Doyali Islam

Doyali Islam's picture
Photo credit: 
Sanchari Sur

Born on the island of Bahrain, and with Bangladeshi and Arab ancestry, Doyali Islam grew up and currently lives in Toronto.

Would Shakespeare call this poet a literary heretic, and be tickled by the fact?

Doyali has “split” the Shakespearean sonnet in half, and has created an utterly-new poetic form called the “parallel poem.” These experiments can be found in her second poetry book, heft (McClelland & Stewart, 2019) — a book that contains the award-winning poems “site” (Arc’s 2016 Poem of the Year) and “two burials” (CV2’s 2015 Young Buck Poetry Prize).

Doyali utilizes metred and free verse, and appreciates slant rhyme. Her poems evoke everyday moments (a cat at a door); family tensions (fathers and daughters); chronic illness; and global conflict.

Doyali’s website is undergoing revitalization and may reincarnate as a chubby purring cat, but can currently be found at Arc’s new(ish) Poetry Editor, she tweets from @doyali_is.

Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?: 

Yes, I read poetry in high school — of my own volition! I remember enjoying Max Ehrmann’s prose-poem, “Desiderata,” as well as Coleman Barks’s translations of Rumi’s poetry.

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?: 

I started writing poetry at the age of seven or eight, in grade three. Instead of going outside for recess, I wrote a poem in AABB quatrains — “A Poem About Birds” — on the school computer. Huge early-’90s sans-serif typeface. Printout on continuous-form paper. I still have that poem! At some point after that, I started keeping an exercise-book of poetry forms — haiku, tanka, cinquain, couplet, limerick, sonnet — that I would challenge myself to write. (I still have that exercise-book.)

In grade four, I wrote several short stories and poetry collections for which I would create elaborate front covers, back covers, and copyright pages. My teacher, Mr. Alderson, was good enough to have each one spiral-bound for me. I realized only last year that my juvenilia — both short fiction and poetry — is very humorous. I have been reclaiming that literary sensibility in small ways in my second poetry book, heft (M&S, 2019).

I think I came to understand that my “work” was poetry from the age of seven, soon after composing “A Poem About Birds.” I always submitted poems to Toronto District School Board’s annual anthology, which was then called Acorns. I never had a clue what I wanted to “be” in the way of a “proper” or “financially-viable” career, but I knew that I loved to write poetry.

However, whenever someone asks me exactly when I first started writing poetry, I also think of my friend Tim Robertson’s reflection on his own creative start. When I lived in North Bay, Tim told me that his “first poem” involved being a child, sitting on a rock, and scratching the letters m, o, and m into its surface. Tim tells it more beautifully — but this story really struck me and made me interrogate, rethink, and widen my definition of “poetry.” Beginnings — creative and otherwise — are often blurry and/or complex. What constitutes “the moment” and what constitutes “the moment before”? What separates them? (Physicists, Buddhists, river, cosmos: answer me!)

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?: 

I can imagine as many “jobs” as there are poets — or, rather, poems! However, as a poet, I hope to never merely reproduce culture. For me, a poem that is “working” is an intervention. A poem that is “working” makes some kind of trespass. (I try to find alternate and truer words for “good” and “bad” — hence, my use of the adjective “working.”)

As a poet, I also hope that each of my poems — and books — builds and offers a space of refuge for and connectivity to its reader/listener. On the idea of “building”: I think of myself as an architect who constructs my own private architecture of resilience — who writes for my own intersecting emotional, energetic, spiritual, and social survivals — but who then holds a door/window/crack open so that others can find a temporary home inside this dwelling, too.

I hope that each of my poems enables questioning, courage, empowerment, and/or restoration.

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?: 

The Poetry in Voice online anthology contains so many wonderful poems, it’s difficult to choose just one — but I would select Alice Oswald’s “A Short Story of Falling.” This poem staves off existential woes and holds me to its language and rhythms.

I heard/witnessed Alice Oswald reciting this poem live at the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize reading at Koerner Hall. I wept. I was restored.

Poem title(s): 
"poem for your pocket"
The Fiddlehead
Autumn 2016
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Poem title(s): 
"cat and door"
'Poem in Your Pocket Day' Booklet
League of Canadian Poets & Academy of American Poets (joint publication)
2017 Edition
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Poem title(s): 
"aries [the ram]"
This magazine
Summer 2017
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