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Another Way to Split Water: A Q & A with Alycia Pirmohamed

PART OF THE Sanctuary ISSUE

‘I feel water is so rich with imagistic and metaphorical potential, being a reflective surface as well as a site of nourishment, suspension, and erosion. I’ve been circling this idea of water as both a mode of connection as well as separation in my work.’

BooksfromScotland is particularly excited to read Alycia Pirmohamed’s forthcoming poetry collection Another Way to Split Water, which will be released in September. Alycia tells us more about what to expect on publication.

 

Another Way to Split Water
By Alycia Pirmohamed
Published by Polygon

 

Another Way to Split Water deals with themes of migration, inheritance, ancestral experience, and belonging, among many others. Could you talk a bit about that and what readers can expect from the poems in this collection?

I wrote the poems in Another Way to Split Water over several years, and so I think of the collection as capturing the different ways I’ve encountered and written about these themes as I’ve changed and grown. In my earlier work, family and familial stories and traditions are of particular importance. I also felt drawn to use my writing as a way to challenge misrecognition and Islamophobia, and to feel more connected with my faith. Figurative language gave me an opportunity to reflect on and interrogate slippery concepts like ‘homeland’, to cross borders, to write to the ghosts of people and places. For me, writing poetry is always a form of questioning, a search to better understand myself and to think more deeply about how my experiences fit into a larger context. Navigating how I belong in different spaces, what I’ve inherited, and what histories were passed down to me or written on my skin, has helped me uncover various truths about myself and the world I live in. I think of my work as constantly shifting and moving, finding shape in themes of womanhood and sexuality, as well as in meditations on the natural world. One of the most thrilling aspects of putting this collection together was placing some of this earlier work next to newer poems, and seeing what resonances and echoes were created between them.

 

What does the title come from, and what role would you say water – literally and figuratively – plays in this collection?

I find titles extremely difficult, and the manuscript had a lot of previous names. But it’s funny how now the collection has become sort of its own entity – I can’t imagine it being called anything else; it’s grown into its title. Another Way to Split Water came from one of the poems in the book, a poem that nods toward the collection’s different motifs: migration, inheritance, ecology, storytelling, reflections and selves, and multiplicity. Water, in all its forms, becomes one of the collection’s major metaphors, representing liminality, spirituality, crossings, and time as recursive. I feel water is so rich with imagistic and metaphorical potential, being a reflective surface as well as a site of nourishment, suspension, and erosion. I’ve been circling this idea of water as both a mode of connection as well as separation in my work.

 

The poems in this book often draw on nature and the natural world as lenses through which to express their themes. How would you say coming from two distinctly different national landscapes – Canada and Scotland – has influenced your depictions of and attitudes toward the natural world?

Sara Ahmed writes that for immigrant bodies, ‘the physical sense of moving through space is enough to trigger a memory of another place.’ I reference this quote a lot – it has deeply impacted the way I think about place, and the way I conceptualise my own interactions with place and the environment. I ask myself questions like, what does it mean for my particular body to take up space? What does it mean for me to walk the seams of different places; different environments? What have I asked the land to give up so that I can witness and feel and document these ways of moving and remembering? In terms of crossing borders, in writing about the natural world while simultaneously rooted/unrooted, I write toward figurative homelands, where spaces coexist, where the birch trees of Alberta and Edinburgh grow together. This extends beyond just these two places as well, and is multidirectional; in these poems, the sounds of water birds entwine with and repeat like prayer, or the rain falling in the prairies sounds like my first language.

 

In addition to your poetry writing, you’re involved with Ledbury Poetry Critics and have also taken part in interdisciplinary academic projects relating to poetry. How have your experiences in these areas shaped your approach to writing poetry?

I love this question because I’m increasingly excited by work that blurs the boundaries between genre, and between critical and creative writing. I used to feel conflicted, like I had to choose to be a creative writer or an academic, or like I was always a step behind other researchers because my degrees are in creative writing. But what I’ve learned about myself is that my critical research – whether that’s writing articles or facilitating workshops and other practical work – contextualises and feeds into my creative work. And, I’ve found myself engaging more with academic writing that is perhaps more self-reflective, or that edges toward a lyrical or creative writing style. I suppose my poetry is leaking into my essays and vice versa.

 

What advice would you give to new/emerging poets?

I think it’s important to connect and build relationships with other writers, to share work with each other and feel like part of a poetry practice outside of just your own. This is really difficult to do at first, and I know from experience that it’s easy to become isolated. Some of my tips include looking toward local bookshops. Edinburgh has the amazing Lighthouse Books, and they not only host poetry events and book launches, but specifically cultivate community through groups like the Nature in Colour reading group. Portobello Bookshop is another great space that hosts several events and cultivates a wonderfully warm atmosphere. Otherwise, Glasgow Women’s Library is an inclusive and safe space that has a number of community oriented programs, and Open Book similarly brings readers and poetry lovers together. I can’t forget Scottish BPOC Writers Network either, for all the beautiful spaces the whole team (past and present) have created.

 

Another Way to Split Water by Alycia Pirmohamed is published by Polygon, priced £10.00.

 

Alycia Pirmohamed is a Canadian-born poet based in Scotland. She is the author of the pamphlets HingeFaces that Fled the Wind, and the collaborative essay, Second Memory, which was co-authored with Pratyusha. She is co-founder of the Scottish BPOC Writers Network, a co-organiser of the Ledbury Poetry Critics, and she currently teaches on the MSt. Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. Alycia received an MFA from the University of Oregon and a PhD from the University of Edinburgh. In 2020, She received the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award.

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