Be Your Own Favourite Poet: An Interview with Khashayar Mohammadi, author of Dear Kestrel

Shazia Hafiz Ramji: How did you arrive at the title of your chapbook, Dear Kestrel?

Khashayar Mohammadi: A few years ago, during a very rough time in my life, I started writing small prose-poems addressed to my dear friend Ke, whom this book is dedicated to. I started every piece with “Dear Kestrel,” and after a while I found this epistolary format both intimate and endearing. I also enjoyed the ambiguity of “kestrel,” the lack of age, gender, etc. allowed each reader to imagine a different person, so I kept writing poems in this format in the years to come, when they weren’t even addressed to Ke herself. None of these poems in this chapbook directly address Ke, it’s just a format that started with her, the primordial Kestrel! 

SHR: Who and what are your influences?

KM: I used to be enchanted by Beckett’s later works and the lucidity of his depiction of anxiety and consciousness, but for the past few years I gotta admit I’ve been more inspired by the people around me than anyone else. My dear friends Joseph Ianni and Shima Ra’eesi are the reason I got into poetry and they will always be an inspiration for sure, but other writers, performers and open micers over the years have shaped the way I perform and write. I’d say my partner, Terese Pierre, is a key figure in how I write and perceive poetry, but other dear writers who have inspired me in one way or another are JC Bouchard, JM Francheteau, Daven Sharma, Faith Arkorful, John Nyman, Alvin Wong, Vannessa Barnier, Kirby, Brian Dedora, Fawn Parker and countless others.

Aside from the people around me, I’m mainly inspired by urbanscapes and cities in themselves. I find poetry in discarded furniture, broken parking meters, and eccentric passersby. I grew up with a general distrust of nature, so spacially speaking, I find cities to be the most poetic place.

SHR: What are you currently working on?

KM: Me and my partner are working on a collaborative full-length collection, but I’m also working on a full-length poetry collection of my own as well as a full-length collection of translations which will most probably be released for free. I’m translating contemporary female Persian poets, but due to the strict political climate in Iran, its almost impossible to get the permission to publish a single one of these poems let alone a whole collection, So this collection – which is about 40 poems away from completion – is most probably coming out as a free PDF or released on a free wordpress website. All I want is for these women’s voices to be heard internationally, and I’ll do my best to make their work as accessible as possible.

SHR: Whose work do you want to read but haven’t read yet? Why do you want to read their work?

KM: Well, as an Iranian I have to admit I’ve never read much traditional Iranian poetry. I have trouble reading perfectly metered poems, which has made me reluctant to read poets like Rumi, Hafiz or Ferdowsi. I’m not particularly interested in visionary literature or Sufism, so Rumi is not particularly on my radar (sorry to all fellow Persians! Not liking Rumi seems to be blasphemy!), so I guess the main work I really aim to read is Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the book that saved our language from extinction! its about 10,000 verses though, so it’ll take a while to finish!

SHR: What advice do you have for emerging writers who want to put out a chapbook?

KM: Be your own favorite poet. Think of all the poets you like and what they lack, see the lack you feel, fill the lack you see, and write poetry in a way that is an amalgam of all the best poetry you’ve ever read! This piece of advice might sound a bit reductive and pretentious, but it’s something that I strongly believe in. If YOU don’t love your poetry, no one else will. If YOU don’t believe in your poetry, no one else will.

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

KM: Once, while discussing where to publish my work, my dear friend John Nyman gave me a piece of advice that I’ll never forget. he said: “don’t ever underestimate how little people care about your work.”

To most it might sound cynical and discouraging, but to me it was the most inspiring and humbling piece of advice I’ve heard so far!

SHR: Which publishers/presses do you love and why?

KM: Oh lord, there are way too many to list here but I’ll try to keep it brief:

Arsenal Pulp Press, for actively trying to publish queer poets and poets of color over the years.

The Operating System for their wonderful translations and phenomenal Print/Document series.

Anstruther Press for being a beacon for small voices.

Permanent Sleep Press for their punk attitude towards publishing.

knife I fork I book of course! for discovering new talent and giving them a literary playground. (the most recent bronwen wallace emerging writer having published their debut chapbook with kfb)

ECW press for intermittently producing some of the most daring books in Canlit.

Wolsak and Wynn for being one of the most reliable publishers in poetry.

Ugly Duckling Presse for their beauty, absurdity and uniqueness.

And finally Minola Review, for being the greatest source for female-identifying voices in Canada.

I strongly recommend the work produced by each and every one of these presses and I urge you all to pick up a book or two from each!

SHR: What do you hope your poems can do?

KM: Short and simple: I want my poems to keep someone company.

Khashayar Mohammadi is an Iranian-born writer/translator based in Toronto. He is the Host of knife | fork | book’s Chapbook club and the author of Chapbooks Moe’s Skin with ZED Press, 2018 and Dear Kestrel with knife | fork | book, 2019. His poems have appeared in Poetry is Dead, Bad Nudes and elsewhere across turtle island. He is currently working on a full-length collection of poetry

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