Sanna Wani [photo credit: Hamzah Amin] loves daisies. My Grief, the Sun (House of Anansi, 2022) is her first collection of poetry.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook made me feel like publishing for me was possible, which I grew up thinking it was not. It felt like a miracle. My most recent work makes me feel like publishing is not possible again but in a different way. No book is ever complete: every book is a failure: a crystal of time, like most things.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or nonfiction?
My grandfather and a very particular substitute teacher in sixth grade. They encouraged me and encouragement means a lot to children. And then, emotion. I think poetry has a capacity to hold feeling in a way fiction and nonfiction do not. I really needed that in high school, in difficult moments of my life. Poetry saved me. It helps me feel, so it helps me live.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It takes me a long time to start. I like to dwell, to dawdle. But then when it comes, it comes like a tidal wave. First drafts sometimes look like their final shape, sometimes they change entirely. A lot of my work is full of copious notes. I love citations because I love connections.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
No! But I like people, and it's a good way to engage with poets. Performance is not my strong suit but community is. I wish I could design a reading that was like speed dating. Poets reading one on one to each other in a circle, talking about their work with each other, slowly building up to a group of three then four then everyone comes together again, maybe. Something less watch-one-person-on-a-stage.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
What is a theoretical concern? What is a question? What is my work? How do I live?
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The writer has never had a role. The writer escapes purpose. Story is so much bigger than culture and, well, I was trained as an anthropologist so don't get me started on "culture." A book is a gift, like a flower or a fountain.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
The poem that you need to write is the poem that knows you will die. The poem that you need to read is the poem that turns you into a different person at the end of it.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to essays)? What do you see as the appeal?
Very hard. Writing fiction is like fighting. The appeal is that the story can get bigger, can make a world. Though I don't like the term world-making any more because of this great essay by Callum Angus. But prose, to me, is like the public reading. I want to practice it in a new way. I want to make something new.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
People. When I leave my desk, or my phone, behind, and I just spend a good few days in nature and with people, something will come back to me. It always does. I also reread this by Louise Gluck.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Sandalwood. Freshly cooked rice. Walnut. Clementines.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Too many. Lately? Lily Wang, Manahil Bandukwala, Victoria Mbabazi, Sennah Yee, and Faith Arkorful. Sarah Ghazal Ali, Hua Xi and Patrycja Humienik. I read Anna Swir's Talking to My Body every night. Dionne Brand and Billy-Ray Belcourt. Heather Christle's The Trees The Trees, Yanyi's The Year of Blue Water, Bhanu Kapil's Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. Fatimah Asghar's poem "Kal." Ross Gay's "Sorrow is Not My Name." Natalie Diaz's "The First Water is the Body."
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Climb a mountain.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Probably becoming a doctor. Maybe I still will.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I don't know. I don't think we're supposed to.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just watched Paterson the other day and I'm notoriously bad at watching movies. It had me hypnotized. It was so patient and gentle. The listening. I still don't like Adam Driver though.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A short story about my family and a ghost. It's for the KAL fiction anthology.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;