October 23–29, 2017
Momina Mela is a Pakistani poet from Lahore. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the New Yorker, Poetry, Waxwing, THRUSH, diode, Drunken Boat and elsewhere. In 2013, she was shortlisted to be Young Poet Laureate for London while she pursued her BA in English from Goldsmiths. She currently serves as the international editor for Washington Square Review and is an MFA candidate and adjunct instructor at NYU. She lives in Bed-Stuy.
I dreamt I was holding my head in my hands and I told no one about it.
I went for long walks, circling block after block, wondering why it fell off in
the first place.
I secretly wished for someone to send me a sternly worded text message
‘If you hadn’t left Pakistan, your head would still be in place.’
Or transfer me a hundred dollars with a note reading:
‘Your head wouldn’t have fallen off like that if you went for developmental
My limbs wouldn’t know how to panic and I would begin to speak plainly
When the doctor points at my uterus and ovaries on a screen, the head
I take this as a sign of religious conditioning, some scripture that was read
in its ear.
The head came first, then came lands of skin—assembling heat logic.
I haul my body from the dirty dirty millennium. The jackpot is at $172
And I have never felt more away. Up there, heaven is busy pretending
Not to notice hell. Truly, the head does not care for the community garden
And even if it did it wouldn’t plant a single damn flower.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote it over the summer after having dreamt of being headless. I circled around the premise for a couple of weeks in my mind and resisted writing it until I felt it absolutely necessary.
What are you working on right now?
Poems! All kinds of poems! Short ones, tall ones, fat ones, bald ones. I’m trying to write poems that come from the mind, that share similar characteristics with “The Head” and are brave enough to let their emotional absurdity grow and resonate on the page. I’m trying to trust my flaws.
What’s a good day for you?
I love a good New York day: I’ll wake up feeling not as tired as I usually do, listen to good music and choose what to wear. Choosing what to wear is often my favorite thing to do. I’ll walk in the city; the weather will be chilly but not cold. Maybe I’ll write the skeleton of a poem on the A train or hear a reading of a favorite poet. I’ll meet friends and eat well. I’ll meet intelligent and warm strangers. I’ll say Alhamdulillah and go to bed at a decent time reciting surah-yasin.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
My MFA. It’s a decent commute to my campus.
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?
I have lived in the heart of Bed-Stuy for just over a year now. It’s a beautiful green neighborhood with brownstones, stoops and a generally relaxed atmosphere. I haven’t been here long enough to detect changes, but there are more young people moving here for sure. I live around the corner from a yoga studio called “Nama-Stuy” which I think is very indicative of how this neighborhood is changing.
I have lived in Pakistan for most of my life, so yes, Brooklyn is quite different from Lahore. I also lived in London and for a short while in northern Virginia when I was very young. I often think about the culture of the American neighborhood in comparison to the little town where we lived in Virginia. The pumpkins, the American flags, the wreaths: at the end of the day, it’s all the same. At around 6 PM on a weekday, you see so many people leaving the subway and scattering home. Those are the same people you often see glimpses of in the windows of their apartments and suddenly, at 6 PM they all flood the streets and become very real.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
My mother came to stay with me for a while. It was fun to see her inhabiting my space and walking to and from the subway station.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A place to find joy and complications. My poetry community is largely my MFA class at NYU, most of whom also live in Brooklyn. The Internet has helped to carve out a cool poetry community too; I’ve found so many great poets just through social media.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I haven’t had any poetry “mentors” as such. I’m generally weary of the term “mentor” because my entry into poetry was very much as a loner. I do now have poetry teachers at NYU whom I have learned a lot from: Kimiko Hahn, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Edward Hirsch, Meghan O’Rourke and Catherine Barnett.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I recently read the poem “Responsibility” by Tomaž Šalamun, which I enjoyed for its bold sincerity. It pretty much said everything that I try to convey in my own poems.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
I would like to have read books and poems by every South Asian poet and writer that ever lived.
Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?
My reading process is as erratic as my writing process. I usually dip in and out of books because I have a terribly short concentration span. If I’m reading for my MFA classes or the classes I teach, then I can switch to being very disciplined and focused. I’m pretty lazy otherwise, unfortunately.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I would love to write Urdu nazms one day. I am also playing with the idea of writing an English poem in a qawali form (a form of devotional Sufi music) or writing poems to any other musical arrangement.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I love my bed! I do most of my reading and writing here. Sometimes my living room sofa but mostly my bed. I also like taking notes in the subway.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
I like the tiny vintage and miscellaneous-items shops around my block. I like the bodegas and their cats. I like my friends’ apartments. There’s a restaurant called Ma-N-Pop that has vintage posters of black celebrities; I like how they never have half of the food on the menu. I like the laundromat and how everyone crosses their arms and looks up to watch some redundant talk show on TV that they would never watch otherwise. Mostly, I like the way small public spaces are shared and the respect people keep for one another.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate time,
And what I utter you utter,
For every song left in me as good blooms in you.
(Sorry, that’s so terrible)
It’s the best place to return home to.