By: Emily Maybanks
I caught up with writer and poet Kamand Kojouri; she was born in Iran and brought up in Dubai and Toronto. She did her Masters in creative writing in London. The historical novel she wrote for her Master’s programme was shortlisted for the Peters Fraser and Dunlop (PFD) literary award. Now, she’s doing her PhD in creative writing here at Swansea University. She is self-publishing her collection of poetry – The Eternal Dance – in March. She is also working on her second novel.
Describe your writing journey so far.
I studied sciences during my undergraduate years because I wanted to pursue neurosurgery, so I could cure neurodegenerative diseases. I had never taken any literature or creative writing courses before that but when I was volunteering at a hospital, on my lunch breaks, I started reading and that’s how I found my love for reading. When I my twin sister and I were done with school, our family moved back to Dubai and I decided to re-enrol in school and study literature. In Dubai, there weren’t any literature or creative writing programmes; only journalism, or multimedia and I wasn’t interested in any of that. I tried to find a creative writing workshop and the only one I could find was in a mall (a lot of things happen in malls in Dubai). I took a creative writing course – I took the beginners and the advanced course simultaneously – I asked the teacher to let me take them both at the same time because I was very dedicated. I took those two courses and started writing a couple of short stories and I then submitted one of the short stories to a school in London – City University, and they liked it so they offered me an interview and accepted me for the Masters programme. My programme was unique in that it was a two-year programme and in the second year, we wrote an entire novel and I thought ‘I love this, this is exactly what I want to do’, so I decided to do the PhD at Swansea.
How has each place you’ve lived in influenced your writing?
I have been influenced by the mystic poets of the east because I am Iranian. My brothers are named after the great Persian poets — Hafez and Khayyam — so I have been greatly influenced by Sufism and Sufi poets like Rumi and Hafez. I also admire the great Romantics of the west. So, it’s a little bit of east and west.
Can you tell me more about The Eternal Dance?
Since my book is a collection of love poetry and prose, I wanted to divide the chapters into the seven stages of love. I was inspired by Attar, who, in his book – The Conference of the Birds – speaks about the seven valleys of love but it wasn’t true to my journey and experience in love because they’re quite intense and it’s like the seven steps you have to take in order to become an enlightened individual and the last stage, for instance, is absolute nothingness. This is where you renounce your vanity and your ego and your self-love and you realise that you are nothing! And, after that, you become this enlightened individual; these principals are found in Buddhism, for example. Even though I found that quite interesting, it is not true to my journey. So, I divided the chapters into seven chapters and the stages of love that I have gone through. For instance, in the first stage of love you have Attraction and Infatuation, and then the second stage is Devotion and Obsession. The third is Heartbreak, and then there is Enchantment and then Love. Then you have Understanding and finally, the last stage is Unity. To describe theses seven stages in more detail; the first stage (Attraction and Infatuation) – can happen with your first crush or in your second marriage. It’s where you meet someone and you are instantly attracted to them and you are absolutely besotted with this person. And then comes Devotion and Obsession. You idealise this person and put them on a pedestal. You see them as the epitome of perfection. This is where Stendhal’s crystallisation occurs. You’re obsessed with them; so naturally, the third stage is Heartbreak. These three stages can repeat themselves as much as possible. But, finally, you meet somebody who has what I call the trinity of beauty – so, they have a beautiful mind, a beautiful heart, and a beautiful soul. And, that’s when you think to yourself that this person is totally different, which is the fourth stage – the Enchantment. You are completely enchanted by this person and you trust them, and you respect them and you genuinely and deeply care for them. So, the fifth stage is Love. This is the love that the poets write about. You experience all of these wonderful things with your partner and since it is reciprocated, you experience love. Through that love comes Understanding which is the sixth stage. You learn things about yourself and about your lover and about the world. And, ultimately, the very last stage is Unity. This is when you feel the oneness with the universe. It’s like when you’re in kindergarten, you’re told to colour between the lines, so this is a removing of those boundaries and you think to yourself, ‘if I can love one person then I can love everyone’. And you realise that a spark of the characteristics that you love in your lover is also found within you, and within your neighbour. So, I think it is just loving everyone and everything.
What made you decide to self-publish?
When it comes to publishing novels, I think I would prefer to find an agent and go through the traditional route, and have that agent recommend me to publishers. When it comes to poetry, I think it’s much more difficult to have a collection of your poems published, in the UK especially. It’s easier in the States for some reason. I also wanted to have complete creative control so I wanted the cover to look a certain way; I wanted the poems to be in a certain order. I was ready to have it published and I just took the plunge.
Have any books or authors resonated deeply with you?
Yes! I admire the Sufi poets, greatly. So, Rumi has inspired me, and Hafez has inspired me. I love Pablo Neruda. There’s a great Syrian poet called Nizar Qabbani. I also love John Keats. There are so many poets, really.
What inspires your writing?
Love. When it comes to poetry at least. I usually listen to classical music and it’s this feeling of oneness that I get. It’s just a loving feeling, so it’s really love, and art as well.
What advice would you give to new writers?
I think that to have discipline in writing is very important, so try to write every day. Take your writing seriously because if you take it seriously, other people will take it seriously. Try to write for yourself. There will be a time where if you want to get published, your agent or publisher will say “I don’t think this ending is going to work very well,” and you might have to change a couple of things, but for the main part, you have to write for yourself.
What is it like to study creative writing?
Fabulous question. This is the wonderful thing about the PhD programmes, especially here at Swansea; because, if you were to do a PhD in Literature for instance, you’d only be looking at the critical aspect. So, you’ll write this very long thesis on literary theory, but, in creative writing, you also have your creative aspect. You’ll have your collection of poems or your novel or a play and then you have a complimentary critical component as well which is the short thesis. So, if anyone is interested in actually writing, then I would recommend doing a Masters or a PhD in creative writing because you get the best of both worlds. You get to understand literary theory, but you also get to hone your creative skills and practice your creative muscles.
Who inspires you in life?
My brother, Hafez, is a classical musician and is very well-known because, first of all, he is extremely talented. One of the things he’s tried to do is to combine traditional Persian music and western classical music. His music has resonated with hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, because he’s bringing together different worlds. And I do hope and think that it is helping to bridge this gap between the east and the west. So, he inspires me enormously. My father as well, because he taught me to forget myself and remember others. My father has always reminded us to think about others in the world and to try to help make the world a little bit better in our own way. I intend to do that with The Eternal Dance and other projects I have in mind.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
Great question! I think, honestly, at the end of the day, it’s to be yourself. It’s to be true to yourself. If you want to help others, then the most important thing is to muster the courage to be your true self because then you inspire others to be their true selves as well.