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Book & Chapbook Contest Feature

The Minister of Disturbances

2019 Diode Editions Book Contest winner Zeeshan Khan Pathan discusses the creation of his latest collection

The Minister of Disturbances.

From a place where trees still speak to each other outside the prison cell, where gardens are manacled, where poems soar from a myth of desire to “the whiff of a car bomb,” these poems sing. They sing to us of exile from motherland, mother tongue, and mother, sing in the tradition of Vallejo and Lorca, of split identity, erotic impalement, and a reality that can only be rendered by surrealism. These are poems written from the boundless in-between, between "the excruciation of now and the myths," "between two lines of the same poem written in the time of the Romanovs,” between history and hallucination. This is a book written from unquenchable longing with a full awareness of the lateness of the hour “as the world folds over like a paper plane.” They are the poems my soul needs. —Diane Seuss, author of Four-Legged Girl and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl


Diode: Who are the imagined speakers in The Minister of Disturbances?

Zeeshan Khan Pathan: Anwar is one of the recurring imagined speakers but not all the speakers in the book are named. While I do agree with Emily Dickinson that the speakers of poems are ultimately a supposed person (a persona)—it is still true that I am speaking through these poems. Sometimes, Lorca speaks or is spoken to; we hear the voices and echoes of F. Farrokhzad, Hannah Weiner, Percy Shelley, Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag (among others). My poems do not shy away from personae.

Diode: Which contemporary books, artworks, artists, writers, movements or events inform your work?

ZKP: I am interested in the poetics of the Middle East and India. However, I have also lived in Spain over some years, so I find the poetry from the Spanish diaspora to be very fascinating and those poems have helped shape the collection and my ideas about poetry in general. I am impressed with the critical theories of Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, and Walter Benjamin. Favorite poets include Alejandra Pizarnik, Lucie Brock-Broido (my teacher), Mary Jo Bang (my first teacher of poetry), Lorca, Thomas James, the Romantics, Louise Gluck, among others. I think post modernism and surrealism along with Expressionism and Conceptualism also inform the collection’s DNA and structural movement(s).

Diode: Would you provide a backstory for a poem from the collection?

ZKP: The poem "Motherland" came almost spontaneously into my head from title to last line and I felt an urge to record my own voice. So, I found myself reciting the lines from memory into my phone. This poem definitely uses the idea of repetition and music to create rhythm and order. I wanted to convey bereavement and desolation, the sudden realization that you have no motherland or if you had one before, it no longer exists in either history or memory. So, the speaker of the poem moves from describing the deadness of a supposed country’s rivers and grasses, to saying that “you are the devastation of every night… that a prisoner spent in jail / writing poetry” to the ultimate declaration that “I am not your son and you are not my mother.” Even the tongue of the speaker cannot pronounce the name of the country, which is never mentioned. The poem wants to break your heart; it wants to tell the story of loss and exile but tries to avoid mere sentimentality. Many of the poems in the collection aim for the same desire of providing the reader with knowledge about a life lived outside one’s homeland, a homeland which neither exists (any longer) nor can be found on any map.


Zeeshan Khan Pathan attended Washington University in Saint Louis as a Kenneth E. Hudson Scholar where he studied poetry with Mary Jo Bang, Carl Phillips, and Fatemeh Keshavarz. He speaks several languages and translates from Urdu, Turkish, & Persian. At Columbia University, he received a fellowship to study poetry at the graduate level and he completed his M.F.A. under Lucie Brock-Broido. Zeeshan is interested in world literature and literary theory, the poetry of the Middle East and India, and he also writes short fiction. His poetry has been featured in Tarpaulin Sky Press Magazine and poems are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, in an anthology of contemporary American Muslim writings by Red Hen Press, and in other journals.


Order The Minister of Disturbances from the Diode Editions catalog here:


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