Books·Why I Write

Why Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Doyali Islam created a new poetic form to explore kinship and well-being

In this CBC Books series, Canadian authors talk about what literature means to them.

Why Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Doyali Islam created a poetic form to explore kinship and well-being

CBC Books

9 months agoVideo
In the latest episode of the CBC Books' video series Why I Write, the Ontario poet talks about writing innovative poetry and offers timely writing advice for poets. 3:39

Doyali Islam is an Ontario poet and author. Heft is her second collection of poems.

CBC Books named Heft one of the best Canadian poetry books in 2019. It's currently a Canadian finalist for the $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize in 2020.

The poems in Islam's Heft look at the nature of illness, pain and sexuality. The poetry collection casts its lens on normal female sexual experience and the notion of home in light of chronic pain and suspected autoimmune illness on a personal level.

In a video shot at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre, CBC Books talked to Islam about why she wrote Heft.

Space-time continuum

"Literature is not bound to place and time. Poetry is capacious and fluid and agile in its approach to space and time.

"It's important to read and to listen beyond Canada's borders — and beyond the now. 

Poetry is capacious and fluid and agile in its approach to space and time.

"Thematically while writing the poems in Heft, I was asking myself questions. Where is tenderness in our world? Where is our resilience and resourcefulness in daily life? How can I inhabit my body, given my lived experience of undiagnosed chronic illness and primary vaginismus?

"I was also thinking about Gaza and trying to understand how we can inhabit or live in a world in which the moon, a thing of beauty, and the drone, a thing of violence, hang in the same sky."

Doyali Islam is nominated for a slew of awards this year, and has just won the League of Canadian Poets' National Broadsheet Contest. 11:51

Innovation in form

"I created a new poetry form called the parallel poem. I also innovated on the sonnet form: I split the sonnet in half —  seven lines and seven lines — separated by a slim column of space. 

I created a new poetry form called the parallel poem.

"I also doubled the sonnet — 14 lines and 14 lines — separated by that slim column of space.

"These poetic forms are not meant to shut you out but rather to invite you in.

"I think of them not as concepts but as structures that we can inhabit."

Advice for poets

"My advice would be to read and write poetry not just from mind intelligence, but from body intelligence.

"You will know that your language is working when you read or recite it back to yourself and you feel it working on you viscerally and emotionally.

"So render your technique in a rigorous way — but inform it with your heart, your spirit and empathetic imagination." 

Doyali Islam's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

The CBC Books Why I Write series features authors speaking on what literature means to them. You can see all the episodes here.

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