Sascha Aurora Akhtar originates from Pakistan, and was educated there and in the USA. Her debut poetry collection, The Grimoire of Grimalkin, was published in 2007 and greeted as “a contemporary masterpiece”, with the British newspaper The Guardian naming Akhtar one of the top twelve poets to watch.
About her own work, she says: "As a child I was obsessed with language. I read dictionaries for fun, and loved to record myself on my uncle's 'dictaphone,' reading out poetry. The poetry available to me was what I now call the 'Dead White Man' phenomenon in poetry. So those were my roots. This obsession grew into a greater obsession with linguistic nuance, utterance, Bakhtin's heteroglossia, the idea of Primordial language, Ephesia Grammata, the language of magic and incantation and sound".
"With my first book, I was interested in the compact, the terse, the flow and the Tower of Babel. With my second, I became interested in space, in the Epic flow, in undergoing haal or the 'state,' that poets undergo that is talked about in the great Eastern poetry traditions. Many of the things I have always loved are still found in my poetry, such as alliteration, soundscapes and musicality. What is new though is space and breath. Also drawings. I'm really into drawings accompanying poetry".
Sascha Akhtar feels that poetry can be a vehicle for activism and change. She has experienced this in her own work in poetry and activism such as the Solidarity Park Poetry project. "I also was part of the Peony Moon, Against Rape project, which was a truly healing experience and the poem I wrote for that came from a completely new part of me, that I didn't even know existed, and has become the blueprint for new work for me personally".
In her own poetic practice, she has found ideas of painting to be allies. "I often apply principles of painting to my poems. Such as layering, 'negative space,'and shapes! The amount of time my publisher had to spend on the formatting of the pages of my new book 199 Japanese Names for Japanese Trees, is truly criminal. But, I am so grateful to him (Tony Frazer), because he really and truly allowed my vision of the forms of the poems on the page to come alive".
These days the poetry she is drawn to "has to give you that feeling," she says, "You know what I mean, right? It's almost as if a ghost has passed through you? And ideally, you get goosebumps. Like, a real connection is made".
Akhtar's readings and performances have often been accompanied by Butoh-inspired movement and multimedia, including original artwork and soundscapes created in collaboration with other sound artists; no two shows have ever been alike. She challenges notions of 'genre,' with her work, "I have always been interested in ideas of freedom," says Akhtar. "My own life has been dictated by this desire for freedom. I left Pakistan when I was 18 in a quest for this elusive freedom."
She earned a BA in Liberal Arts from Bennington College, where she studied writing, photography, filmmaking and multi-media installation art. In 2003 she was awarded a fellowship to attend the MFA Creative Writing Programme at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Sascha Aurora Akhtar is based in London. Her work is widely anthologised and has been translated into Armenian, Portuguese, Galician, Russian, Dutch and Polish. She performs internationally.
The Grimoire of Grimalkin, Salt, Cambridge, 2007
199 Japanese Names for Japanese Trees Shearsman, U.K. 2017
Sama Ghazal Salaam UK: Poetry and Lyrics Influenced by the Persian, Arabian and Islamic Sufi Writing Traditions, Shutter Books, 2009
Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets, Shearsman Publishing, Bristol, 2010
Vallum Magazine: The Pakistan Issue, Canada, 2012
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, English Pen, U.K. 2012
Solidarity Park Poetry, poetry activism project (editor), 2013
Out Of Everywhere 2 , Reality street Publishers, U.K. 2015
Women : Poetry : Migration, an anthology, Theenk Books, U.S.A. 2017
Video: Poets for Pussy Riot