“I want to write stories that flow like rivers”: In conversation with F. S. Yousaf

F. S. Yousaf has come a long way. Having first started writing in 2013, he began posting his poetry online in 2015, leading him to publish three books of poems. His second book, “Sincerely”, was a powerful declaration of love to his then-fiancé that reached and captured the hearts of thousands of readers. His upcoming book, “Serenity”, which comes out next month in March 2022, is another wonderful collection of poems, this time centered on what Yousaf refers to as “finding peace in existence.” 

Despite having established himself as a poet, F. S. Yousaf does not want to limit himself to one genre. Calling himself a “hopeful novelist”, Yousaf wants to expand himself as a writer and write many books and stories alongside his poetry. 

Reading through his collection “Sincerely”, it was clear that Yousaf was a true poet. Readers turn to poets when they wish to make sense of what they are feeling. Anyone who has read Yousaf’s poems can attest to how his poetry makes one feel both less lonely and more understood. After getting in contact through Reclamation Magazine, I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview F. S. Yousaf on his journey, his aspirations, and, of course, poetry. 

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Introduce yourself to our readers! Who is F. S. Yousaf? What is the first thing you want people to know about you? 

Hello! I’m F.S. Yousaf, and I’m a poet and a hopeful novelist. 

Tell us a bit about your background. Where did F. S. Yousaf grow up? Did you always like poetry or is it something that had to be nurtured? 

I grew up in the suburbs of northern New Jersey. It’s nothing crazy, but I lived in a tight-knit community and not a lot of people left. I ended up writing as a hobby just to pass time. I never thought it could become something. It was always just my thoughts in my head that went straight onto paper — a way to cope with anything that happened in my life.  As I got older, I realized I wanted to make something of it and started the path to nurturing my craft. 

Let’s talk about your poetry now. You currently have three books listed on your website, with a new one, Serenity, forthcoming in March 2022. How did you begin writing poetry? When did you decide to take up poetry as a career? 

I can’t say I’ve been writing my whole life, or I imagined this for a long time, because that just wouldn’t be true. I began writing poetry when I was in high school, and like I said before it was nothing but a hobby. I started taking it a bit more seriously when I got to college, but even in 2014, a career as a published poet wasn’t something that could entirely pay the bills. I focused on my degree to become a high school history teacher but kept writing at arms reach. I used my free time to work on my poetry, and quickly my interest in taking it seriously grew. In my college years, I kept on writing and publishing new poems each and every day. More and more people were giving poetry a chance and making poetry collections best-sellers. I was never the studious type, but when it came to writing I wanted to learn it all. This meant reading more books, researching different authors, and studying the world of publishing to make what I wanted reality. 

While I was student teaching, I decided to quickly publish a poetry collection, Euphoria. While I wasn’t entirely happy with the collection in hindsight, it’s still a collection I hold close since it got me my start. The plan was always to teach or work as I wrote more books, honestly. But being a new teacher in the COVID age, I burnt out quickly. I was in a huge dilemma with myself, to keep on teaching, or to focus on writing for at least a year, just to see if I could do it full-time. 

I don’t always intend on doing poetry. I want to be a career author rather than just a poet. I want to write a lot of books and stories — I actually really enjoy the world of fantasy. But at the end of the day, I’ll always be a poet, and find myself working on future collections when I’m not developing stories. 

Reading through your last book, Sincerely, the overarching theme was love and confessing that love to that special person in your life. Based on what I’ve read from your new book, I’m finding a similar theme alongside a new feeling of peace and tranquility. In your own words, what is your new book about? What do you want us to know about your new collection? 

My new book, Serenity, is about finding peace in existence. Moments that make us, as humans, feel whole and alive. While Sincerely was about a specific emotion — love, Serenity is about finding hopeful feelings in all aspects of life, not just a person.

Every artist has a purpose for their art; whether it is to express themselves, speak for their generation, or simply to have fun in a world that does not acknowledge them. Poets and artists use their art for different reasons, and not always for the same reason. As such, what are your personal reasons for your art? Whenever you sit down to write, what/who are you writing for? 

My reasoning for creating art has always been to understand myself more. I like to put what I feel into words, even if it’s difficult to get there, and then, in turn, want others to know that these feelings are valid. Sometimes people aren’t able to translate feelings into words, and I want to make that an easier process. 

