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Edmonton’s new poet laureate poised to ‘raise awareness’ of city’s art scene

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Edmonton’s new poet laureate, Ahmed ‘Knowmadic’ Ali, is poised to elevate the city’s art scene.
The city announced Tuesday that Ali will take over the role for two years, after outgoing poet laureate Pierrette Requier’s bids farewell on June 30.

Ali, whose family fled civil war in Somalia in 1989, lived in Italy before coming to Canada. In Edmonton, he was co-founder of Breath in Poetry, a spoken word collective.
This new role typically requires laureates to perform poetry throughout the city and reach out to various organizations.
Metro chatted with Ali to better understand what he hopes to bring to Edmonton.

What’s it like to be Edmonton’s new poet laureate?

It’s a huge honour and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’ve always worked towards making sure other people’s voices are heard, so for the city to honour my voice and allow me to speak on an official capacity is really an honour, and I’m looking forward to it.

Tell me about some of the work you’ve done in Edmonton?

I try to empower youth. Nonetheless, I’ve been part of the Breath in Poetry collective, and every Tuesday we have regular poetry nights where we bring artists across the globe and within Canada.
I’ve also worked with disadvantaged youth by going to correctional facilities or working with organizations that don’t have access to art, and to just try to empower people, to raise awareness that art is very good for mental health and it could be considered an actual career. People should value expressing their creativity, because nobody thinks the way we do.

What’s that like, going to correctional facilities?
It’s honestly refreshing. I humble myself, and I’m not here to teach, but to learn, to share knowledge and bring creativity out of them. Sometimes our life might not allow us to do that because there are people struggling to survive.

What got you into poetry originally?

When I was first learning English, my ESL teacher introduced me to Maya Angelou, so I’ve also been interested in poetry and I’ve always loved wordplay, so privately I was writing for that and theatre. It’s when I came to Edmonton that I started performing poetry publicly in 2009.

Can you give me an example of a poem off the top of your mind?

When I set the course for success, I begin with the knowledge that these oceans are capable of swallowing me whole.
I’m a student but a warrior at heart, and my destiny is already set, so I’m not alarmed at these distractions.
Come the waves, try to drown me in overwhelming despair.
To me, failure isn’t an option, but the fail is a necessary step to achieve my dreams, so I’ve accepted that I cannot change the world, and choose to change how I view it.

What’s next now that you’re the laureate?
I hope to take an opportunity to do some self-focus and contribute to the community. It’s about time I publish my collection of poetry. I’ve been discouraged and intimidated for a long time and I think I’ve built enough courage and confidence to do this collection. But I also want to bring a literacy exchange where we bring artists from across the world to Edmonton and do vice-versa, so we can cross-pollinate and raise awareness of Edmonton’s art.

Anything you want to add?

I know this sounds super motivational and extra, but anything is possible. If I can come from a country where English isn’t a first language, but now I speak it and do it as a career, and then be awarded as a career, anything is possible. Whatever you want to do, chase it, because time is the most valuable thing in this world.

DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Aamir Khan: The snake charmer – Witness

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Aamir Khan is one of the most popular and influential Bollywood actors in India today. He became a star of Hindi cinema in the 1980s, and his greatest commercial successes have been the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time.

Yet in 2012, Khan’s career took an unexpected turn. Together with a childhood friend, he created a TV series called Satyamev Jayate which became the first prime time TV show in India to expose the country’s most critical social issues – from rape to female foeticide and dowry killings.

Aamir Khan was used to portraying macho men on a quest for vengeance and belongs to an industry accused of denigrating women and encouraging sexual violence.

But now, the 48 year old actor with Peter Pan charm risks his career by challenging men to re-examine their attitudes and behavior towards women, confronting the spiraling wave of gender-based violence in India and defying age-old stereotypes.

The snake charmer follows Khan on a journey through India’s TV and Bollywood film industry, as he attempts to change the way Indians perceive and treat women.

From the set of Satyamev Jayate, the film follows Aamir Khan backstage to his new Bollywood blockbuster Dangal.

Khan’s quest ultimately opens a window into a country in crisis and into the changes it is undergoing.

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Arts & Culture

‘For My Ayeeyo’: Two young women learn Somali poetry from a distance

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Somalia is often called a land of poets, a place where everything from teenage romance to legal disputes has been recorded and passed down through poems. As conflict and drought have driven hundreds of thousands of Somalis from that homeland, the poetry has travelled with them. But here in the U.S., Somali-American poets must find new words and metaphors to describe their new environment.

Hamdi Mohamed

Amal Hussein and Hamdi Mohamed have a lot in common. Both were born in Kenya, where their parents had fled as refugees, and both came to Boston when they were just a few years old. They’re both 23 years old, they’re both poets — and equally important for this story — both their grandmothers are poets. This video shows a style of Somali poetry called gabay that both their grandmothers perform. As you can hear, the poem is as musical as it is lyrical.

