A few years ago with my first forays into Instagram, I started following an account of beautiful poetry written by a doctor. Fast forward to 2019 and Dr Akif Kichloo has given up his career in medicine to write poetry. Akif’s third book of poetry is due for release by Andrews McMeel. I caught up with Akif to find out more about this extraordinary poet.

NLK: Are you surprised at the direction your life has taken?

AK: I don’t think I am stagnant enough, stable enough, or moving in a specific direction to able to answer this. Life has been a mean teacher, which I don’t intend to mean in a bad way whatsoever. Whenever I think I have found the direction I want to take in life, something or other ends up happening and there I am again at the precipice of a completely different cliff with nowhere to go but jump in.  I will give you an example: I was going to start my MFA in creative writing at an esteemed American institution in September 2019 after giving up my career as a doctor, but my visa application was rejected. So I had to stay in India. As I was cursing the visa official, my father was diagnosed with cancer. What I thought was a curse became a blessing in disguise. If I had left for the US, my father would be on his own. Now I can be here with him during this tough time and I can’t thank that visa official enough for rejecting my application. I am still writing and I will always write, degree in creative writing or no degree, but now I can at least be by my father’s side during this storm.

NLK: What made you give up being a doctor to become a full-time poet?

AK: I don’t think I can ever give up being a doctor completely to be a full time poet. I will always be both. I am 32 years old and I have been a doctor in my head, at least, for 30. My first memory from childhood is someone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up and me answering that I wanted to be a doctor. That might relate a lot to the fact that I come from a family of doctors. Almost everyone in my family and extended family is a doctor. So that is all I have known all my life. I gave up practicing I remember specifically on 1st January 2017  because I thought I wasn’t being fair to my creative life. And that I needed to give it my everything to reach my potential as a writer. More than writing, I wasn’t getting a lot of time to read good literature and participate in the arts as a consumer which was leaving me extremely unhappy and unsatisfied. I was still writing but without reading good literature, you can only do so much. I think my reason to leave medicine behind was fair. I might go back to practicing next year, especially after going through what we are going through as a family with my father. I think we need more doctors who practice patience and empathy towards their patients and what I have seen for the pat 3-4 weeks, is completely lacking in the Indian healthcare system. So I want to volunteer to be that doctor. That kind doctor who actually listens to his patients and makes them feel heard. I think that is where my life might be taking me now. I think this better answers your first question in a way, about the direction my life is taking. I would of course be writing. More than bread and butter, that is how I feed my soul, realising how cliché it sounds, but clichés are there for a reason, aren’t they? Also, I think as years have passed I have gotten slightly better at time management, so I think I would be able to do justice to both careers better at this point in my life. 

NLK: How did you become interested in poetry? Is it part of your cultural heritage?

AK: A major part of my school education was poetry as part of the curriculum. English, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, I studied them all in school.  Poetry was a big part of the syllabi back then. Funnily enough, it was Urdu poetry that interested me most during my school years even though I was writing in English. Poets like Ghalib, Faiz, Faraz, Mir and so many more. My elder brother was more interested in poetry than me at the time and his interest played a big part in cultivating an artistic environment at home. Ghazals sung by Abida Parveen and Jagjit Singh were always on in our shared childhood room. The poetics of the Urdu Ghazal tradition imbibed into me as years leapt from one to the next.  

NLK: Who is your favourite poet? 

AK: I read almost anything that comes my way. I read so much it almost becomes impossible to keep track of the poets that really speak to me. But there is a lot of contemporary poetry really up there in my lists of favourites. I post 5-6 poems by the poets I like on a daily basis on my Twitter and Instagram accounts.

NLK: What does poetry mean to you?

AK: Poetry means everything to me. It gives me life. It helps me through my day on a consistent basis. Whenever I am in a difficult situation which has been happening a lot these days, I open a random page in a poetry book and read through the poem. It is usually something I need to read on that given day. So poetry gives me answers. It is the answer in all its plural magnanimity. I base my life on it.

NLK: What would you say to a teenage Akif?

AK: As I said in my TEDx talk “Follow your confusion”. See it through and don’t care for what anybody says. What else? People will have this inherent need to put you in a box and they would say things to you, they would encourage you to be a certain kind of a person. Don’t be that. Don’t get boxed like that. You are more than one person. You are an amalgamation of all kinds of things and potentials. Explore everything. Don’t take what other’s say seriously, both good and bad. They hardly ever mean it anyway. 

NLK: Can you please tell us about your books and where we can buy them?

AK: Falling Through Love is my third full-length collection of poems. It will be in bookstores in the US from November 5, 2019. I think for the rest of the world, it is available from online retailers everywhere. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, all of them. Book depository has good offers going on online and they offer free worldwide shipping as well. The release date for UK is set for December 12, 2019. My previous two books are available online.

NLK: Do you have any future plans you can share with us?

AK: It is really hard for me to decide on the future right now. For now I simply want to be by my father’s side. Of course I am working on a few projects. I am writing a memoir which is kind of a hybrid between fiction and non-fiction. I want to be able to market it as a novel. I’m also working on my poetry. There is a lot of political poetry pouring out of me these days given the condition of the world we inhabit. I might also be working on a book of love poems after falling in love again after so many years. So love poems are a big part of me these days. I think we, as artists, have given up on love, and  I want to revive the culture of love poems again. I have been contemplating death a lot these days, and death has a been a constant subject I write about anyway, so there is that. I want to explore the meaning of life, as every artist does at the very core of their art. Let us see where all this takes me as life keeps revealing itself to me. I hope I land on some form of truth and as a poet I’m able to put it on the page as truthfully as I can. 

NLK: What advice do you have for aspiring poets?

AK: Read good literature. Participate in the arts. Be a consumer of the arts first and then create it. Create what is in you and what is brimming to come out and when you think you have written it all, write some more. There will always be something you will have to say. Stay true to that. Don’t follow trends. Write what you want, honestly, and that will be the next trend. And for god’s sake, if you are young or old, but especially if you are young, go out there and be reckless. Live. Live. Live. As Mahmoud Dervish puts it, “Letters lie before you, so release them from their neutrality and play with them like a conqueror in a delirious universe. Letters are restless, hungry for an image, and the image is thirsty for a meaning.”

Dreamers Dream Dreamers Do first appeared in Nightingale and Sparrow (Flight Issue No 1) February 14, 2019

About Falling Through Love

 Falling Through Love is a heart-pounding, stomach-dropping, beautiful plunge into experiences of love, longing, and loss. It submerges readers into Kichloo’s deeply personal yet widely resonant experiences, exploring relationships in their most exposed and honest states. Written in a variety of poetic forms—free verse, rhyme, prose, and visual poetry—Falling Through Love takes the reader on a poignant journey with the writer, about charting one’s own path in life, investigating failure, family dynamics, and love. Looking at life backward and forward simultaneously, this collection brings forth new perspectives on what it means to be alive, to have made mistakes, to have fought for an identity, to have loved and lost and then loved and lost again.

About Akif Kichloo

Akif Kichloo is a poet of Indian origin currently alternating residence between Saginaw, Michigan (USA) and J & K (India). With a Bachelor’s Degree in Medicine and Surgery, he has been eating shoelaces for the past year because he gave up everything to write poetry.

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