Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Aisha Sasha John

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October 18, 2014 - Aisha Sasha John, our November 2014 writer-in-residence, has been called "a poet of centrifugal energy, of reverberant intimacy" (Michael Nardone).

She's back this spring with her second book, the follow up to her acclaimed debut The Shining Material. The new collection is THOU (BookThug), which presents two long poems where "each page is the dance floor" according to former Canadian Poet Laureate Fred Wah, who praised the collection for its movement, rhythm and grace.

We are speaking with Aisha today about THOU, being compared to Anne Carson and the construct that is "you".

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, THOU.

Aisha Sasha John:

THOU is a book. It’s two books actually: the book which appears first was a small time, but it was thick; and the second book was a year that took three. I put the book written first last for reasons.

THOU is a book. About time. And about some of the forms divinity takes, i.e. communion, i.e. earthly beauty, you know — the material. It’s a book of exaltation: it celebrates what it passed through; it celebrates itself. “The book of you,” the second of the two long poems that make up THOU, was essentially a poem of mourning for most of its life but very late on transformed into a sort of love poem to address, to the idea of address, to the fact that we can point our faces in a direction. How much of us is me+ and how much of us is us?

THOU’s first book, “Physical.,” is a product of luxury, a gentle endurance, and an orientation outwards.


The long poem can be a demanding form. How did you approach handling two long poems for this collection? Did you the writing process different at all?


It is natural for me to extend a thinking over a time and pages. To just not be finished. The book as the poetic unit and the page as a measure of rhythm – these make sense to me.

Both “The book of you” and “Physical.” were vehicles and clocks. In “The book of you” time is measured as a function of its proximity to an imagined spiritual destination. I suppose I never got to the place I set out for, but the place I sought was impossible, and where I actually got to was bigger (if messier) than my original destination. In “Physical.” the place I aimed for was where I was: it was a question of attention — the poems were vehicles of this attention.


You've been compared to a lot of different writers, including Anne Carson. How does that feel? Do you find such comparison intimidating or motivating — or something else altogether?


It doesn’t feel like anything. It doesn’t mean anything.


This book focuses on questions of "you" and what "you" is as a construct. How did you come to this theme? What interests you about it?


I wouldn’t describe it as a theme…the question implies a certain choice or volition and I don’t choose so much as identify and follow. Anyway, I like it when the intended audience for a poem is the person to whom the poem’s addressed. This is an illusion of course — only in a letter are the addressee and the audience collapsed, and even then sometimes the writer is writing as much or mostly to herself as she is to the other person. Anyway, it’s an approach, just an approach, but it satisfies my desire for a sort of pure communication.


What were you reading while working on THOU? And are there any works you would cite as influential for this book?


Mohamed Mrabet. Alfred Starr Hamilton. Eastern Body, Western Mind. Sappho. Etc.


What are you working on now?


I’m dancing.

Aisha Sasha John is a dance improviser and poet. She was born in Montreal, but spent most of her childhood in Vancouver, and currently lives in Toronto. John has a BA in African Studies and Semiotics from the University of Toronto and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her first book, The Shining Material, was published by BookThug in 2011. Her new collection is THOU (BookThug 2014). Follow John at

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

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