A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Alycia Pirmohamed

ALYCIA PIRMOHAMED is a Canadian-born poet based in Scotland. Her debut collection, Another Way to Split Water, is published with Polygon (UK) and YesYes Books (US). She is co-founder of the
Scottish BPOC Writers Network and a co-organiser of the Ledbury Poetry Critics. Alycia received an MFA from the University of Oregon and a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, and she currently teaches on the MSt. Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. She is the recipient of several awards, including a Pushcart Prize, the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize, the 92Y Discovery Poetry Prize, the Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Award in Poetry, the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, and the 2020 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award.

Q1: When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most? 

Alycia: I feel like I was always writing. As a child, I wrote stories for my younger sister and my love for
 prose writing continued on into adulthood. I encountered poetry a little differently. What I learned in school never really resonated with me, or at least, never compelled me to attempt writing poetry
 for myself. I actually started writing poetry after joining an online community, a writing forum for teenagers where we’d post and critique each other’s work. This format, seeing poetry written almost
 in real time, was thrilling and opened up a world of possibility for me. It was basically my first workshop experience, and this is probably why I feel community is so integral to my writing practice
 itself. My early influences were writers like Bhanu Kapil (who is still a major influence on my work), Richard Siken, Nazim Hikmet, Derek Walcott, and Brigit Pegeen Kelly. I feel like I still learn from the works of these poets even today. More recently, I’ve been influenced by writers like Sandeep Parmar, Julietta Singh, Aria Aber, Diana Khoi Nguyen, and Dionne Brand. I’m actually constantly reading and finding new influences/inspirations, so this is a difficult question!

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Alycia: This moment, if there was one, was probably during my final undergraduate poetry workshop. I decided then to apply for an MFA (even as a bio major!) because I realised I was happiest and most
fulfilled when writing. I also met some of my very best friends, Nico Lachat and Adi Onita, in that workshop and they are still pursuing writing like I am. It was really special and transformative for a
lot of us, I think.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?

Alycia: To be honest, I have had so much help from so many people I couldn’t really name them all! It really took guidance, kindness and generosity from so many teachers and mentors and friends.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced
 your work?

Alycia: I grew up in Alberta, Canada, and I think this has deeply influenced my work. A lot of my poems reflect on and articulate my different formative experiences in cities like Edmonton, and in very
small rural towns like Vilna. I also write a lot about the landscapes present in Alberta – some poems follow journeys or experiences in the Rocky Mountains, or meditate on the long stretches of prairie
that were so prominent where I lived. I hope that Another Way to Split Water echoes with these different spaces; I hope it illustrates the love I have for the land.

In terms of other places influencing my work, I also have an interest in figurative homelands. I’m interested in crafting figurations where physical spaces coexist, where language crosses borders. The
environment of Scotland, where I currently stay, is also present in my work. I find myself drawn to writing about bodies of water here, from rivers to the seaside. I also visited Dar es Salaam with my
father in 2019; this is where he was born, and though this place/those travels are absolutely an undercurrent in this book, I do find it difficult to write about that experience explicitly still. The poems I’ve written that orbit those travels don’t feel right, or they feel forced. I’m still figuring out whether that means I let them go, or if it means the poems are yet to arrive.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Alycia:  Although I cherish Another Way to Split Water, because it took so long to put together, and so many years of attention and care, I have to say Second Memory is the most meaningful to me. Writing collaboratively with Pratyusha brought out so much more in my work than would have ever happened alone. Responding to her words ignited different thoughts and prompted me to navigate
material I might already think about often in new and exciting ways. Also, two publishers, Baseline Press and Guillemot Press, created beautiful physical versions of the work. The book feels like a
 special piece, an artefact almost.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Alycia: I love being outdoors and in nature, and especially love camping and hiking. Some of my favourite places include the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve more recently enjoyed
visiting the east coast of Scotland. Another thing I love to do, and really miss since moving away from home, is have a really good laugh with my sisters.

Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing?

Alycia: ‘Faded’, which was originally published in Glass Poetry Journal, and which opens my collection has
the following favourite lines:

Remind me that I am not a swan —
I am a long night of rain
with my mother's eyes.