But there’s one crucial difference in the two women’s stories. Hamdi grew up with her ayeeyo (grandmother) in the house, whispering poems in her ears. Amal has only known her ayeeyo on the phone — she stayed behind in Somalia when the rest of the family fled. Nevertheless, it is the distant words and stories of her grandmother that inspire Amal to take on the challenge of writing her own gabay.

Amal Hussein

From the Poet’s Notebook

In the story, we hear excerpts of several poems. Here is the full text for two of them, both written by Hamdi Mohamed. The first is written for her grandmother — “ayeeyo” in Somali — who lived for many years with Hamdi’s family in Boston, but has since returned to East Africa. The second is about water, and the fact that in Boston, people are quick to complain about the rain, even as Somalia endures years of drought.

For My Ayeeyo
by Hamdi Mohamed

Worn brown hands claps black prayer beads
A golden chest, a haven for dust
And memories
You whisper behind a veil
Wrapping proverbs like gifts
It is the festival of ‘Eid

I sat between your brown thighs
You twisted my thick hair
Into rows
To remind you of home, you say
You miss weaving baskets
For the harvest
The way the rain smelled like perfume
And clung to the skin like fresh honey
You say Hamdi, our skin and bones
Always know where they came from
Don’t forget you kin

Your eyes are pearls
Molten silver
Even the cataracts
Can’t subtract from you

At the airport
My hands crushed yours
I was the spoiled child
In every supermarket
Crying for something I couldn’t have

Still you didn’t scold me and
Shushed my mother
You were the strong oak tree
Under whose leaves I sought refuge in
It is winter now,
The leaves are almost gone
The rest are brown and worn
I wish they would stay

I feel heavy Ayeeyo
When we speak on the telephone
My memories of your hands are fading
Henna we used to wear black and red
Now gone
Make a prayer Ayeeyo,
With your black prayer beads,
God is closer to you than I

I am coming soon Ayeeyo
Listen for my skin and bones
They always know
Where they came from

Lifeblood
by Hamdi Mohamed

I watch as the raindrops glaze off
Rain clothes, rain boots stomp out the water
Collective indifference
No one listens
To the sounds of rebirth
As the rain makes a new earth
Flowers gather dew like diamonds
The hushed silence
Between the pitter patter of rain
This sound is sweeter than any music
The fluid movements bringing
Grass and tulips

Back home,
Trees wither and wisp away
Bones protruding
Shepherds wailing for the rain
I can’t complain of water
The taste of hunger is much sharper
When lives depend on the grass
When lives depend on the herd
It’s absurd
My people carry weak collars,
bony hands clutching
Blood soaked dollars

How much is water worth?
How much would you pay for wet dirt?
Oil rainbows on sidewalks
The sound of rain on your rooftop?
How much is life worth?
Can you gather your lifeblood in your hands?
Watch as the heartbeats devolve, deteriorate into dust
How much water will be brushed away?
Like it ain’t the fabric of our bodies
Like it ain’t the fuel of our cells
Like water ain’t worth a damn thing anymore

I pray for months of monsoons
For hailstorm of water droplets
Soaking into the earth
Soaking onto their faces
May god grace us
With rain

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Kenyan-Somali, black, Muslim and Canadian: new doc explores Canada’s hyphenated identities

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Short documentary ‘Hyphen-Nation’ by 22-year-old Torontonian puts five black women in conversation

A new documentary by a 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker is analyzing what is means to be an immigrant in Canada.

Directed and produced by Samah Ali, Hyphen-Nation features a 14-minute conversation between five women of colour that is inspired by her own cultural experience.

The women discuss how their cultural heritage influences their identities as Canadians and immigrants.

“The whole conversation is what’s your hyphen?” explained Ali, calling her debut film a “nuanced” discussion about what black Canadian identities look like.

“And that’s what opens it up to so many people to identify with because whether it’s themselves or their family members who have an immigration story, everybody typically has a hyphen.”

The women are asked if they identify with being black Canadians.

Ali explains this is both liberating and tragic. She identifies as a Kenyan-Somali woman, along with a Muslim woman and a black woman.

“I don’t know if I identify strongly as a Canadian, but definitely when I leave Canada I identify as a Canadian,” she said despite being born and raised in Toronto.

“The other parts of my identity, the ones that are more visible, the ones that I practice everyday are definitely the ones that are on the forefront of my mind. Compared to my Canadianness, it’s something that I’m not really aware of until I have my passport and I’m travelling to other countries.”
Sojin Chun, programmer for Regent Park Film Festival, says the short documentary captures the theme of the festival.

“We really want to show different narratives that you wouldn’t normally see through other means, through the mainstream media,” she said.

The three day event is free and showcases the work of women of colour which reflects Toronto’s east end neighbourhood.

“We really make sure we represent all the cultures that are present in Regent Park,” said Chun.

Ali explains this is why she wanted Hyphen-Nation to premiere at the film festival.

“I want this film to foster a greater community, not only in Canada, but also worldwide.”

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