the sky yawns us into existence
spits the lonely image of our crumbling
bodies onto the barren desserts of Kermanshah.
my mother and I are huddling forward towards
some unnameable future hand in hand, awaiting
our past to come and grapple us by the throat
uncertainty lurking underneath the thick of our skin.
we are waiting to shed our history like autumn leaves
but there’s a rawness that brews within, that spills over
the samovar gurgling tea that gushes from the rooftops
of our childhood, the shore lines we used to call home.
there are memories blooming hungry across our flesh —
a past, a revolution threatening to shatter open our ribs,
sew our skin to the sea, press a new history over our wounds.
it’s so easy to slick the mind into forgetting.
but the heart — it shakes and whimpers,
growling and hungry. in the heart, everything is hungry.
meaning the self seeks to consume, meaning
the body splits itself in two in an act of crime, meaning
this — this is a body eat body eat history type of world.
the sky bubbles red and the prayers calcify over my mother’s lips.
hadiths spilling from her throat: all the wrong chords for a hymn.
she is singing in blood and harmonizing an octave off.
we are two bodies cocooned by the middle-eastern sun
stripped to the bone by a past and an unforeseeable future.
hand in hand. waiting.
From the jury: “Reflections in Kermanshah” delights with evocative, personal, and detailed images that allow us to see a landscape that may be wholly unfamiliar. The link between landscape and the experience of the family adrift is masterful, capturing uncertainty and peril and a world that can no longer be seen as nurturing or even benign. The syntax and use of unusual line breaks draw the reader through this painful experience, suggesting mother and child’s urgency and desperation as they undertake a journey that separates them from their home and drags them through Middle Eastern deserts to an unknown destination. This poem speaks to the movement of masses of displaced people over the last fifty years, the loss of home and forced stays in camps with the uncertainty of ever leaving them. “Huddling forward,” “rooftops of our childhood,” “the prayers calcify,” so many fresh phrases make this poem so compelling. If this poem records a real experience, it is heartbreaking. If it’s a fiction, then the poet’s imagination and ability to empathize is amazing.
Nazanin Soghrati is a 16-year-old writer from Richmond Hill, Ontario. Her work has been previously recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Columbia College of Chicago, and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
LEAGUE OF CANADIAN POETS: What inspired you to write “Reflections in Kermanshah“?
NAZANIN SOGHRATI: I’ve always been interested in the various ways politics and history shape our view of ourselves. However genuine the effort, I don’t think people can really escape their past; it’s something ingrained in their identity, rooted deep in their psyche. This was essentially the inspiration behind my poem — as an immigrant, I wanted to explore the tumultuous duality between a person’s past and present identities while maintaining this image of a mother and daughter huddling forward in a barren land.
I was initially conflicted when writing the poem because I didn’t want to exoticize its traumas and collective histories, however ultimately, I do think these stories and narratives are worth sharing with the world.
LCP: How long have you been writing poetry?
NS: Poetry has been something near and dear to my heart ever since the first grade, so in a certain sense, I can’t remember ever not writing, or thinking about writing, poetry. I think the power of storytelling is something that’s often ignored in our day-to-day lives, and I’m grateful to have come from a family that treasures and celebrates stories and poems. Nonetheless, I do think my perspective on writing shifted when I came to Canada in 2012. Then, writing became a matter of continuous progress; of ceaseless improvement; of proving something to others. Thankfully, I’ve now shed this mentality and more than anything, I see writing as a personal journey of coming home to myself.
LCP: Who are some of your favourite writers? What are some of your favourite books?
NS: There are far too many to list! Other than the classics, such as Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man and William Butler Yeats’ poetry collections, I’ve recently found myself regularly revisiting Kristin Chang’s Past Lives, Future Bodies to guide me in my ventures in poetry and help me hone my writing.
LCP: How do you see writing and poetry being a part of your life over the next several years?
NS: Even though I don’t plan on studying creative writing after high school, I do hope that whatever project I set my mind on will feel like it has the bones of a poem. The wonderful thing about writing is that you can always be involved in the community in some way or another, be it through literary magazines, poetry slams, or writing workshops. However, no matter what happens, I know I won’t be able to get away from poetry; I’ll always return to writing as my primary means of exploring new questions and trying to come up with answers.
LCP: If you could give other students one piece of advice about writing, what would it be?
NS: Don’t get discouraged by rejections. When I started submitting to literary magazines a couple of years ago, it was hard not to feel crushed by the influx of rejection letters I received week after week. But instead of treating rejections as an enemy, I’ve found it helpful to view them as simply an inevitable part of the process. Writing is incredibly subjective, and that means that your pieces will get rejected before they find a home — and that’s completely normal!
LCP: What is your favourite thing about poetry?
NS: There are so so many things I love about this art form: its timelessness, its malleability, its accessibility — but the reason I return to poetry time and time again as my default form of expression is its specificity. In writing, you can elevate language to an entirely new dimension so as to convey precise images, thoughts, and experiences. This is a freedom which I often find to be limited in other art forms such as film or music. Of course, there are times when I wish I could end a poem or story on a certain chord or a particular shot, but even the limitations of the written form motivate me to find newer, more creative ways of communicating what I want to.
Find 2019’s other winning Jessamy Stursberg poems here.