From a Newtown Literary contributor: t. jahan
t. jahan is a Switzerland-born, Queens-bred, Bangladeshi-American writer working on a novel set in 1970s Bangladesh as well as children's books to bring awareness to Asian migration experiences. Two of their poems were featured in issue #18 of Newtown Literary. Their other work has been published in The Margins, The Gagosian Quarterly, Guernica, and more which can be found here. Below, they discuss writing as a portal to places that have been destroyed by climate change, the importance of public space for diverse Queens communities to unite and flourish, and Kanye West.
Illustration by: Alex Charner
When you think of Queens, what first comes to mind?
Food! Okay but equally important—the people. The ebbs and flow of people.
I have lived for about 27 years in many different parts of Queens, and one spot I have grown fond of is a place where justice meets community in Jamaica, Queens off of Sutphin Boulevard. In front of the Supreme and Civil Courts, you can find stone stumps engraved with the names of Queens neighborhoods. I think it is a good testament to the free use of public space since this area has transformed into a gathering place for the Bengali and Spanish-speaking communities. I often see neighbors shoot the breeze as court officers give gentle nods to little ones jumping gates to play soccer on lawns bordering the courthouses.
Across the street is one of the only two Starbucks stores in Jamaica, and a Colombian bakery with colorful cakes and strong dollar coffee. Wanderers find themselves on the benches nearby, harmless and familiar. Tired, yet focused lawyers walk past children on bikes with training wheels. And tourists are usually rolling their carry-ons from the AirTrain and LIRR transportation hub where Jamaica Ave meets Archer Ave amidst fish markets, construction workers, buses, and underground entrepreneurs competing for precious sidewalk space. I imagine visitors are mesmerized by their first look at the city, which is usually Queens, considering LaGuardia and JFK airports are the city’s main entry points. Maybe it’s not what people necessarily expect coming into New York City, but Queens is as real as it gets.
What is the last piece of writing you read that made you laugh or cry (or just especially moved you)?
Kanye West as a Tame Impala Song—composed, performed and edited by Nick Lutsko.
The internet is amazing. This is pure art. I am experiencing Vol. 2 as I write this. I believe there will be no regrets. Fair warning, consumption may result in a combination of laughter and tears.
What inspires you? Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for your poems featured in the journal?
I gain inspiration from people and nature. I also appreciate prayer and meditation to tap into a narrative greater than myself. I enjoy incorporating dream, spiritual elements, and fantasy into my works which tend to revolve around migration. A migrant and person of color, I grasp at a sense of permanency and home through writing.
The first poem “Weathering” is inspired by my mother’s experience through the American healthcare system when she first came to this country and gave birth to her second child. I read this poem to her in English and then interpreted it in Bangla for her. It has Ma’s stamp of narrative approval.
As for “green murky ponds where we used to float,” I wrote this poem as a portal to convey some of the reflections of home which may no longer physically exist due to war, migration, partition, and climate change. These topics can be especially difficult to discuss in my family. As migrants, we long for the homeland and the people we leave behind in pursuit of diasporic dreams. And yet, sometimes, our homelands no longer physically exist. This is the case for my motherland in rural Barisal, Bangladesh. Erased by climate change, our birthplaces, ancestral homes, schools, graves, have been eroded by the rushing tides of time. Our time here and there can only live through memories and narrative.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
A novel which begins in 1970s post-liberation Bangladesh—a time when the country is in its infancy, settling into its newfound freedom. Characters are linked through love and survival, and are on the circuitous pursuit of physical success and the search for meaning in one’s lives.
A children’s book inspired in part by my time living in a rural river village in Barisal, Bangladesh and a Bhutanese fable revolving around cooperating animals.
Apology letters in hopes to building bridges of peace with loved ones and those who I may have caused discomfort.
Though to be the frank, I suppose life is the writing project I’m currently working on.