How can poetry set you free?
The final offering in our National Poetry month series is an intimate reflection from Laila Malik. As she speaks on breath, survival, and possibility, her response brings us full circle, back into Lorde’s essay, and the freeing power of poetry.
“In 1991, six years after Audre Lorde wrote “Poetry is not a luxury” and one year before she transitioned out of this life, my heart stopped in the basement of the women’s residence in which I lived in Montreal.
I was a young university student, freshly arrived from oceans away, tasting the wild, new wonder of independence and the sweet savour of going unwatched, even as it was tinged with the bitterness of being surrounded, by and large, by privileged class fellows from around the country who wanted to test my allegiances in the recent wake of the first Gulf War, scrape the blade of their ignorance against my brown, Muslim body (“what do you think of Palestine?” “did you ride a camel to school?” “good thing the Americans saved you!”).
I had already encountered the power of poetry, hiding in an aisle of my sparse but precious high school library, but it was in that basement, in that moment when my heart stopped, that I took my first real breath. Here, a poet who embodied complexity and constraints different but similarly insurmountable to my own. And here, she demanded that I – we – protect possibility in those furtive, late-night basement pen scratchings – ‘giving name to the nameless so it can be thought’.
Poetry gave me a way to breathe possibility into an airtight world. That we, who were never meant to survive, might still find a way.”
– Laila Malik
Laila’s debut poetry collection archipelago was released with Book*hug Press this month! Find it on our online bookstore.
Laila Malik is a desisporic settler and writer living in Adobigok, traditional land of Indigenous communities that include the Anishinaabe, Seneca, Mohawk Haudenosaunee, and Wendat. Her work has been widely published in literary magazines and journals, including Contemporary Verse 2, Canthius, The New Quarterly, Ricepaper, Qwerty, Room, Sukoon, The Bangalore Review, and Archetype. Malik’s essays have been longlisted for four different creative nonfiction contests and she was a fellow at the Banff Centre for Creative Arts in 2021 for her novel in progress. archipelago is her debut poetry collection.