How Alycia Pirmohamed wrote the poems that won the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize
Alycia Pirmohamed is the winner of the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize for Love Poem with Elk and Punctuation, Prairie Storm and Tasbih.
Pirmohamed discussed how she wrote her winning collection of poems with CBC Books.
Becoming a writer
"I was always writing. I'm now in a creative writing program. I was doing a biology degree in my undergrad and I ended up taking a poetry workshop as an elective. I met such an amazing group of people in that class and I was mentored by wonderful poets that encouraged me to keep writing. I switched from doing biology and did an MFA, which led me to making writing more a part of my life. It introduced me to wonderful people, who are like nourishment in my life.
Poetry is a place for me to find, if not answers, at least more questions that respond to questions that I have about who I am.- Alycia Pirmohamed
"I grew up expecting to be a doctor or have a lot of stability and job security. That was the journey or path that I saw myself on. It was difficult reframing my identity as someone who had the freedom to pursue something like writing."
Finding answers through poetry
"I was born in Edmonton and I lived there until nine or 10. Then I moved into a more rural area of Alberta before coming back to the city again. My writing is shaped by my experiences and my identity. I always felt in between, belonging in Canada and belonging somewhere else. Whether that's because I'm South Asian or I'm Muslim or because my parents were born in Africa, I've always felt like I wasn't rooted. I felt different from people that were around me. That comes through in my writing because it's something I grappled with during my most formative years.
"Poetry is a place for me to find, if not answers, at least more questions that respond to questions that I have about who I am. It's a place for me to take that otherness or that difference that I feel and reclaim parts of myself or create a world where I do feel like I belong. I find some kind of resolution through the act of writing and in the product and sharing of my writing."
"I've been trying to play around with different forms. I found myself gravitating toward a certain form and kind of writing. I wanted to break free from the routine. What influences me most, other than the life experiences I talked about and natural imagery — which is prominent in those poems — is what I'm reading at the time.
I want people to read my work, enjoy it, connect with it and find it.- Alycia Pirmohamed
"I love working with an imagery and specifically natural imagery, the natural world. I find that a lot of my poems gravitate toward the Canadian landscape, in particular the landscape of Alberta — the prairies, mountains and even the lakes — that were so integral to my world growing up.
"All of these poems work together in terms of ritual, cycles and particularly water. I enjoyed using the motif of water to portray different states of emotion."
The value of competition
"I think it's important to enter literary competitions. It can help your writing, in terms of putting your work out there. Sometimes deadlines are good for that. Writing poetry and art is something you work at and literary prizes are a great way to validate that labour. I want people to read my work, enjoy it, connect with it and find it."
Alycia Pirmohamed's comments have been edited for length and clarity.