by Nisha Patel
Crow Said Poetry (NeWest Press)
Nisha Patel is clearly having an awesome year, and the publication of her first book of poetry – certainly not her last – is only one of the defining moments of her 2021, regardless of how the pandemic has kept her from hosting in-person events for it, as well as for her other writerly occupations.
"It's going great. The virtual tour has started and it's busy. I feel like I'm genuinely reaching new communities and finding new readers. That was exciting, because I didn't think I would be able to do that in a pandemic. I really thought that I would just have to do a quiet little launch online and that was be it," the Metro Edmonton regional writer in residence said in conversation about the modestly sized but dense and enriching Coconut.
Coconut is a solid debut from the young and fierce Slam champ. It's a commanding collection of poetry covering the deeply personal to social commentary on issues such as race and sexuality in the colourful, no verse barred way that only she can. Coconut throws a lot of big words around but stands its ground as a lyrical, important tour de force.
Frankly, she makes it look easy but there's no way that it can be so. Patel must be shoulder-deep in the intellectual morass of the modern world but that's where she probably finds the best fodder for her writing. In response to a question about how she faces the challenge of writing poetry that lands with readers, she explains that fearlessness helps among other things. Finding your voice early on is also key.
"I think the biggest challenge is always that when we tell our most vulnerable and personal stories, there's always a risk that someone isn't going to understand you, or that maybe someone will misinterpret you.," she continued.
"You don't really have control over that conversation because once your words are out in a book, people are able to take that book and read it in whatever tone they want. One of the rewards, however, is that when you do connect, when you do have that moment where someone is on the literal same page as you, then you have a genuine connection that you didn't have before, that someone is able to see themselves or see the humanity of your story, even if it is a difficult story, even if they're coming from a gaze that maybe wasn't the intended audience for a book."
With COVID, she has taken it upon herself to slam Coconut into as many computer screens as possible. Her 21-stop virtual book tour started on March 19 and continues unabated until the end of June. She is spending the weekend of April 23 and 24 logged into Vancouver's Hullabaloo Festival, then another click-stop at Verses Festival of Words (also in Vancouver), before returning home for a night with the Edmonton Lesbian Book Club on the 28th.
A full listing can be found at www.nishapatel.ca.
That rounds out the parade of promoting her book for April's National Poetry Month celebrations. Going beyond into May, of course, lends fertile soil for new springtime opportunities to spread good words. Though Patel is winding down her tenures both as the director of the Edmonton Poetry Festival and as Edmonton's poet laureate, she is still boundless with enthusiasm for public acts of poetry. Being the library's writer in residence affords her the chance to encourage new voices, whether they come from older writers, or their opposite-in-age counterparts.
"What I like to tell younger poets is that their greatest strength is the way that they know themselves, and that they don't need to rely on gimmicks or flash or other people's pain or trauma to seem extreme or to stand out, that really, their own genuine truth is enough to get attention and enough to show them how strong they are as storytellers."
Check out the library's calendar at www.sapl.ca/programs-events/events/writer-in-residence.html for all of her upcoming programs including her increasingly popular monthly open mic events. All of her one-on-one meetings with writers are still virtual but they're just as enriching to her as they are to those she's meeting with.
"It's been a really great space to be in. I've met with dozens of writers now. We've talked about everything from fiction and horror, all the way to Haiku, and poetry. We've also done workshops in publishing, in writing poetry, in doing spoken word, writing your personal story. There's people coming from all genres to these events and to the open mics. It's been a real privilege really to hear what the community is writing about."
In May, look for programs on nature writing and another event lined up in conjunction with Seniors' Week. There are poetry workshops, and memoir workshops lined up, even before she officially transitions to the St. Albert library.
While she still has a few days of April left, and a few weeks in her other poetic capacities, she wanted to take the opportunity to provide a few more words to any other writers out there still fighting the good fight.
"I think the most important thing is just that the opportunities will always present themselves. They don't always come at a time that's the right moment for you. You have to constantly seek them out: seek out publishing, seek out performance, seek out opportunities to be in positions of influence, and community building. There's enough out there for all of us to find our places, really. The commitment is really in attending and being present in these spaces, in open mics, in poetry readings, and getting to know other people. That's where our power will come from as poets: in our connection to each other."
She added that writing every day is not absolutely necessary. She doesn't. She says that she writes she's in the space to be inspired, which is very often, but she has to have the time for it.
"I wish I could write every day. If you have the time to write every day, then all the power to you. 'Write as often as you need to' is what I like to say."