Episode 14: Doyali Islam

Doyali Islam

Doyali Islam is the author of two books of poetry: Yusuf and the Lotus Flower (BuschekBooks, 2011) and heft (McClelland & Stewart, 2019). heft was listed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as one of the 20 Best Canadian Poetry Books of 2019 and in April 2020 it was announced that the book had been shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Prize in the Canadian category, which consists of only three books. You can read more about Doyali’s book and her other work on her website.

Doyali has appeared on CBC Radio and been in discussion with the writers Anne Michaels and Forrest Gander. Her work has also appeared in anthologies like The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2018, The Manifesto Project, which contains her essay A Private Architecture of Resistance, and The Unpublished City - Volume 1, edited by Dionne Brand.

This interview was recorded in late November 2019 when Doyali visited the UK to give various readings, including one in Oxford with the poet Mariah Whelan. In this episode, Doyali discusses the tensions in her poetry and in particular how her work deals with chronic illness, the innovative formal choices that she makes for her poems in heft, the link between poetry, art and healing, and how she represents her family in her writing. She discusses three poems from heft: ‘sagittarius {the archer}’, ‘bhater mondo’, and ‘flare’. We are very grateful to Dana Francoeur at Penguin Random House Canada for her assistance with the rights to reproduce these poems.

"bhater mondo," "sagittarius," and "flare" from HEFT by Doyali Islam, Copyright © 2019 Doyali Islam. Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

heft is a remarkable book: deeply personal but deeply engaged in the world, surprising and always thoughtful. In her poem ‘the ant’, from which the title of the collection is taken, Doyali writes that the ant has been looking for ‘a burden all his life –/something to heft, heft for nourishment;/something to pain him and free him, at once.’ And that is what the book aspires to do: acknowledge that burdens do bring with them weight but that they can also bring about freedom and strength. Whilst the poems describe pain, they are also about the liberation possible through writing, community, love and companionship. The book is an invitation to the reader just as much as it is a text that grapples with the poet’s own concerns.