Taher Adel is a British poet of Bahraini descent. He is known for his deeply spiritual poetic style and his powerful spoken word content.Taher published his first poetry collection, Lost & Found in April 2018. Much of the work in this book focuses on the relationship between the Almighty and his creations. We were able to catch up with Taher and talk all things poetry, representation and identity.
Can you tell us about your background and your journey into poetry?
I’m a second-generation Bahraini-Brit. I grew up in West London and my baptism of poetry came quite late in my teens. It was during this period that I learnt that words were a great outlet for interrogating my identity and belief systems, helping me understand who I am in this earthly sphere that we call home. After writing and sharing poetry for over a decade I decided to take my craft seriously by enrolling on an MA in Creative Writing and Poetry at one of the most prestigious writing schools in the country (University of East Anglia). This MA helped hone my skills and take my writing to the next level – enabling me to connect with the world of academia and the mainstream poetry community in the process.
Much of your work focuses on the relationship between the Almighty and his creations. Why is it important for you to focus on spirituality?
Most contemporary poetry focuses on the mundane and superficial elements. The most powerful pieces tend to explore human connection and emotions but in this day and age very little mainstream poetry interrogates the relationship man has with the Almighty and/or the higher levels of spirituality. This realization was the very driver for why I decided to delve into this genre of poetry - as I was aware how spirituality and God-centric practices are a core part of many people’s identity and daily lives. I chose to explore my relationship with God through the best way I could – through poetry, while also ensuring man others can resonate with the sentiments – even those that do not necessarily subscribe to the same belief system. Exploring the Almighty through poetry has taught me how religion is often a culmination of universal values that many can relate to.
How do your poems develop? Please guide us through the stages and how you find inspiration?
My notepad is a mess and often the initial ideas for one poem seeps into other ideas too. My poetic practice is quite sporadic but also quite simple. I tend to go through my days adding little lines and verses to my notes wherever and whenever I find inspiration – be it in a park or during a the hustle and bustle of a work commute. I’m generally incapable of piecing together the poems themselves during the day as I need peace and quiet to complete them. This often comes in the form of a late night session with my laptop, and some background ambience– piecing together all the notes I have into a singular poem or more recently into poem series. With the series – I often have a theme in place and I would spend weeks if not months adding notes to this specific theme until I have enough raw material to work with. For me the process is like ceramic art, you often start with more clay than you need but eventually the series comes together perfectly. The poem series about the names of the Almighty for example – I often end up writing multiple lines of poetry about each name but end up selecting just one – or combining all of them into a verse. Perfecting my poetry in this way has allowed me to create depth and multiple layers to what is often seen as a single line or verse.
Do you show your work in progress to anyone?
Privately I label my new poems ‘hot potatoes’ and the people around me know this. I’m more excited about sharing new work than most people are to read them! I don’t share work in progress as I’m very self-conscious about half-written poems but I do share the final drafts with 2-3 close people to me who tend to be great at providing constructive criticism. My sister is a secondary English teacher so with the bigger poems I do often ask her to correct any glaring spelling or grammatical errors!
People assume that I write and share my work on social media instantly – although they are correct about some poems, but most my work has often been written and finalised months before the final form has been shared publicly. I have a whole body of work that can only be found in published journals and literary magazines – or in dormant manuscripts that will one day find daylight when I come round to completing them.
Who are your favourite poets?
Kahlil Gibran is definitely my favourite poet. His book of prose poetry ‘The Prophet’ is a masterpiece and it has been a touchstone for me for over a decade. I also love the classical works of Keats, Attar of Nishapur and Rumi.
Can you share one of the works you have written you are most proud of? Why did you choose this piece?
I have two pieces that I will forever be proud of. My written poem “God in Words” and my spoken word poem “Where is God?”. They are two sister-poems exploring the same question of ‘who is God to us’. These poems are timeless pieces – written a decade apart but nobody would realise and that to me is precisely the power of writing about the Almighty.
As a British Muslim, is the representation of Islam important in the mainstream literary world and why?
It’s very important. Islam is a large part of our identity, now and for generations to come. It inspires and informs our literary practice – and the mainstream literary world is slowly realising this and accepting that a space exists for this kind of representation. Often Muslim poets are encouraged to write about their culture so long as its palatable and exotic to the reader/listener but the moment it becomes ‘too Muslim’ they are discouraged. I am of the opinion that no piece is too Muslim for the mainstream and the onus is on the reader to unveil the mysteries and references found in the poetry. The same way Islamic architecture is now observed in awe or the works of Rumi – we have to realise that often times only time can provide us the pedestal.
What are your future hopes and aspirations as a poet?
I am currently working on four simultaneous manuscripts which I’m very excited about. One collection is about my identity as a British Muslim, one is a poetic book in conversation with the Arabic language and the other two explore the personalities found in the religion and the names of the Almighty.
Beyond this I’m due to begin in a PhD in Literary Practice – exploring the notion of cross-language poetry which I’m very excited about. I’m sure this will advance me as a poet and increase my understanding of poetry as an art form.
Find out more about Taher Adel here
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