FATEME BANISHOEIB, POET
I first met Fateme via email, as she extended an invitation to collaborate on an inspiring and artsy project that introduced me to some of the most gifted and passionate people I’ve met in my professional life.
I met what she calls “the multitudes of her identity” in waves: the business professional first, then the poet, then the leader, the gracious host, the strategic thinker, the community creator, the mother of cats, and finally the friend. All warm, welcoming and passionate. All drew me in with equal intensity. What started with an online professional collaboration quickly turned into honest chats over a glass of port in her Lisbon apartment.
Here’s to an utterly inspiring woman. Relentless in the pursuit of her goals. A passionate poet and fervent proponent of art as a catalyst for change in the business world. Be warned, it’s hard to resist her creative gravitational pull!
Was poetry always a part of your life?
As a child, I was very artistic. I wrote poetry, I designed, and I did all kinds of creative projects. When I was asked, “what do you want to do as a grown-up?” I would answer: be a writer, a designer and a crazy scientist. To me all three where possible because they represented the makeup of my identity. Or, as I call it today, the multitudes of my identity. But grown-ups didn't see the link between them, and convinced me that being a writer and a designer was a horrible idea. They said it would make me poor, unhappy and lonely. The crazy scientist was acceptable, so I studied pharmaceutical chemistry and started working in research and development. I spent fifteen years working in multinational organizations and covered a series of roles from R&D, to manufacturing, to operations, to quality and strategy.
How did poetry find its way back into your life?
Four-to-five years before I left corporate life, poetry made its way back to me in a very challenging time in my life, professionally, personally and spiritually. As I started writing poems, I started seeing the world of business with a very different set of eyes. As a result, I started asking very different questions and my leadership presence changed. It was very challenging for me, my peers and the people that reported to me. I had a vision of redesigning strategy using poetry. Now, that sounded like a very crazy idea to my colleagues. I think at times they thought that I’d lost it.
How did the idea of ReNew Business take shape?
When I left the corporate world, all I wanted to do was write poems. But while on my six-month mini sabbatical traveling in Southeast Asia and Latin America, the idea of ReNew Business started to form.
I kept saying “I want to talk business in rhyme,” which meant I wanted to write about the experience of work from a poetic point of view. So, I started writing and collaborating with some platforms like the Huffington Post. As I was doing that, the idea for ReNew Business crystallized. I suddenly saw that it wasn't just about writing about this experience in a distinct way (in the language of poetry)]. It was about using poetry as the healing balm to transform business. And to be able to do that, I had to create a place in which I could actually test, pilot and experiment around this idea — a place in which the designer, the writer and the crazy scientist could all live harmoniously and create something beautiful.
Was there a tipping point in your career change?
In 2014, I was attending a writing retreat in Montana. I had no intention to write. I was there because I needed a moment of pause. I needed time off. I remember being in a large room overlooking the forest, sitting on the floor in a circle during the opening ceremony. The facilitator was handing out a piece of paper and asking people to write something about themselves that nobody knows. As people started to take turns sharing what they have written, I started to worry. It's like you're going to a party and, even though you have been invited, you don’t really know anybody. So, yes, everybody's nice, everybody's kind, but there is a certain unease. We had a lovely chat before we sat in that circle, and we got to know each other a little bit. But at that moment it was like the dance floor was opening, the music was about to start and I was thinking “Oh my goodness, am I going to be left out?” It was a very safe environment and people were just listening as others shared a piece of themselves. People shared personal things, touching or funny, but nothing really unexpected. When my turn came, I said, “I run a manufacturing plant and I hate it.”
I had written what was in my heart without really thinking about it too much. I wasn't really thinking that I would have to read it out loud. I clearly remember seeing everybody’s face turning to me in shock when I said those words out loud. In a retreat like that you expect to meet other writers or people who would want to become writers and not a pharmaceutical chemist that runs a manufacturing plant.
I felt like the spotlight on the dance floor suddenly turned on me, and everybody's staring at me. I don’t know how long that moment was. I had no perception of time. I’m sure it was just seconds, but it felt like an eternity. I immediately had the impulse to hide. I thought “Can I take it back?” I judged my own voice for saying something like that in public. Nobody made me feel that way, and nobody said anything. It was just my perception, out of my own old habit of not saying all I am.
What stands out is the shock in their faces the sound of my own voice reading out loud what I just wrote on a piece of paper. And that sound of my own voice became the Whisper, the first book I wrote. A book I wrote in conversation with myself, with that which was broken and neglected, so that could become whole again.
Tell me about your creative process. How are your poems created?
For me, it is really about the sound of a word. That’s how it always starts for me. Poetry starts with a specific word, with a specific sound that resonates and vibrates in a way that stands out in a particular context. As soon as I hear it, I write down that word or sentence and I start writing in the middle of whatever I'm doing. It's a word that has a very different energy and resonates on a very different vibration that somehow I’m able to hear. It starts with a rhythm, it starts with a word that is in vibration with the context. And then I take it from there, in a very intuitive way. I don't guide the words, I let my hands be guided by the words. And then later, if it need be, there would be editing and polishing,
There’s always an element of harmony. When I am writing a poem it’s because I'm hearing something that wants to be said and we haven't found yet words to say it. We haven't found yet a form or, a question that will help us say everything that needs to be said, even the things we don't know we want to say. It's almost tapping in to another part of the brain, like tuning into a very different vibration, so that what has not been said can find a form.
For me, poetry represents the essence of what’s present, a way to create a deeper dialog, to create something that’s larger than the conversation or project you might be working on. Poetry encompasses and includes all. It makes concepts and ideas larger because it makes them more inclusive, because it’s looking not simply at what is but what wants to be called in. It's always larger than what my little mind can think of.
What's going through your mind when you are writing poetry?
Zero. Nothing. I mean, I hear silence. And that’s the beauty of it. It's like I am immersed in a pure moment of silence. Some people might relate it to meditation. For me it’s a moment in which there is total freedom and total detachment with the circumstances and the situation. It’s a moment in which I don't have to be what I don't want to be. I'm not in control of anything. It's a moment in which I'm actually following. I'm being led. And it's this sense of flow in which I don't think about the words. I don't seek a specific word. I'm not paying attention or being attached to a specific form or shape or rhythm or rhyme, but they just come.
Let me take it a step further. The way I see it, we have different intelligences, the physical, the emotional, the spiritual and the intellectual. For me, poetry sits at the intersection of them all. So I actually get to be all of me, I get to be complete when I write poetry.
When that happens, when I let myself be led by and all four are working together is when I am able to write a poem. I need to have a physical sensation of what has just happened or what I have just heard, to feel it in my body. I need to have an emotional intelligence about it, there needs to be an emotion that I am feeling and I am able to transcribe. The spiritual aspect is also being expressed, and is probably guiding me to write the words. So all of me is participating at the same time, not the mind prevailing or doing it without the body or without the emotion.
At the end of the day, poetry is an act of creation, and we are all born to create. It's like reconnecting with the true essence of being human.
Photography by Krobini DocuStory and yours truly.