but it was corrected to PhD student on 21/01/2021.