Moez Surani is an award-winning poet, reviewer and short fiction author residing in Toronto. His writing has been included in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including Geist, The Globe and Mail, Arc Poetry Magazine, Contemporary Verse 2, Echolocation, Matrix Magazine, Prairie Fire, The Literary Review of Canada, The Toronto Quarterly, Toronto Review of Books, Vallum, Zeugma and The Walrus. His first poetry collection, Reticent Bodies (Wolsak and Wynn, 2009), was described as “that rare book that has the power to be a linchpin, a hinge in the history of Canadian poetry.” His second poetry collection, Floating Life (Wolsak and Wynn, 2012), takes the reader on a dizzying tour of the world. He has attended writing residencies in Finland, Latvia and Switzerland, and his writing has won the Chalmers Arts Fellowship, the Kingston Literary Award and the Antigonish Review’s Great Blue Heron Poetry Contest.
The following four poems are from Floating Life.
NARCISSUS PERCEIVES HIS ECHO
I find I no longer complete my stories.
My wife breaks in and hurries through them
with the second half of my drinks.
The endings to books I have set aside
are casually revealed.
And, at a recent party, I am sure
she was flirting with the woman I wanted to flirt with.
would she bring her home?
GREEK EXTERIOR (THE ACT OF BEING FREE)
The overhead leaves wear the sun.
One is a mayor. Another
There should be a baker, a field, aged women
repeating with laughter…
one offers another a kiss.
One pushes her feet
into the stomach of another.
And the dogs stir through the white plastic.
It is the music
it does this
to me. It was
the alcoholic rose
and became a scythe
and swung his
horizontal glance, scattering
When I thought standing
an impossible thing,
you became a line
and took grapes from the sky
and I thought
it was the act
of being free.
You visit each day in a different dress,
a clear umbrella for the rain.
And one day this week,
holding a daisy
whose stem you sawed
with a kitchen knife
Only the magnolias have squandered their colour.
Their shells convalesce over the neighbourhood lawns.
you brought me some,
but pulling their corpses from
your book where they lay clamped,
you thought again and discarded them,
stepping through my door with the story, the gesture
Some say I am a great poet
but today, I am a great drunk
or great at being like a little boy.
I squint and play around in the park,
my head in your lap, dreaming, lazy, laughing
and our day has come to nothing.
A friend arrives and his child is delighted –
he stumbles with his arms out and jumps too!
But today I am no great poet,
nor any great man.
Today, I am about average.
TTQ – What inspired you to start writing poetry?
Moez Surani – One summer I got a job in Vancouver. I didn’t know many people there, so I had a lot of time to read and think. I started writing that summer.
TTQ – In your opinion, what constitutes a great poem?
Moez Surani – Something that gives me tunnel vision.
TTQ – When did you begin writing the poems for your latest collection Floating Life (Wolsak and Wynn, 2012) and please discuss some of the more interesting places you travelled to and people you were able to meet that you write about throughout the book?
Moez Surani – I began in 2008. I was in the middle of a period when I was travelling a lot: Europe, Russia, Egypt, East Africa, India, South East Asia, South Korea, Japan, Finland. I had spent a lot of time in school then and when I was done I just wanted to get out. The Camino Santiago walk across Spain was a great experience. In India, I also sat under the tree that’s the daughter of Buddha’s Bo tree where he had his epiphany. Outside that temple, people were selling leaves from the tree. I can’t remember the price now, but I thought it was a good deal and that it was special, so I wanted one. Then I went inside and sat under the tree and saw leaves lying on the ground everywhere around me. I tucked one in a book. It’s framed in my parents’ living room now. There were a lot of memorable people and I must have stood in front of a billion dollars worth of interesting art. I saw a Julian Schnabel exhibit in an old palace in Venice right on the main square there, these aggressive, abrasive, monster canvases shaking in this building that was gold with high ceilings, regal, refined and calm. The clash of the art against the building around it was an incredible mixture.
TTQ – In what ways did your tour of the world and then writing Floating Life affect you personally, and has it changed your perspective on the world and the things closest to you in your life?
Moez Surani – I’m calmer. I’m happy in Toronto. I’m not restless.
I’m also aware of how the media frames a story to make a place seem sombre or dicey. I was in a couple places that were being framed or essentialized in that way and that contrast of the representation in the media when I would log in from somewhere, and then the experience of strolling down the street made me smile. The media’s selling a product, but their product isn’t shampoo or a drink, it’s change or dramatic change. Poetry has white space, but journalism should come clean and just say that they have white space too.
TTQ – What do you hope people take away with them after reading Floating Life?
Moez Surani – I hope people get the charge I put into it. Also, I hope people perceive that minimalism isn’t the same thing as small or modest. Minimalism, as I understand it, characterizes the relationship between how much information is given and the charge that information creates. So if a minimalist piece doesn’t have an impact, it isn’t minimalist, it’s trivial.
TTQ – How important is form to you when you’re writing poetry?
Moez Surani – I’ve internalized those kinds of decisions, which doesn’t mean that what I write is natural, but it feels natural and right. In a poem, there’s something I’m trying to convey with intensity and tension. So I pack things together in a way to make a certain charge or mimic a feeling.
Floating Life is about tone. I realize now that’s it’s only superficially about travel. Tone is my way of getting at the relationship between an individual and the world, which is probably the second most important relationship – the most important likely being an individual’s relationship with him or herself.
TTQ – Who helped you with editing Floating Life and in what ways did their influence help you with completing the book?
Moez Surani – Carmine Starnino edited the book. He asked a lot of questions and pushed me to clear away some of the scaffolding. I hope he’s proud of it. He was thorough and a valuable sounding board.
TTQ – What’s your opinion of the poetry being written today and where do you see poetry's place in society moving forward?
Moez Surani – Poetry’s marginal, which means we’re free. I’m fine with it being a secretive thing. We can smash anything, celebrate anything and beyond losing certain allies and gaining others, we’re all free.
I like that there are so many camps and micro-histories and cascades of influence and ways of working. I think those fractures are interesting and make the whole scene richer.
TTQ – What’s next for Moez Surani?
Moez Surani – I think it’s time to start collaborating.
*Note – Book cover photo credited to Rutkēviča Madara and photo of Moez Surani credited to Robin Heron.