Spring Collections: Floating Life by Moez Surani

April is National Poetry Month, and CBC Books has been celebrating with a Spring Collections special: each week, we have showcased a recently published book of poetry with a Q&A with the author, and a sample poem from the collection.

Today's featured poem is our final offering. It's from Floating Life by Moez Surani, published by Wolsak & Wynn.

 

Bombay Morning

for Fayaz and Shams Surani

 

What I've learned. My grandfather: a voracious reader. He consumed his collected Shakespeare

twice over, three times over. Hamlet was his favourite. And his collected Gibbon, which my uncle

Fayaz calls impenetrable. He would read while shaving, the book open beside the basin.

 

He would go to pray, and clarify a portion of the prayer he could not interpret then would sit in the

library afterwards while others gossiped. A pensive man. He didn't like talking. He would

adjust his Kisumu radio so his ear was against the crisis north of him, in Suez.

 

There is a large dining table in this apartment and over half is covered -- spice bottles, sauces, bags

of chips and chocolates, a bottle of cutlery, water, plates in a stack, Time, newspapers and medicine

bottles. Over the remaining third we eat. A silver thermos of creamed tea, a plate of bread, jam

the spilled cream, our elbows and quiet eating, the saucers of tea that nana blows on and Meboob's

hunched style of sipping.

 

Meanwhile, the ancestors gaze down at us from their large portraits beside the fridge. Cars and

honking and motorcycles outside. The overreacting engines of rickshaws. Nana pours more tea into

the saucer and blows on it and with both hands, sips it. They leave so it is only Fayaz left in his blue

pyjamas eating jamboori with his glucometer and eye drop bottles in front of him and his glasses on

the cheese box. The chewed pits in a saucer with a napkin folded under it. He chews the fruit while

staring out of the huge window.

 

When he stands and leaves a crow comes in and sits on the table. I jump up from the swinging chair

and wave it out and Fayaz and I go laughing into the kitchen to his wife. The last thing on the

agenda, Fayaz says, recovering and sitting down again, is tea.

 


 

Moez Surani's writing has been included in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including the Literary Review of Canada and The Walrus. He has attended writing residencies in Finland, Latvia and Switzerland, and his writing has won the Chalmers Arts Fellowship and the Antigonish Review's Poem of the Year prize.

Floating Life, Moez Surani's second collection of poetry, is true to its title: it's about being on the move, connections made and left behind, and, above all, the fleeting nature of experience, rendered in language that is spare but delicately evocative.

 

Moez Surani 175.jpg

Q: You described the poems in your first collection, Reticent Bodies, as experiments in "how reality can be depicted." How does Floating Life enlarge upon those experiments?

MS: I would be suspicious of picking up a book about travel. I haven't liked many of the ones I have read. When I began writing about other places, places I was outside of and that I could enter and leave, I wanted to avoid generalizations or images that could be mistaken for emblems. That would be a boring and naive way to write. So, I tried avoiding this by getting rid of the space between what was incidental to the poem and what was significant. I hope the two come together so closely in this book that the significant things get imbued with that feeling of being accidental and passing. The second thing is the irony that weaves in and out of these poems and that recognizes that what I write about other places and situations is particular to me -- it's contingent and provisional. It isn't authoritative or lasting or emblematic. So I wouldn't presume to say what spring is like or what night is like or what Cairo is like, but I'll write a poem about one vivid spring day, one night, and the surreal poem towards the end of the book that renders what I felt the atmosphere of that city to be.

Q: You've commented in an interview that "a passing moment can be rendered more holistically with an image rather than statements." What did you mean by that?

MS: I'm interested in a situation, the tension of a moment, its flavour and possibilities, not my opinion or interpretation of it. Those things don't interest me. So instead of giving my perspective or my editorials I leave those behind and present the moment with as much fidelity as I'm capable of.

Both of these questions so far relate to my point of view: Even though objectivity isn't possible, I aspire to it. Imagery is a way of going beyond my perspective and attempting a wider vision.

Q: These poems are set in many locations, from Cape Breton's Cabot Trail to Rome, Cairo, Finland...what journey does this collection as a whole take the reader on?

MS: I was surprised by what people got out of the first book. For me, Floating Life is a book of pleasures -- friendships, travel, love, Asia, Greece, Cairo. The best way I can put it is that it's a journey over to the high end of the piano.

Floating Life cover.jpg

Q: How did you come to write the poem Bombay Morning? What was its genesis?

MS: Bombay Morning is from a trip I took to India a couple of years ago. It was my first time visiting India. The crucial part of the poem for me is the list of all the things on that dining-room table: some exotic and some familiar. On a trip like that, for someone like me (someone who's ethnically Indian but is separated from the country by a few generations) there's the huge lure of romanticizing the trip and making it into a kind of homecoming. Also, the preconceptions I had primed me for a certain kind of India -- the crowds, bargaining and people breaking into dance. That long list in that poem was my way of resisting that response. In the poem, it also balances the softness of my uncle telling me that morning what my grandfather was like.

Q: What is your favourite book of poetry (aside from any of your own)?

MS: It changes with my mood. I come back to Neruda and the Chinese poets from the Tang era often. They're both calm, interesting and have very palpable images. They feel familiar to me.

Q: Complete the phrase, Poetry is...

MS: The residue of living.

 

Want to check out the rest of the Spring Collections special? Here's the list of featured books:

Floating Life by Moez Surani

Wells by Jenna Butler

Paradoxides by Don McKay

Rain; road; an open boat by Roo Borson

Echo Gods and Silent Mountains by Patrick Woodcock