Q8: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote?

Alycia: I have a few events lined up in London, Newcastle, and Edinburgh in early October, and a digital event with the Sylvia Plath Literary Festival on the 22nd of October.

Also, the US Edition of Another Way to Split Water will be released in mid-November with YesYes Books! It’s currently up for pre-order with 20% off. 

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Sara Dobbie

Q1. When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most now and currently?

Sara: I’ve always written in one way or another, I can remember writing poems at a very young age about animals and flowers. In high school I started to get serious about writing short stories, and one of my teachers encouraged me to continue. I think my biggest influences have been women writers across different genres, Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood. Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf. Everything from Charlotte Brontë to Anne Rice to Miriam Toews.

Q2. Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Sara: I think I always knew I would write, but there was a distinct time when I was about 23 or 24 when I decided that I would work hard to make something happen. I was naïve and figured I could just write something great and find a publisher. I didn’t know how long it would take (20 years!) or how I would do it, but I felt it was what I wanted.

Q3. Who helped you most with writing and career?

Sara: I was always a lone wolf when it came to writing and I have no formal training. Back in the day I would send a typed manuscript via actual mail to a big press and wait 6 months to a year to get the SASE back with a rejection. It wasn’t until I discovered social media and the literary community on Twitter and Instagram that I was able to make real connections, as well as to find a wealth of places to submit to. Through volunteering as a reader at a few online lit mags I ended up making some great friends who’ve supported me and my work, and I’m very grateful to them.

Q4. Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?

Sara: I grew up in Southern Ontario and the area has definitely seeped into my writing. I’ve set stories near lakes and rivers and relied heavily on water as a theme or a metaphor, which I think comes from living so close to Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and of course, Niagara Falls. I’ve only travelled to a few cities, namely New York, Los Angeles, and Montreal, and I’ve written about them all. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to London, England, and though I haven’t started it yet, there is an idea forming.

Q5. What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Sara: I hope every story I write is meaningful in some way, but I suppose I’d have to say my novel, which is unpublished as of yet. I think I invested the most emotional input into that particular work.

Q6. Favorite activities to relax?

Sara: I love hanging out with my family, having picnics by the water. I love watching movies and reading everything I can.

Q7. What is a favorite line /stanza/lyric from your writing?

Sara: That’s a difficult question. I think opening lines make or break a piece when I’m working on flash fiction, and I use a fair bit of surrealism. As an example in “Beneath a Vacant Sky” which was published at Ruminate Online, I started with “The morning after the moon explodes, Marla wonders if she imagined the whole thing.” I was happy with the scenario that line creates.

Q8. What kind of music inspires you the most? What’s a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?

Sara: I love all kinds of music, but again, as with my writing influences, the songs that inspire me the most are by female performers. Chrissy Hynde from the Pretenders, Siouxsie Sioux, and Tori Amos are some of my favorites because they tell stories. I think Feist has such poetic lyrics together with a blend of folk/indie/punk music, like in her song “I Feel it All” for example, and that vibe somehow agrees with my whole way of thinking about writing.

Q9. Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc. that you would like to promote?

Sara: I have a flash fiction chapbook that came out July 24th with Alien Buddha Press called “Static Disruption” which is available on Amazon (link included below). I’m also very excited about my first full length collection of short stories, “Flight Instinct” which is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in late October. Pre-orders will be opening soon, so follow me on Twitter @sbdobbie for updates!

Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario. Her stories have appeared in Fictive Dream, Sage Cigarettes, New World Writing, Bending Genres, Flash Frog, Ghost Parachute, Ruminate Online, Trampset, Ellipsis Zine, and elsewhere. Her chapbook “Static Disruption” is available from Alien Buddha Press. Her collection “Flight Instinct” is forthcoming from ELJ Editions (2022). Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, the Pushcart Prize, and is included on the Wigleaf Top 50 longlist. Follow her on Twitter @sbdobbie, and on Instagram at @sbdobwrites. To read her published works check out her website: https://sarabeth1.wixsite.com/saradobbie