Name: Babak Lakghomi
Current publication: Babak Lakghomi's Floating Notes is still available from Tyrant. Also, "The Rat Man" was recently published Post Road Magazine.
Recommendations: Book: In the Blind by Eugene Marten; Movie: A Woman Under the Influence by John Cassavetes
If you enjoyed this Babak Lakghomi interview, visit his personal website for more information.
When did you start writing- and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about literature and writing that drew you to it?
I mainly came to writing as a reader. As a child, I was first given children books until those no longer were enough and I’d reach out for bulkier books on my parents’ shelves. I was a single child and somewhat reclusive and read everything I could get my hands on. I sometimes tried to imitate what I read but I was never that serious about writing. In my literature class, I wrote melodramatic essays that made other people cry.
From the beginning I was drawn to the strange, to formally and thematically bold despite being a timid and conservative kid.
Some of my early interests and influences were Camus, Kafka, and Roberto Bolaño.
I only started writing seriously in 2012 following my immigration to Canada. I was feeling disconnected from my surroundings and my former ambitions in life didn’t feel meaningful anymore. I needed a way to create, to make meaning, and process life as I was experiencing it.
At this time, I started reading writers like Barthelme, Perec, and Coover. I was inspired and excited by the formal possibilities in their work. The writing provided a sense of liberation. I also started reading a lot of writers who were influenced by Gordon Lish. Writers like Garielle Lutz, Diane Williams, Ben Marcus, Dawn Raffel, Ken Sparling, and Noy Holland.
Another influential experience was reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson. I think reading that book really changed the way I was writing.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Maybe originality is about finding a way to loosen up enough to tap into your most internal self, about reading diversely enough that your influences rub against each other and transform into something new. I think each of us may have our own peculiarities and obsessions that can make us unique on the page.
Over time the impact of your influences softens and blends in more. I am sure I’ve imitated writers that I like and I still will, but my reading interests are vast and shifting, and even when I am trying to imitate sentences of my favourite authors, I may end up going somewhere different with it.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think my sense of identity is fragmented and shifting, but there are certain elements of it that come into play in my writing. As a person, I always prefer saying less over saying more, silence and mystery over wordiness. I think that happens on the page as well. There is also a sense of displacement in my fiction that is partially rooted in my identity as an immigrant.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Initially I was writing on my own without knowing many writers and I was getting a lot of rejections, so it was hard for me to evaluate the work and its place in the world. The rejection never goes away and is always part of the package, but I am now better equipped to evaluate my own work and pay less attention to it.
How do you see the relationship between style, form, plot and storytelling – and how would you rate their importance for you, respectively?
I think all these elements are somehow important and interconnected, but I generally pay more attention to form both at the level of the sentence and the overall structure.
As a reader, I like to read sentences that can intrigue on their own. In my own process, I don’t outline or have a general plotline. I most of the time go sentence by sentence, page by page. Story and plot are elements that emerge organically through the process and are reworked in the revision.
Observation and research are often quoted as important elements of the writing process. Can you tell us a bit about your perspective on them?
I rely more on observation than research. My research is generally not that methodical. I sometimes may look at images (photos, paintings, etc.) or do a quick search on the internet to get a sense of a place or an object, but any of that would normaly go through multiple filters and transformations before appearing in the work.
Sometimes I’d read a book or watch a movie that would be in the same wavelength as the project, so that it puts me more in the mood of the work.
How do you see the relationship between conscious planning and tapping into the subconscious; between improvisation and composition? When dealing with the end of a story, for example, do you tend to minutely map it out or follow the logic of the narrative as it unfolds itself?
I am certainly more in favour of improvisation at least in the earlier drafts. I rarely plan ahead and mapping out the narrative (remapping?) and moving things around happens in the revision process.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do writing and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I have a full-time job and have to plan my reading and writing around that. During the pandemic things have been kind of out of control and I’ve had difficulty to stick with a routine. But prior to that I’d mainly try to write at least one hour in the morning before going to work and I’d spend more time writing on the weekends.
Can you talk about a breakthrough publication in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think I can consider the publication of my first book Floating Notes with Tyrant as my breakthrough. I started working on it during an online workshop I was taking with Peter Markus. Some parts of it started in response to the writing prompts in the workshop. Gradually, I started to write more about the same character and an idea of a full-length manuscript emerged. I wrote it pretty quickly within a couple of months and then edited it for another several months.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think the ideal state of mind may be a bit of a romantic notion. One just has to put the time to put the words together, to make sentences, and in some rare occasions, there is a sense of satisfaction with what happens on the page. That being said, for me finding days in a row when I don’t have to take care of anything else is what I imagine as an ideal state for creation.
Sometimes you knock on a closed door for too long and another door opens. It always helps to shift gears and start at a different point when facing a wall. Rereading the writers I admire helps. Taking notes and doing writing prompts are other things I may do. Sometimes posing a formal restriction on the writing is a good way to open things up again.
Words can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for literature and poetry as a tool for healing?
There can certainly be a therapeutic effect to trying to create something out of the suffering. In a sort of translation process, trying to externalize and fictionalize things that are inside you – that sometimes you don’t even know are inside you – a sense of healing can happen. But I don’t find this to be the biggest function of the literature for me.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I am not in favour of any limitations in generating art, but at the same time I find it problematic when a writer tries to monetize on a painful experience of a minority he has nothing to do with or through exotifying the pain of others. I believe in no external limits but the artist should use some common sense and human decency.
Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think literature offers a unique opportunity to engage different senses compared to other arts. Senses like smell and taste can be rendered in writing in a way that is not possible in other art forms.
For me, the most interesting overlaps happen through the juxtaposition of sounds in a sentence and the imagistic or sensory details. I have an interest in developing mood through engaging more senses, and that is an effort to engage the reader in a way that I see and experience things.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
From my experience, art that tries to directly address social and political issues usually fails, especially given we’re living in a capitalist society where any work can be easily turned into a commodity. I think through a more indirect process art can still play a role that is somewhat more complex. Through a personal angle, a universal truth can be excavated.
What can literature or poetry express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
I think what ditinguishes literature from other media is its ability to capture the human conciousness and the way our thinking process works.