Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Doyali Islam believes poetry and the physical body are connected
This interview originally aired on June 1, 2019.
Doyali Islam is an award-winning poet and author based in Toronto. Her 2019 collection, Heft, looks at the nature of illness, pain and sexuality and explores the notion of home in light of chronic pain and suspected autoimmune illness.
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.
In 2019, Islam spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Heft.
A physical connection to poetry
"I like to pay attention to where I'm ending the line. I often recite my poems when I walk. I pay attention to those pauses and those breaths when I'm walking and reciting my own poems.
"I think poetry is a physical art. I love poetry because when I'm reading poetry or when I'm writing poetry, it allows me to trespass into so many things: gentleness, curiosity, anger, unexpected kinship, tenderness and longing. When I have a poem close to me, and have it memorized, I inhabit my body better when I recite as I walk.
I often recite my poems when I walk. I pay attention to those pauses and those breaths when I'm walking and reciting my own poems.
"It's a physical feeling of something pressing urgently at my chest. Then I know I'm in the terrain of poetry and that there's something that I want to work through in a poem; something I want to question."
Slipping through the cracks
"The way I think about the crack is twofold. On the one hand, it's those bodies that might slip through our medical system for whatever reason. They haven't been able to get a diagnosis or they haven't been able to see the right professional due to financial constraints.
But I'm also thinking about other bodies that move through the world in ways that are marginalized, and the ways that these people find to survive.
"But I'm also thinking about other bodies that move through the world in ways that are marginalized, and the ways that these people find to survive. The crack is both a symbol of something that one can fall through, but also something that one can have agency with. One can choose to slip through a crack and to hide and get by. There's a lot of agency and resilience in that."
"I always think about the Persian poet Saadi Shirazi. He said if a part of the body is in pain, all of the other parts of the body contract with pain. If you are not concerned with another human's suffering we shall not call you human.
If you are not concerned with another human's suffering we shall not call you human.
"I honestly don't understand how people can go about their day and not feel so impinged upon by injustice, but also by the ways that people rebuild their lives."
- Why Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Doyali Islam created a new poetic form to explore kinship and well-being
Doyali Islam's comments have been edited for length and clarity.