Dreams of a Pen: Q+A with Mariam Salem

We recently published Mariam Salem's poetry from Al Faris International School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We were curious about her stunning words, and asked her some questions. 

How did you find out about Passports? 

My school’s IB Coordinator informed us about it. When I visited the website, I was mesmerized by the variety and amount of art this site carries, I immediately thought “This website is great, I have to submit a few poems”.  

When did you first start writing and why?

When I was a child, my mom stressed on the importance of education so much that I believed it was more important than anything this earth owns. Simultaneously, “friends” was a word I did not experience or understand. Consequently, I spent my day studying and doing other activities like drawing, writing and singing. I came up with story plots and wrote fiction before turning 7. When I became 7 years old, I wrote my first poem which was about my favourite people, my parents. I recall I compared my mom to a fruit and my dad to a vegetable. Sooner, and without realizing, any pencil I owned, any pen I used, any crayon I handled to write life with, became the closest friend I’ve had and will ever have.

Ever since that age, writing was the person I told every secret to. It was my well of hidden truths when trust could not be anything but a fiction. I tormented myself for a very long time about the friendless childhood I had, but now that I think about it, it was a blessing.

What is special about poetry?

The most unique aspect about poetry is that it is free of rules. Whether it was grammar or sentence structure, poetry can lack it. As if its only goal is to have the writer express themselves in whichever form with disregard to any restraining rules. The best thing about this aspect is that you could build your own personality while writing poetry and find your own poetic form. It makes poetry seem more mysterious, just like I like to be, and more uniquely imperfect, just like I am.

I noticed all of your poems use rhyme. Is there any reason?

Well, I’m passionate about music which usually acquires a steady pace and rhyme. So when I’m writing poetry and it lacks rhyme, I slightly feel like it is defective or could be improved. I also feel like poetry comes to life when there is a consistent rhyme scheme employed. I could feel poetry figuratively voicing out emotions when the words rhyme. Another reason would be that it depends on the poem. Rhyme is used in some of my poems to imitate a movement like the ocean’s waves or grant the poem a specific form to complete its meaning.

How has your life impacted your writing?

I believe there is no piece more beautiful than one written by someone about their self or life. My life has greatly impacted my writing because with no agony, with no sorrow, with no joy and with no peace I would not have been able to write a single letter. I actually believe to some extent, everything someone writes could be about them or related to them somehow. I was born in a country that I do not belong to, and I was raised in a culture that is not mine. Somehow, it was like I was living as two people. I also had a childhood that made me who I am now and encouraged me to have the dreams I live to achieve now.

Do you think the arts have any power in spurring social change? If yes, how?

Some of us may think that our core is guided by reason, but it is actually guided by emotions. Subconsciously, we tend to “follow our hearts” whether it was in a thought or an act. Art is made of emotion to ignite it. For instance, let’s say there is a community that does not encourage youngsters to follow their dreams. Then one day, one listens to a song about pursuing your passion and crosses what the community has made him/her believe only to achieve his/her dreams. Other people around this one person will begin imitating him/her and sooner we’ll have a changed community since social change was urged between its individuals. Once you have people’s hearts, you’ve got their belief. Art can bring a community together in harmony and can separate it apart. So, yes, art can spur social change, when it is powerful with emotions.

What is the IB program like at your school, especially in relation to the arts?

The IB program at my school is new, making my class (Year 2) its first graduating candidates from my school. Yet, since it was a new system for us, we received focused attention and aid from our teachers.

My school encourages art activities and events but does not offer it to be taught for older grades. Visual arts is only taught for all grades but creative writing and music is not. The IB program at my school is more concentrated on academics; however, they appreciate it and allow talented students to paint on the school’s walls as well as hold art exhibitions. Therefore, students with an interest in any type of art other than visual art rely on their free time for practice.

What writing-related goals do you have?

I’ve got numerous writing goals. The biggest one is to work in the music/entertainment industry where I could write songs, scripts and skits. I have countless creative ideas to implement. I also want to write a successful novel and be recognized for my poetry. I want to dream on, never run backwards and never give up.