How can poetry set you free?
Slide down our National Poetry Month series rabbit hole with Shani Mootoo’s phenomenal response to the query:
“Discussions about, and answers to big questions, are – for most of us – a quick and easy click away. How sweet to slide down those rabbit holes. I find that the further down the hole you slide the precious impetus in asking big questions fades, evaporates. Welcome poetry!
For me, writing poetry is about attempting to strip away the debris and bounds of logic and dialectics. There is sublime enlightenment and humanity in wonder, in the act of wondering. Answers have their time and place, but the pre-knowledge instant of awe, that stab in the gut I feel well before any desire to probe, that ache of fascination, of doubt, immense gratitude, indignation, the tremor in the heart that is a call to action, those unfathomable, inexpressible or inexcusable passions of love and of hate, can all be preserved in poetry. Not reasoned or even quarreled away but rather honoured.
For me, poetry preserves mystery while prose worries it to the bone. Of course I want to understand, and it’s why I do prose, but I also want to swim in pools of pure marvelling, and the longer I live, in a constantly renewing innocence—and that is what poetry allows me, when I write it, to express, and when I read it, to experience.”
– Shani Mootoo
Shani Mootoo was born in Ireland, grew up in Trinidad, and lives in Canada. She holds an MA in English from the University of Guelph, writes fiction and poetry, and is a visual artist whose work has been exhibited locally and internationally. Mootoo’s critically acclaimed novels include Polar Vortex, Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, Valmiki’s Daughter, He Drown She in the Sea, and Cereus Blooms at Night. She is a recipient of the K.M. Hunter Arts Award, a Chalmers Fellowship Award, and the James Duggins Outstanding Midcareer Novelist Award. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and includes the collection, The Predicament of Or. In 2021 Mootoo was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Western University. Her work has been long- and shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Dublin IMPAC Award, and the Booker Prize. Her collection of poetry Cane | Fire was released with Book*hug Press last Spring.