Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Vivek Shraya

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Vivek Shraya

Multi-talented and multi-genre artist and musician Vivek Shraya is running out of debuts — she has tackled short fiction and the novel and now she's completing her literary hat trick with a gorgeous, powerful collection of poetry: even this page is white (Arsenal Pulp Press).

even this page is white has been praised as "dexterous and sinister... revelatory". Vivek "dares to ask the unspoken yet screaming questions" in her clear-eyed interrogation of what it means to be racialized, rendered in poems that are as stylish as they are intelligent.

We talk to Vivek today as part of our Poets in Profile series, where we ask our poets to explore how they came to the craft, the poems that shaped them and what they get from the writing life.

She tells us about the importance of encouragement, where Anne of Green Gables fits into her poetic development, and how poetry is the country music of literature.

We're also proud to have Vivek as an Open Book columnist — you can read some of her most recent columns here and here.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Vivek Shraya:

I think encouragement has been a consistent factor in my exploration of poetry, whether from my Language Arts teachers in Junior High, or more recently, from writer Amber Dawn. Poetry has always felt elusive to me, and this encouragement has been essential.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


When I think of poetry from my childhood, I always think of the scene in Anne of Green Gables when Anne reads “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


I hope to write a poem as good as any poem from Salt by Nayyirah Waheed.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


I have often joked that I wish I had been writing a book of poetry about gay sex in the big city. Racism is not exactly a fertile ground to find inspiration for poetry. And yet!


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


I turn to the old pen and paper. This is what I do when any writing isn’t working. I am told that this triggers a different part of the brain and this has been consistently useful in getting through blocks.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde.


What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?


When working on even this page is white, I often felt like poetry is the country music of literature, as friends would openly admit to not liking poetry.

But I love country music, so it all works out.

Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist whose body of work includes several albums, films, and books. She is also one half of the music duo Too Attached and the Associate Editor of Heartbeats, a website that features racialized artists and stories. Her first novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of The Globe and Mail's Best Books of 2014. Vivek has read and performed at shows, festivals and post-secondary institutions in­ter­nation­ally, sharing the stage with Tegan & Sara and Dragonette, and has appeared at NXNE, Word on the Street, and Yale University.

Vivek is a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, a 2015 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award finalist, and a 2015 recipient of the Writers' Trust of Canada's Dayne Ogilvie Prize Honour of Distinction. Vivek's first children's picture book, The Boy & the Bindi, will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2016. Her book on recording artist M.I.A. will be published in 2017 by ECW Press, as part of their Pop Classics series.

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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