An Interview with Nadia Malik by Sophie Jones

Nadia Malik is a London based poet, artist, and aspiring art therapist. Her debut poetry collection, Venus Shells, reviewed here, is set for release 20th October with Burning Eye Books, with whom she is set to appear at the So: To Speak 2018 Small Press Showcase event. Burning Eye traditionally promotes spoken word artists, and Malik herself has performed at events such as Split the Atom and Jawdance, but she says that she “wouldn’t class myself as any particular type of poet.

“I like to feel unrestricted when it comes to creating art,” she elaborates. “A lot of poems I write would be classed as page poetry, but I like to perform these.”

This is perhaps a reflection on the freedom poetry gave her as a child, when she first began writing poetry. She describes herself as a “quite reserved” child, and poetry as a way to fulfill her need for “self-expression,” and as a “safe space for me to be myself.” Now, as she prepares to become an art therapist, writing has developed into something “definitely therapeutic.”

“I think my interest in art therapy has influenced my attitude towards creating art in that I now feel that writing a poem because you feel sad about something is good enough of a reason to write it,” she continues. “Previous to my experience with art therapy I had been engaged in the idea that art had to have some grand purpose.” It follows, then, that Venus Shells is a deeply personal poetry collection, the collection holds a dedication, ‘for those hurt and healing.’ I ask if, in the same way writing has been a sort of therapy for Malik herself, she hopes the collection will be a ‘safe space’ for its readers, too? “I would like to think that someone who has been through a similar experience to me could read my work and feel that they are not alone,” she replies. “I also hope that in sharing these personal experiences others will feel more able to do the same.”

The collection also explores ‘identity, family, home, and the desire to belong’. Malik is of Indonesian and European descent, and she explains that “when I began writing this book I was exploring my heritage on both sides of my family. I was doing a lot of research into Indonesian and European folk tales.

“My goal when I started writing was to explore my family’s history and to get closer to the languages which surrounded them. However, I found [that] the more I wrote, the more certain experiences from my own past kept coming up. I felt that these poems needed to come out first. I am still exploring my family history and I hope the work I am creating around that will become a book in the future.”

Even so, part of the collection’s exploration of identity includes pieces inspired Malik’s Indonesian heritage, using Indonesian and Arabic words and cultural symbols that remain untranslated. Malik informs me that she had “considered providing references for cultural symbols,”, but seeing how people enjoyed the poems in performance, and “offered up their own interpretation of the poems”, she changed her mind.

“I decided that I like the space that mystery and ambiguity create, as it allows for others to find something of value in the work without being force fed my opinion of it,” she explains. Surprisingly, Malik also found that “it was often the case that people’s interpretations came very close to my intended meaning in these poems.”

“As for translations of specific words,” she continues, “I deliberately put in non-English words, opposed to translations, because I like the sound and feel of the word and I wanted the emphasis to be on that. The meaning can sometimes be illuminated by the context but I didn’t feel it was necessary for the word to be understood literally.”

Despite the personal traumas and experiences the collection discusses, Malik reveals very little personal information elsewhere, and she confesses that she “value[s] a certain amount of anonymity. I feel the relationship between the poet and the audience is conceived through the art and doesn’t necessarily need to exceed those boundaries. That doesn’t mean that I will hold anything back when I write, though,” she clarifies. “I do intend to put more work up online, but I like to keep my personal life for myself.”

I ask how this value for anonymity affects performances, where anonymity is impossible. “When I am in front of an audience it is within the context of my art, and therefore the exchange is different to if i were talking to a friend, for example,” Malik explains. “I enjoy performing poetry, as I feel there is a special exchange that occurs when one person shares their work and it is received by a group.”

Venus Shells follows a clear narrative structure, from pregnancy to birth to motherhood, and from trauma to healing.  “I ordered the poems this way because I feel it makes sense within the confines of a book,” however, in spoken word performance, she considers “the performance space and the audience, choosing which poems I feel are right for that specific occasion. My writing doesn’t usually come out in any kind of order, but it all comes from me and I think that’s what gives it continuity.”

Finally, I ask who she imagines reading her poetry, and who she hopes to see in an audience she performs to. “Anyone who is open to listen to another person’s thoughts and feelings without judgement,” she replies. “Someone who wishes to connect to others through art and who feels the magic of words within themselves.”

If you want to feel the magic of Nadia Malik’s poetry, tickets are available here for Burning Eye Books’ Small Press Showcase on 3rd November, where Malik will be performing alongside Rosy Carrick, Joshua Seigal, and Amani Saeed.