Vivek Shraya’s road to poetry
Featured Story: Vivek Shraya
For the month of April, the League of Canadian Poets is bringing together schools, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, and poets from across the country to “celebrate poetry and its vital place in Canada’s culture.” National Poetry Month was established in 1998 by LCP, and each year they encourage Canadians to explore a given theme. This year, the theme is the road. They ask us to reflect on the “roads most important to your literary journey… the roads in your future… in the future of poetry in Canada.”
We caught up with artist Vivek Shraya – whose TAC funded debut collection of poetry was recently published by Arsenal Pulp Press – to hear about the road that led her to write poetry for the first time. For Shraya, it was a natural progression.
Shraya is a prolific artist who has several novels under her belt, in addition to numerous short films and albums. In 2014, her friend and writer Amber Dawn told her that she found Shraya’s novel, She of the Mountains, very poetic, and encouraged her to explore that style of writing further. It wasn’t until Shraya began writing her latest novel that she gave it a try. “I wrote about twenty pages but kept hitting bumps that didn’t feel like typical writer’s block. On a whim, I decided to see if I could turn what I had written into poetry – and it worked,” explains the artist.
The work Shraya produced is entitled even this page is white, which tackles themes of race, gender, and queerness. Publisher Arsenal Pulp Press describes it as a “personal interrogation of skin,” where “Poems that range in style from starkly concrete to limber break down the barriers that prevent understanding of what it means to be racialized.”
With even this page is white, poetry gave the author the chance to explore her thoughts on race in a new way. “… [P]oetry allowed me to articulate truths and pose tough questions without needing to provide answers,” notes Shraya, who sees poetry as a freeing genre, in part, because there’s no sense of pressure to create a resolution for the reader. She goes on to explain that “Discussions around racism are often met with defensiveness so I am hoping that readers will allow the words to sink in and work through the questions posed in the poetry.”
Shraya is outspoken about the lack of diversity in the publishing industry. In a recent All Lit Up blog post entitled #PublishingSoWhite: 13 Ways to Diversify Your Press, Shraya gives tips to publishers on how to take more risks in publishing. She notes that in her search to find a publisher, she felt “more confident submitting a bisexual love story [She of the Mountains] to Arsenal Pulp Press, as they have a solid track record of publishing LGBTQ books,” whereas with other publishers she worried that her work would get misread or dismissed for being too “ethnic.” When asked what advice she has for underrepresented or marginalized writers hoping to get published, she says:
“My advice would be to keep writing, despite rejection and systemic barriers. Know that rejection is part of being a writer and that your voice is crucial in helping to break down those very barriers. Share your work where you can, at readings, open mics, social media and a personal blog. Build a supportive network of writer peers and friends by supporting other writers.”
Shraya’s voice is valuable to the future of poetry in Canada because of her undeniable strength, honesty, perception, and innovation. Diverse voices need to be represented, and Shraya’s work has the potential to lead budding poets, publishers and readers down revelatory roads. Keep a look out for her next book, The Boy & The Bindi; a picture book about a young boy’s fascination with the dot on his mom’s forehead, featuring illustrations by Rajni Perera.
Vivek Shraya received a TAC writers grant in 2015 for even this page is white
Watch Shraya read count the brown people from even this page is white in a new CBC documentary, Where Have all the Poets Gone by Sook Yin Lee
View Vivek Shraya's work on her website: vivekshraya.com
Read more about National Poetry Month, including a challenge by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to mayors and councils across the nation to invite a poet to read at a council meeting. Use the hashtag #NPM16