Akerke Mussabekova was born in 1987 in Kyzylorda, a small city of on the banks of Syrdariya River. Her father was a doctor and her mother a teacher. She studied Kazakh National University where she specialised in Translation/English Interpretations. After studying English for 17 years, she visited Canada as part of the Poet in the City project exchange. She currently works as a technical translator at the International Road Project Western Europe-Western China. She is now concentrating on writing her poetry in English.
SJF: Much has been made of your relative youth, even in the context of Poetry Parnassus you are one of the youngest poets attending. Often, in the terms of the poetry world, it would be considered very young to be receiving such acclaim, with poets spending decades writing before their first collection before it is deemed ready in many cases, though this is not necessarily a good thing. Is the poetry culture different in Kazakhstan in this regard?
AM: To be honest, I do not have any official book as a collection of my poetry yet. In this way, I do not think that whole of Kazakhstan knows me. In my country, mainly recognized are those poets who have books published, who are older than me, and who write mainly in Kazakh. So, in Kazakhstan the poetry culture is different in this view. The program Poet in the City, which sent me to Vancouver, Canada to write poems and learn English language and culture, influenced my life very much. There I started to write directly in English, and I found it very interesting and close to myself. I really enjoyed this experience.
SJF: How much is your generation concerned with the cultural independence of your country in language and tradition from the influence of Russia, as was the concern of previous generations like that of Yessengaly Raushanov?
AM: Well, at that time and this time (during independence) it depends on the person and the language which he uses in his poetry. There are many young poets who write in Russian, being Kazakh, so it depends on the language and family in which they are brought up.
SJF: What epoch, or style, or individual poet has had the greatest influence on your own work?
AM: When I started to write poems, I was very interested in the Kazakh poet Mukagali Makatayev. I like his poetry very much. In my view, his poetry is very honest, soft and melodic. I still read his poetry when I need some support in life or wantto just relax. I really like his poetry.
SJF: Could you detail your recent time in Canada through the Poet in the City organisation?
AM: While I was at university I tried to translate some poems of G.Byron from English to Kazakh directly, comparing with poem versions which were translated from English to Russian, then from Russian to Kazakh many years ago. So there were many differences between these two types of translation. Meanwhile, 4 years ago in spring, 2008 there was a competition by the British Council in Almaty among the young poets who were able to write in three languages – Kazakh, Russian and English. I was advised to take part in it for an exchange program by Poet in the City which was sponsored by HSBC Bank. In autumn, 2008 it was the final decision of the judges and I was lucky to have opportunity to try the Canadian life and write in English. My residence in Vancouver was one of the most important moments of my life. I changed a lot during the stay, and I’m sure that changing was positive for my poetry and and personality as well.
SJF: Poetry Parnassus will offer a unique opportunity for some of the world’s leading poets to share with each other, as well as a new British and truly international audience in London, their work and their philosophy on contemporary poetry. Is this dialogue something that is important to you and your practise as a poet?
AM: Poetry Parnassus is very important for me and for my poetry. I was very surprised and happy when I was invited to this great event. In my view, the most important thing for me will be to know main currents of contemporary poetry, recognized by the poets of different countries and cultures.
SJF: And do you think poets have a responsibility to engage with their peers, and not maintain themselves solely as singular artists, in order to proliferate poetry and to support others?
AM: Well, teamwork is important, I think. One poet is good, but two poets are better, more poets are great! Of course, the poet should keep his individuality and his own style, ideas or direction, but in order to support the whole of poetry’s direction, it’s good to have peers.
SJ Fowler (1983) is the author of four poetry collections. He has had poetry commissioned by the Tate Britain and the London Sinfonietta, and has featured in over 100 poetry publications. He is poetry editor of 3am magazine, Lyrikline and the Maintenant interview series.