On Beauty: An Interview with Bahar Orang

In her hybrid book of lyric essay and prose poetry, Where Things Touch (Book*hug Press), poet and physician-in-training Bahar Orang considers the meanings and possibilities of beauty, reimagining what it really is and how we define it. A thoughtful, meditative book that explores intimacy, care, queerness, and love, this a debut that goes on a search for beauty beyond the superficial and conventional. We had the pleasure of virtually chatting with Bahar about the impetus behind her book and the relationship between beauty and connection.Photo credit Padina Bondar


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All Lit Up: Congratulations on your debut book—it’s deeply thoughtful and beautifully written. Can you tell us about the impetus behind writing Where Things Touch?Bahar Orang: Thank you so much for your kind words about the book. I started writing as a medical student, during a time when I was feeling quite acutely the medical world’s rigidity and bearing witness to a lot of its violence. And yet I was having these intimate encounters with people, grappling with how to care for them in this strange new world. I wanted very badly for the terms of these encounters to be different. So, I started writing, at least in part, to imagine what other languages and ruptures could be possible, and to follow beauty into those other possibilities. 
ALU: Like beauty, Where Things Touch does not fit a mold: it’s a confluence of poetry, prose, and lyrical essay. What was the experience of writing something so open and varied?BO: It was a relief to me to write in this way, and as you point out, the subject matter asks for a form that is open and varied. Although it was not a self-conscious decision to write in confluence, I experimented and waited and revised until it felt like what I wanted to say, or what wanted to be said, was finally or actually emerging.   ALU: Throughout the book, there is a recurring notion that beauty is tied to care, to connection. How has your training as a psychiatrist influenced the way you think about the relationship between beauty and connection?BO: I’ve come to believe that to really take seriously this idea that beauty lives inside intimacy, that beauty has everything to do with a politics of care, means to envision and study new sets of relations, ones that are and will be radically different than the kinds that are currently being practiced in psychiatry.   ALU: While there are marked breaks between sections in the book, you don’t title them. Can you speak to the decision to not include any titles between any of the sections? BO: I see the fragments as speaking to each other in a way that is too circular, too relational, for titling (as I imagine titles to be). Even titling the book itself was somehow very difficult. I went back and forth with Jay and Hazel (the book’s wonderful publishers) and Meg Storey (the book’s wonderful editor) many times before settling on something. Perhaps it was the thought of a finished project, a sort of complete story, that worried me. But this may have been a kind of ignorant vanity on my part, because all texts are open, and continue to be open, no matter what kinds of enclosures they insist upon. Titles, endings, beginnings – they are all experimental practices too, and these decisions can allow for even more questions, ambiguities, potentialities. ALU: Now that your book is out in the world, is there anything around the narrative of the book that you feel is not being said? Is there anything you wish readers knew that they might not?BO: Nothing yet. But I continue to be excited by the question of beauty, and since finishing the manuscript, I have read more on beauty that returns me to the book, to places that I want to write more. ALU: As a debut author, what is your advice for other emerging writers? Do you have a writing mantra you find useful?BO: Dionne Brand, whose interviews and talks I have listened to now for many years, often names the importance of a kind of radical attentiveness for writing. “Shimmering alertness,” she’s called it, and elsewhere, “art that accounts,” and elsewhere, being “clinically aware.” It’s not quite a mantra, not quite advice, but a sort of practice, a very difficult practice, with many moments of failure, but also a sort of obligation as well as a pleasure, to stay awake, and to pay close attention, in order to write.

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Bahar Orang is a writer and physician-in-training living in Toronto. She has a BASc from McMaster University and an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto. She completed her MD at McMaster University, and is now completing specialty training in psychiatry in Toronto. Her poetry and essays have been published in such places as GUTS, Hamilton Arts & Letters, CMAJ, and Ars Medica. Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty is her first book.