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Interview: Sabreen Islam talks about Spring Clean


Sabreen Islam talks to NZ Booklovers about Spring Clean.


Can you tell us a little about your collection? spring clean is a collection of poetry that I wrote a few years ago about a particularly turbulent time of my life, and my recovery from it. Writing it really was a form of therapy. The collection is split into two segments, Winter and Spring, using the seasons as a metaphor for relationships and healing. It was illustrated by my incredible best friend Alice Waldow.


What inspired you to write this book? What were your main influences? I don’t think I intended to write a collection when I started out, but that’s eventually what it became. In terms of influences, I was inspired by the amazing poets Jasmin Kaur and Rupi Kaur, as well as Carol Ann Duffy and Atticus. We’re living through a real revival and reshaping of the poetry genre which is so exciting, and I’m so lucky to be writing poetry in a time of such brilliant writers.


What research was involved (if any)? Not much research went into it, but a lot of introspection since it’s such a personal collection. I really went back to some things I didn’t want to think about and faced them through the poems in this book. It was a way of healing.

What was your routine or process when writing this book? Do you have a typical writing day? My writing process is generally all over the place! For spring clean, I would sit down after school and just write what I was thinking, which sometimes ended up being one poem, three, or even five in a day. I would write in my study periods and after doing my homework - just generally whenever I got time. Now, I try to make time to write at least once a week in between classes. It’s hard writing and studying at the same time, but it really helps to have something else to turn to in order to take a mental break from uni work and change gears for a while, as well as keeping up the skill.


Where do you write? Do you have a special writing place? Very stereotypically, I mainly write in my bedroom. But I also recently have loved writing at libraries. I love picking a desk next to or in front of a window, putting on some instrumental music, and just writing for hours. Which is sometimes detrimental to my uni studies.


What was most challenging aspect of writing these poems? The most challenging aspect was twofold; going back to some harsh memories and unpacking them, and then sharing them with others. It’s scary putting something so vulnerable out into the world where it can be picked apart, judged and criticised. But I’m proud of these poems even if they are extremely raw and personal. I’m proud that I could write them and process my experiences through them. There are some memories that we would rather forget, but I think sometimes it’s better to face them head on instead of letting them fester. That’s what writing this poetry collection was for me.


What did you enjoy the most about writing the poems in this collection? I loved writing the poems in Spring. They’re so hopeful and full of quiet joy, and it made me so happy to be able to reach that part of the book and that part of my own journey. I also loved working with Alice on illustrating the poems! She’s my best friend and such an incredible artist, and seeing her interpretation of what I wrote was the most amazing thing. I’m so grateful for her.


Can you share a piece of good advice you’ve received about writing? A bad draft is better than a blank page! It’s probably my favourite piece of advice I’ve gotten - I think it was from one of my English teachers in high school. So many times we sit in front of a blank document, too scared to start writing because we’re scared it won’t be perfect. But all a first draft has to do is exist. It’s the starting point, not the end.


What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Music is my main passion outside of writing. They kind of combine since I write songs. I’m a guitarist mainly, and my favourite pastime is working on music in the studio or at home. I also love spending time with animals - I have three cats and work part-time at a veterinary clinic. But I mainly spend any free time I have sleeping!


What’s next for you? I’m working on some music to put out later in the year, which is exciting! The rest of the year will likely be more music focused. I don’t know where I’m headed with writing, but the future is bright and I have so many things I want to do. spring clean is just the beginning.


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