Your poems tend to be short, almost like philosophical meditations. How do you craft your poetry? When you put your collections together, how did you decide on which poems made the cut and in what order they would be read? 

I’ve weaned away from the shorter poems these days. I love the simplicity behind shorter poems and how you get a whole world of emotion across in very little wording. I find that utterly beautiful. But, lately, I’ve been on the path to re-learning poetry in a more formal setting. I’ve been practicing my couplets and trying to use imagery that I’m not used to. It’s not fun working outside of your comfort zone, but I know I have to do it to grow as a writer. 

When I’m putting a collection together, I constantly reread my work. I want each poem to have a flow within the book that matches the overall theme and if it doesn’t make sense, I take it out and save it for something in the future. 

Let’s switch it up and talk about your media. You mentioned on your website that you began with a notebook and a pen, though you eventually built up the courage to post your poetry online. The title of “Instapoet” came about through the trend set by poets, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, posting their work on Instagram instead of pursuing traditional means of submitting their work to journals, though your book was published traditionally through Central Avenue Publishing. Do you consider yourself an Instapoet? What initially led you to put your work on Instagram and WordPress instead of traditional means of publishing? 

I personally dislike the word “Instapoet.” It carries a negative connotation, at least in my eyes. In my experience, it’s a way to demean writers who aren’t entirely classified as “writers”, just regular people who try to write on Instagram. While I got my start on WordPress and Instagram, I don’t like calling myself an Instapoet. Just your typical writer who’s trying to find an audience. I think in this day and age, there are different paths to careers that aren’t as traditional and when someone takes that path, people often demean it. 

I initially started posting my work in college after taking a literature class. I vividly remember my professor talking to us about “Daddy”, a poem by Sylvia Plath. I loved the way she weaved words and injected parts of her life into poems that told the story so vividly. Reading poets like Rumi and Hafiz also made me witness how writers can take things that cause them strife and transform them into words that could connect to someone else. From then on, I realized I wanted to do it, too. 

When I first started, back in 2015, I had no idea of how wide the poetry and book world was. After posting every day for roughly three years, I decided to self-publish. I really didn’t want to go independent, it was a sense of failure in my eyes. But after my poems were denied by many magazines and publishers, I decided I had no choice but to self-publish. Of course, I couldn’t see it then, but it was a blessing in disguise. I learned so many skills as a self-published author, which still help me in my work to this day. While my first book didn’t do too well, my second self-published book Sincerely ended up doing so well that the rights were sold to Central Avenue Publishing. 

You’re a best-selling poet with a wide readership. Your poetry speaks to a large number of people. And from what I gather, you are happily married. It feels like you’ve accomplished a lot. Where do you feel you are in life right now? To put it simply, are you happy? 

I can’t say I’m necessarily happy or unhappy — I’m a firm believer that happiness isn’t a destination, but a feeling that comes and goes. I’m simply content with how life has worked out so far. I have love, I have a home. There’s a lot I want to do, a lot I’d like to accomplish. The imposter syndrome comes out often, and I feel like I haven’t accomplished much in my career, but that’s another battle I have to face with myself. All I know is that I want to improve as a writer. I want to develop stronger prose. I want to be able to write stories that flow like rivers. I just want to write, really, and have that writing change people’s lives. 

Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers that we haven’t touched upon here? What do you want them to get out of your poetry and this interview? 

What I want readers to take from my poetry is that they aren’t alone in the many emotions they feel. That they are understood, despite them thinking that they aren’t. I’ve been in those shoes, and it’s such a hopeless feeling when you feel all alone. 

Any shoutouts you’d like to mention here? Is there anyone you want to share your love with? 

There’s a ton of people I can mention — my readers for giving me the opportunity, for helping me reach places I haven’t gone before. To all my publishers for seeing something in my work that made them want to publish me. To you, Chris, and Reclamation Magazine for giving me the honor of this interview. Most of all, my wife, Yusra. She honestly keeps me grounded, and I’d be making so many mistakes in life if it weren’t for her. My sister, Eiman, who’s been my best friend and a close confidant over the last couple of years.

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To learn more about F. S. Yousaf, you can follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and his website.

If you wish to purchase his latest collection, “Serenity”, you can do so at Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, and your local independent bookstore. 

Featured photographs courtesy of F. S. Yousaf. 

Christopher Soriano

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