W eeks ago, we announced that Africa in Dialogue has published an e-book of interviews with the ten poets shortlisted for the 2017 Brunel Poetry Prize. The interviews were conducted by the Website’s editor, Gaamangwe Joy Mogami, and were published in collaboration with Praxis Magazine. We are republishing a few of them.

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Sahro Ali is a Somali-Australian poet whose work explores ghosts of the diaspora, memories and trauma. She is a managing editor at Kerosene Magazine, a fledgling literary magazine created by and for marginalised artists. Her work is forthcoming in an anthology of anti-Trump work called CONTRA, which will be published by Kerosene. This conversation took place via email between Gaamangwe Mogami in the cold, sweetspot of Gaborone, Botswana and Sahro Ali in the vibrant Victoria in Melbourne, Australia by Email.

Gaamangwe

Sahro, congratulations on being shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize. What does it mean for you to be shortlisted?

Sahro Ali

Thank you! I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, there were so many amazing and talented poets who entered. I didn’t really think I’d make the cut. The literary community is huge and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you’re not really a poet/writer if you’re not churning out something every day. For me it’s acknowledging that I am actually a writer. It’s easy to get lost in your own head sometimes.

Gaamangwe

It’s really exciting to read all of these works. What inspires your poetry?

Sahro Ali

I’m in that early stage of being a writer where all I can write about is my past experiences and trauma. Which results in crude imagery and language, and I feel like it’s jarring in certain poems. I have a lot of ugly truths to write about and that’s what inspires me to write most of the time. Things that people tend to shy away from and/or are tentative when approaching them. Using soft language to talk about something that’s inherently evil and harrowing is powerful but so is using crude language. It’s like you’re meeting it face to face, and seeing it for what it is, if that makes sense. Other things that inspire me are my friends and how unafraid they are in everything they do.

Gaamangwe

It’s really inspiring and empowering that at the early-stage of your writing, you are already going deep in your traumas. That really takes courage. What traumas from your past experiences are important for you to write about? What do you hope to illuminate about your ugly truths?

Sahro Ali

I’m a daughter of immigrants and watching my parents struggle and try to make a living when I was younger was difficult. Especially as I got older, my parents were convinced I was this Anglicized devil. That’s the subject matter for some of my poems—being stuck between borderlines. To answer the second part of your question, I really don’t know. Right now it’s just acknowledging them and accepting them as they are.

Gaamangwe

Is the conviction that you are an Anglicized devil because of your sexuality? Can you talk to me about existing here and how that conviction affected your personal reality?

Sahro Ali

Yes, but it encompasses everything; me not wanting to adhere to Muslim dress codes, not knowing how to speak my native tongue, being bisexual. I was just constantly never meeting my parent’s expectations and their conclusion was: ”Ok, you’re just Anglicized.” But in terms of my sexuality, that’s something that’s concealed in real life. I’ve only come out to my mum this year and before that I was closeted. I couldn’t even say the word ”gay” in real life. So I created my own space online and surrounded myself with other LGBT folk, it’s amazing. But once I go offline I’m hit with this toxic, homophobic environment where I have to control every word and movement. Even now, whenever I compliment women on TV, my mum side-eyes me and turns off the TV. Keeping to myself is something I’ve learnt in childhood, even if it’s the painful option. That’s the reality I live right now, to navigate this space as quietly as possible. Something I know I have in common with other young gay people.

Gaamangwe

That’s a really difficult reality to exist in. You captured this difficulty in your poems, “Daughters” and “Dear Mother.” There is this kind of erasure, where the mother forces or attempts to make the speaker become who she wants her to become. It creates a double-life kind of thing. Did that make accepting your sexuality difficult? What has empowered you to get to the point where you could come out to your mother?

Sahro Ali

Oh yeah, definitely, I went through that typical ”maybe I’m not gay, I’m just confused” stage when I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I had to unlearn so much internalized homophobia and it was a painful and uncomfortable process (which is common and inevitable when you’re unlearning anything). It was ten times harder because I’m Muslim and all my life I was fed these ideas that you couldn’t be both Muslim and gay. Once I gave myself a space, however small it was, I was able to explore my sexuality and think and reflect. And being around other like-minded young gay people was all the more liberating. Also, I’m a total coward and depended on twenty seconds of courage, which left me the instant I told my mum.

Gaamangwe

I do think that twenty seconds is all the courage you need. You are brave, because there was so much at stake here. Thank you, Sahro, and all the best with the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and your poetry.

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Download the e-book of interviews HERE.

 

 

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About the Interviewer:

Gaamangwe Joy Mogami is a poet, playwright and screenwriter from Botswana. Her poetry has been published in Kalahari Review, African Writer, Afridiaspora, Poetry Potion, and Brittle Paper. She is the founder and managing editor of an interview magazine, Africa in Dialogue.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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