Pulling Back the Flesh of Myself: An Interview with Sanna Wani

Sanna Wani, author of the chapbook, The Pink of the Seams (Penrose Press), speaks with Shazia Hafiz Ramji about the “strange little immortal creatures” that are poems, the Ramadan treat of rose syrup, pink insides, and more.

Shazia Hafiz Ramji: How did you arrive at The Pink of the Seams?

Sanna Wani: Hmmm, I went through a few titles that were very similar! Pink water, Seamstress, Rooh Afza (which is a delicious and popular rose syrup put in water during Ramadan by most South Asian Muslims)! I spent a lot of time thinking about what brought the poems in the chapbook together and what I gleaned was this soupy, rosey sweetness? So I thought maybe that this book, in all its vulnerabilities, was me pulling back the flesh of myself— of my words, of the world I experience— to show how the insides are pink. The thread is pink. Then I brought together the pink and the seams and ta da! The Pink of the Seams.

SHR: How do you know when a poem is complete?

SW: I never do! I am one of those hermit writers who sit on poems for months and months before sending them anywhere. Poems are strange little immortal creatures that can resurrect themselves with new trajectories at any moment. I think for me it’s an active choice in a moment of joy, like a final edit I think is really good, where I decide I’ve sat with the poem long enough and am ready to send it on its way. Also, because I think a writer’s voice is always growing, an important distinction for me to make in trying to settle a poem down is to let the poem be written in or close to whichever phase of my voice is began in. Rewrites are great—sometimes they are entirely new poems— but sometimes you just really have to let the poem rest and be.

SHR: Who are you reading and influenced by?

SW: My influences are my friends! There are so many friends. Friends like the sun and wide-mouthed rivers and big birds and flowers—especially daisies—and then other friends like my cat or my bed or the window in my bedroom. And then there are my human friends, who I share myself with differently. There are so many friends in my life I am so grateful to be around and read with and learn from: poets like Faith Arkorful, Terrence Abrahams, Harrison Wade and Lily Wang; fiction writers like Fathima Cader and Amanda Ghazale Aziz; artists and zine makers like Cleopatria Peterson and Clara Lynas.

Books (and the authors that birth them) are also wonderful friends. I think I return often to work that crosses boundaries. Between poetry and theory, between body and belonging, nature and society. Radical work by poets and academics like Dionne Brand, Saba Mahmood, and Billy-Ray Belcourt. I also love airy poems: Heather Christle’s The Trees, The Trees is such an originating influence on my work. I love the way she moves space and air and breath on the page. Akwaeke Emezi and Yoko Tawada, in terms of the incredible, full-bodied, surrealist prose—which I hopefully want to dabble in myself someday, maybe.

“For the Little God” by Sanna Wani, from The Pink of the Seams.
First published in Cosmonauts Avenue.

SHR: What are you currently working on?

SW:I have this terribly frightening 5000-word document of unfinished poems from most of the beginning of this year, which I’m going to try and get through this summer! Lots of stuff about religion, bodies and the natural world, haha, pretty much the same as usual but shifted slightly, slowly. There’s a paragraph/caesura/prose-poem style I’m working on developing in my own voice that has a lot of influence from Kaveh Akbar and Heather Christle. Like I said, I love a lot of air in my poems. Lots of open spaces and new centers— I really like seeing how to make the poem sit in new and fresh ways on the page that shift not just the semantic meanings of the poem but the aesthetic, form and shape.

I’m also working on finishing of the gargantuan, ever-growing tower of unread books which continues to take over my side table. Honestly, one entire side of my room…my greatest mission in life is finally read through that pile before it consumes my entire apartment.

SHR: What advice would you give to emerging writers who are hoping to put out a chapbook?

SW: I would say, take your time. I think the press you choose is a very important and careful decision. Read chapbooks by presses you’re interested in submitting to and see how you like their vibe! Trust your gut. But also don’t worry too much and delay and overthink. Once you have about 20-30 pages worth of poetry that makes you happy, go for it! Have fun during the process, name and rename, shift things around. Try to remember that poetry is first and foremost something to you should be happy and excited to share, like a really yummy dinner you spent lots of hours cooking for your friends who you haven’t seen in a while, rather than a procured product meant to generate revenue or clout. Also, share your writing! Send your chapbook to your friends, your teachers, writers you trust! Turning writing and editing into a communal process, rather than isolated and individual, makes it that much more enriching and joyful together.

“Take Care of Your Toes” by Sanna Wani, from The Pink of the Seams.

SHR: What is the best advice you’ve received?

SW: Read more than you write.  This really helps me stay grounded, growing and loving what I write. I love reading—I love learning and that’s pretty much hardwired into reading. Read about everything and anything you might be interested. Reading books by people in my area, Indigenous writers in my area Read about things you don’t know about and things you want to know more about! I guarantee it will not just make your writing better, it will make your whole life better. But also read responsibly. I think it’s really important to make sure your time, energy and/or money is going towards people and communities that work to uplift each other, that source themselves responsibly, that don’t brush off sociocultural, religious or political concerns. You also don’t have to finish every book you begin—that was a really important piece of advice I didn’t start taking seriously until recently. If its not clicking, it’s not for you! Don’t worry about it and be gentle with yourself. Also, support libraries and independent bookstores!

Sanna Wani is a student and poet in Toronto. Her work has been featured in Peach Mag, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Malahat Review and more. She loves daisies.

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