New, young face of poetry becomes Edmonton poet laureate

Nisha Patel is Edmonton's new poet laureate and she couldn't be happier.

'Act cool, you're on the phone with the mayor'

Nisha Patel stands with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson as she is honoured as the city's new poet laureate on Wednesday. (Sheena Rossiter/CBC)

"We're all going to die, and here is a poem about that."

That was Nisha Patel's introduction as Edmonton's new poet laureate at a ceremony at city hall Wednesday. 

Patel doesn't mince words, but she parses them so beautifully that she has quickly earned the recognition of Edmonton's poetry community. 

Patel began writing poetry in 2014 at age 23 and in 2018, published Limited Success, a solo chapbook of her poetry. 

This year, she is serving as executive director of the Edmonton Poetry Festival, she won the 2019 Edmonton Slam Championship and the 2019 Canadian Individual Slam Championship.

Patel will act as the city's poet laureate for the next two years, taking over from Ahmed 'Knowmadic' Ali. 

She said she was still extremely nervous when the mayor called to deliver the news about her new role. 

"I was sitting in a very messy bedroom and I had actually not even put my pants on fully because I was so stressed about receiving this phone call," she said. 

"I just took a deep inhale and then was like, 'Act cool, you're on the phone with the mayor.' So I was almost eerily calm, and then as soon as it was done I burst into tears," Patel said. 

'Journey to achieve her dream'

Patel's parents watched her onstage as she accepted the honour this week. 

Her mother, Ramila Patel, said she knew her daughter would have great success in some way, though poetry was not always part of the plan. 

"She was such a talented child. She was the top debater in her high school," she said. "She wanted to be a politician, and then she said she wanted to be a lawyer, and she wanted to do an MBA. And then all of a sudden this big change happened."

Nisha Patel stands with her mother Ramila Patel after the ceremony at city hall. (Sheena Rossiter/CBC)

Before pursuing writing, Nisha Patel earned a business degree from the University of Alberta.

Her mother, who first moved to Canada from Gujarat, India in 1986, said seeing her daughter's work recognized has special significance for them as immigrants.

"It was very hard to predict that you can have this kind of opportunity in this multicultural country," she said. 

"My daughter is now representing the city of Edmonton in poetry — in a literature which is not even our language — so I'm really, really proud of her.

"We will support her on her journey to achieve her dream."

As poet laureate, Patel said she would like to act as a mentor and encourage the development of more young writers like herself.

"I thought it was a shame to not share what I was saying with the rest of the world because I had grown up not seeing anyone who looked like me doing what I was doing," she said. 

"It's very important to be able to go out and share these stories."


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