BWS 11.01.17: Soraya Peerbaye

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Soraya Peerbaye’s most recent collection of poetry, Tell: Poems for a Girlhood (Pedlar Press, 2015), won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry in English and was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry prize. Her first collection, Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (Goose Lane Editions, 2009) was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert Award. Her poems have appeared in Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Women Poets, and the chapbook anthology Translating Horses. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph.

Ahead of her visit on Jan. 11, Soraya sent us a guest post for us about her “other life”.

My other life – in truth, most of my life these days – is in the field of dance. I currently work with Anandam Dancetheatre, under the artistic direction of Brandy Leary, as the company’s programming and curatorial co-director. I’ve been active in dance now for more than 15 years, in different capacities, supporting diverse genres of contemporary dance.

I came to writing through theatre and performance; I was less interested in playwriting, and more so in collaboration and physical theatre. After university I connected with a company called Primus Theatre. At the heart of their training were “plastiques”, an exercise of moving through space with one part of the body leading, being mindful of certain principles: keep your body moving, keep your eyes alive in the space, keep your feet light on the floor. The idea was for concentration on the task to cut through one’s mental/physical/emotional resistance, so that one could be wholly present; to activate a certain state of awareness – open, receptive, responsive, generative. I began studying flamenco around the same time, first with Esmeralda Enrique then Carmen Romero, and I found something similar; the rigour of form and rhythm requiring your whole attention, so that you often didn’t notice that another self had emerged from you. Later, when I discovered Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing (cliché, I know, but key for me), I was struck by the echo of my theatre training in her instruction: keep your hand moving. It’s significant to me that my first understanding of practice was neither in words nor even in mind, but in body. I am not always aware of music in my own poetry, but I always hear its rightness in relation to breath and voice. 

I think there’s a close kinship between dance and poetry; dance has been deeply instructive to me in the writing of both my collections. I think of dance and poetic language as an energetic state; a concentration that alters the quality of our awareness. Both Brandy and I have described our respective practices as ways of moving alongside “not knowing”, alongside wanting to know, the mind, or body, listening to what it wants from knowing. They are practices that estrange something we believe we know, intimately – body/language. They open towards a multiplicity of meanings, not through the daily body, daily language, our rational understanding of those things; but instead in that transaction of energy between the artist and the reader/watcher; where meaning becomes charged by sensory experience, association, feeling, intuition and imagination. Where meaning is charged but changing, moment to moment. Brandy has introduced me to the term “state work”, and I think, in a way, poetry is state work, too. 

I think there’s often a likeness in the way poems and choreographies can be structured, musically, kinetically. I remember when I first began watching dance, sensing that choreographies often closed with an ambivalence I experienced in poetry; something that left me suspended within myself. I guess I experience both dance and poetry (as a writer, a reader and a watcher) as an interior experience – one that is both empathetic and very private – where I find myself within another body or mind and at the same time still separate within my own.

Soraya Peerbaye visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 – in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Danila Botha, John Calabro, Dane Swan and special guest speaker Jack Illingworth, Literature Officer at the Ontario Arts Council, about grant applications!

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