When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
I started writing poetry in my teens as a way to express my emotions. I had moved from Guyana to the United Kingdom and missed my homeland, so this was a way of making sense of a new landscape, cold weather and a missing. This missing was like an all-consuming illness that writing poetry helped me to articulate on the page.
My love for poetry formed whilst attending Secondary school in Guyana. I was part of the recitation club where each week we picked a poem to learn. We would then compete with each other trying to win the competition for the best recitation. I loved watching and hearing the same poem being enacted by different students.
We all developed favourite poets. One favourite was ‘Banana Man’ by Evan Jones. I also found my personal favourites: Louise Bennett and William Blake.
Please talk about your development as a writer of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
I spent most of my life attending poetry workshops and poetry readings working on developing my craft. That is one of the reasons I co-founded Malika’s Poetry Kitchen with the poet Roger Robinson to provide a safe space for myself and others. It was easy to believe the devil on my shoulder saying you are not good enough. Being published by Poetry Review and Poetry felt like milestones in my career. I was reaching new audiences here and around the world. Which was great as I always regarded myself as an international poet since my family reside in the Caribbean, USA and Britain.
What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
The Forward Prize rewards poetic innovation, and excellence so it is wonderful to receive such recognition from judges who are your peers. I am also ecstatic about being shortlisted for the third time in this category.
Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?
The poem is a response to and in conversation with Kevin Young’s poem ‘Dreams the Day after Easter.’ While reading his poem I began to think about Caribbean traditions, the Nine Nights wakes, the altars we create to communicate with our ancestors, the ceremonial pouring of alcohol and how those rituals are passed on. This poem will be part of the collection I am currently writing.
Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
The three poets whose collections I am addicted to and in awe in 2023: Valzhna Mort – Music for the Dead and Resurrected, Jason Allen-Paisant – Self-Portrait as Othello, and Jorie Graham [To] The Last [Be] Human. I think all three of these collections are extraordinary, they stretch the lyric in marvellous and devastating ways that transform my life and perception of the world.
What is next for you as a poet?
Completing and editing the two poetry collections I am currently working on.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
It is important to read, read, read local and international poets, as well as books about poetics. Then set up space and time for your writing and write, write, write. Use the desk to experiment and learn. Always observe and keep a notebook to record ideas, fragments, overheard conversations.