On The Table Read, “the best creativity magazine in the UK“, poet Mahevash Shaikh talks about her new book of mental health poetry, Darkness And Light, and what inspired her to write it.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Mahevash Shaikh about her life and career, what inspires her poetry, and the work that went into her latest release, Darkness And Light, about mental health and society.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am a lot of things, but first and foremost, I am a lover of words. For as long as I can remember, words in books, songs, and movies spoke to me and made me feel seen. And when I discovered I could string them together during essay writing in English class, I was over the moon. I had finally found something I loved and was good at as an average-at-everything schoolgirl.
Soon, I also began to maintain a journal and found non-fiction even more appealing. Over the years, I changed in many ways, but my love for writing remained steady.
When did you first WANT to write poetry?
It took me a while to start enjoying poetry because my first brush with it was in school, and it was hard to relate to poems describing nature. Of course, I was also not wise enough to understand some works like Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken! I was around 12 when I felt the urge to write poetry. Dark, meaningful poems like Eldorado and The Raven greatly inspired me.
When did you take a step to start writing poetry?
Soon after discovering Ernest Hemingway, I began writing poetry in old notebooks. Since I was hesitant to let anyone see them, I always ensured they were well hidden. I was known for writing good essays and didn’t want that to change.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It took only three months to write Busting Clichés because it was a short, planned project on a strict deadline.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
It took nearly four years to complete Darkness And Light. The first book was out so soon because I had to accomplish something significant before I turned 25, and it was a childhood dream to be an author. With my second book, there was no such pressure.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Darkness And Light?
This book began as a healthy coping mechanism for depression, anxiety, and trauma. As a suddenly divorced woman in 2018, I was in immense pain and didn’t know how to process it. I had just started therapy, so I had no energy left for journaling. So I took to writing free verse poetry to explore my emotions.
Writing mental health poetry felt so cathartic that I kept at it even after I had learned to cope with my divorce. And then, I began to write poems about sociocultural issues that mattered to me. Because mental health, culture, and society are interrelated, I decided to compile current and future poems into a poetry book.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Darkness And Light?
When I wrote just for and about myself, it was easy. But after I decided to release my work for public consumption, it became hard. For years I had believed that I did not have it in me to be a poet, and it was tough to unlearn this belief. Along the way, I learned that poetry is hope and pain, and due to my life experiences, I was qualified to write this book.
Do you keep to a theme with your poems, or just go where the mood strikes?
In the beginning, there was no theme in mind. I just needed to put my feelings on paper. But after about 30 poems, I noticed my poems were rooted in reality. And since reality is a mixture of hope, happiness, sorrow, and tragedy, I chose the name Darkness And Light.
What is your favorite poem in Darkness And Light about and what inspired it?
‘Birthday Blues’ is my favourite poem because it’s about an issue that has affected me for years. As the title indicates, it’s about the depression one feels before or on their birthday. I wrote it shortly before I turned 28 and posted it on Instagram too. Like other mental health issues that barely get attention, I learned that many people experience birthday blues. It’s why this post is quite popular.
Does music help you write or is it a distraction?
When I am in a flow state, I don’t need music or any other aid, and I prefer to write in silence. When I feel like I need to push myself to write, music helps make the process easier.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Darkness And Light need?
I edited my book a few weeks after I finished writing it.
Then, I emailed it to an indie editor. It didn’t need much editing, to be honest.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write poetry?
Just begin. Too many people get caught up in learning all the technicalities, and this results in overwhelm. Write first, and learn the rules later.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I haven’t planned another book. One may come out a few years from now, or not at all.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
When I saw my book listed online, I felt that I had turned my pain into power. And I got some external validation when it got featured as a top 10 poetry book by Delhiwire. Apart from catharsis, writing Darkness And Light has helped me see that I am stronger than I give myself credit for. And I think most people who read it come to a similar conclusion.
Yes, it has been worth the effort, especially when readers message me about a poem that helped them feel less alone. It feels good to know that my words help people struggling with mental health and social issues.
Pop all your book, website, and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Mahevash Shaikh is a writer with a penchant for coffee and personal development. Her purpose is to destigmatize mental illness, improve social responsibility, and redefine normal.
I run a mental health and lifestyle blog, Mahevash Muses.
You can follow me on Instagram @mahevashmuses.
And of course, check out my book, Darkness And Light: 133 Poems On Mental Health And Society at Amazon UK.
If you are based elsewhere, click here to be redirected to your country-specific Amazon website.
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