Poetry News

Aisha Sasha John on the Epiphanic I have to live

By Harriet Staff

Aisha Sasha John

Montreal-based writer, dancer, performer, and poet Aisha Sasha John talks about her much-anticipated next book of poems, I have to live (McClelland & Stewart, April 2017) at CBC Books. "I have this ongoing private scholarship and my books constitute and are a record of that scholarship," she tells CBC. More:

Listening exercises

I don't seek out to write a poem. There are two types of approaches that the book has. They're both deliberate, but differently. First, I'm a dancer. I take this dance class with a teacher who studied Korean zen for many years. It's a really beautiful, special class on Saturday mornings. In the same way that people do yoga and then meditate, every Saturday I'd go to dance class and then do my listening practice. My listening practice consists of - and this is something I've been doing my whole career - recording [sounds] and trying to not discriminate anything that I was hearing. I would do it often in a café. The material was my mental reality, my outside environment and my physical reality. The practice is to listen and to receive and to record whatever in the moment announces itself to me. That's one of the approaches that led to poems in the book.

The other way is inspired. I'd be in my life and if I had an epiphany, whether it was through reading something and making connections, or being in the world and seeing an animal or being in conversation with people. A lot of my epiphanies happen through relation, through love, through conversation, so then I would record or try to capture that.

Declaring your authority

When I was writing my previous book Thou, one of the constraints I placed upon myself is that I would only make declarative sentences. No questions. No speculation. Just things that I could assert. The reason I did that was that I was thinking about writers that I liked and what they had in common. I noticed that there was a strength of voice, which was the product of these declarative sentences.

I'm a woman. I'm an African woman. I live in a capitalist, white supremacy. I'm told that I'm not the authority, that I have to seek other authorities in order to know how to live. And that is not what I believe. I am my own authority. So the work is declarative. It's been a process for me to speak like that...

Read it all at CBC Books. More about John at her tumblr.

Originally Published: May 4th, 2017