Growing up in Australia Tasnim Hossain has always been a keen writer since she was very young. Tasnim’s parents came from Bangladesh in the 1980’s and it is clearly a very proud heritage and being part of a multicultural community is of great importance to this young writer and poet. At 23 Tasnim is already a voice which should be heard, using her poetry to discuss international concerns as well as generally being an inspiration to young female writers around the world. Here is ASLI’s interview:
“I came to spoken word when I was in late high school, having written terribly, angsty poetry all through my teenage years. I found the process of writing my own words and then performing them to be a really powerful one. I spent a couple of years working with my university’s outreach department, teaching performance poetry writing to high school students and really enjoyed that aspect of working in the community. I still write for performance, but I’ve been writing a bit more for theatre now, particularly with youth companies, like the Australian Theatre for Young People and Canberra Youth Theatre.”
What motivated you to deal with the subject of education in your art?
“I dealt with the subject of education in a developing country in my poem, Teachers, because education is one of the most effective routes out of poverty for so many girls in the developing world. Educating a girl is one of the most powerful ways to change the world; a woman who is educated has so much more opportunity to make the life choices that are right for her.”
Tell us why you chose this submission?
“This piece came out of a morning spent at a girls’ primary school in my parents’ home town in Munshiganj, Bangladesh, about five or six years ago now. My sister was doing a research project for her high school class and we had come to interview the students. The responses of the girls in the poem are exactly as they were on that day. All of them had dreams and aspirations, no matter what their background. I chose this piece because I think a lot of the time, people pity women in the Global South, but I wanted to show that they are determined, resilient and powerful in their own right.”
Teachers – Tasnim Hossain
A home-town, long left-behind,
In a country almost foreign now
Where sounds are louder
And colours are brighter
And voices clamour and surround.
Listen to those dreams
Burning like rubbish in dead-end streets
Whispering like smoke blown on the breeze.
Talk to the children.
Walk into a school
Surrounded by clogged canals and the angles of alleys
The girls with a little money
Get to see a little further
Get to dream a little bigger
Doctor, dentist, maybe lawyer.
The ones who can’t afford uniforms,
But at least they still make it to school,
Through the struggles and shame,
Teetering on that one good track,
The daughters of milk wallahs, rickshaw wallahs
And the man who hawks pots on his back
All these girls want to be,
Every last one,
What it means to strive and work and hope
In tin-roofed rooms at kerosene stoves
Raise your seven little siblings at the age of eight
Be told that your lot in life is your fate
And want more than the dregs of living in this place
How your mind takes flight
At the sight of the school gate
Wardrobe doors to a Narnia
Of everyday magic
Like arithmetic and letters.
The only place you see women,
Like you will be one day,
Stand tall and straight
Women who fling wide those doors
Who are heard and seen
Who don’t get married off at fifteen
Dream, girls, dream of a better life
A wife is not the only thing you can be
Go be the leader, the keeper, the dream-driven seeker,
Go be teachers
Because we don’t know,
What triumph means.
Why have you chosen the medium you use for your art?
“I write poetry because I find language to be an incredibly dexterous tool to create the images I want. I guess when I think of writing, I think of painting; you need to understand composition, light and shadow, the effects of certain colours or motifs. For me, that translates to things like rhythm, structure, sound and imagery in my writing. I never was particularly good at visual art so in my case, I stuck to writing.”
What is your process when creating?
“I write poetry when I am compelled to. Writing plays is a little different, because I have to structure things first and work out things like character and plot, and how they all interact, before I actually start writing. With poetry though, I write from a starting point of generally something that keeps me up at night, and I basically keep going until I stop. Then often I will go back, days or weeks or even years later, and rewrite to structure the poem better or add things I might have missed in that first rush.”
Who are you influenced by? What inspired you and your art?
“I am inspired by people’s stories. There is so much below the surface. I often am compelled, I guess I would call it, rather than inspired, to write because of stories I read in the news. I read all kinds of things, like interviews with displaced persons, incidents of racism coming to light, breakthroughs in science research. I think that the world we live in is complex and constantly changing and something that really only art comes close to capturing.
I also love the spoken word medium immensely and poets around the world inspire me. I think that there are so many incredible spoken word artists around the world of such incredibly diverse identities because it is inherently a democratic, and political, form of expression.”
As this edition deals with women’s issues we wanted to ask Tasnim her thoughts on what these issues are and how they are affecting women all over the world:
What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
“I absolutely identify as a feminist. That said, I consider myself an inter-sectional feminist. I think if we are going to talk about privilege and power structures, we need to be able to understand how they affect people with different identities differently.”
Do you feel women have to conform to social norms and stereotypes to be taken seriously? Do you have any experiences of this?
“I think that often it can be really difficult for women to be taken seriously in a whole range of different situations, regardless of whether they conform to social norms or not. For example, women in the workplace who do conform to gender stereotypes can be seen as less professional or less capable, whilst women who reject gender stereotypes and present as more “masculine” can be seen as too bossy or too pushy.”
Do you think that women and men are equal in today’s societies around the world? Have you any experience of this?
“I don’t believe at all that men and women are equal in today’s societies around the world. I have been lucky in that I have a family that have supported me and allowed to access to as many opportunities as my brother, but that certainly isn’t the case everywhere. Even then, whilst women in different societies may be unequal in different ways, inequality does still exist.”
What causes and world issues are you passionate about?
“Alongside my writing, I work in an international development organisation which focusses on children. My undergraduate studies were in International Relations as well, so I’ve always been interested about what is going on in the world. I also volunteered and worked a lot with young people because I find their energy endlessly inspiring.”
“I think ASLI has an incredibly important mission for a number of reasons. I think art has a huge capacity to affect people in a way that statistics, or even facts, cannot. Also, having worked in outreach through the arts, I can see the benefits that access to creativity and self-expression have for people whose voices have been silenced or made to feel unworthy.”
What does the statement ART SAVES LIVES mean to you and has art in anyway “saved” your life in any way?
“Whenever I used to run poetry workshops and the students asked me why I wrote, I would always respond with “writing is cheaper than therapy.” The kids would always get a laugh, but as glib as that sounds, I used to find that when I was anxious, which I often was throughout my studies, writing would give me an opportunity to articulate what I felt and make something constructive out of an emotion that was nothing but destructive.”
How can your art be used to create change and is this something you want for your art?
“I would ultimately love my art to be used for community development, particularly for young people. I want to be able to empower others to be able to tell their own stories, to use them to change people’s hearts and minds, and to know that they themselves have voices worth hearing.”
What are your goals as with your art?
“My goal is to have people connect in some way to what I’m putting out into the world. I think all art should have some impact on its audience, and I want mine to make people feel.
What is your next project or piece that you are working on?
“My next project is a play that I am working on about ill mental health and the way that young second-generation Muslims, and their communities, deal with it.”
We chose Tasnim as this talented writer and poet showed us such passion is her poem and as you can read from her answers to our interview questions this is an articulate young women who needs to be heard. Please support her and share this poem and interview as much as possible. Tasnim does not have an on-line presence but here at ASLI we are planning to help her achieve this so that her poetry and writing can go further and reach a wider audience.
If you would like to leave any feedback for Tasnim Hossain please leave a comment and we shall send them to her. Your support for our artists is so important.