An Interview with Ami Xherro

Ami Xherro is a poet, artist, translator, and PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature. Her first chapbook “The Unfinished Flame of the Lower Oceans” was published by Swimmers Group in 2017. Her first full-length book of poetry is forthcoming in 2023 with Guernica Editions. You can find her writing at Held MagazineShrapnellong con magUniversity College Review, among other places. She is the co-founder of the Toronto Experimental Translation Collective and co-editor of Barricade: A Journal of Antifascism and Translation.

You can read her poem Swimmer in the October 2022 issue of Pinhole Poetry.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context? 

This poem started from a journal entry. On July 30 2015 I wrote in my journal:

Swam in very still waters after sunset. Submerged up to my undereyes to see the horizon of the endlessly flat. Saw debris and seaweed and other kinds of sea produce, along with a 2L plastic bottle of water, capless, dead bees and insects floating to the surface, another couple getting in, the guy holding up the girl like a baby. Saw a matriarchal assembly and their children eating corn on the rocks. Saw the lady who roasts corn. Thought about the Penitent and peeing in the aisles of churches while crying. Defecating but more rarely. Coming on the dress of a Saint. Suneye–the song by T. Rex. All of Marc Bolan’s songs sound the same and it’s hard to differentiate between them.

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar? 

I love Louise Labé’s sonnets. I love how her love made her disappear at age 28. It made her write, then it made her disappear.

If you didnt write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life? 

I think if I didn’t write poetry I would still write poetry. I think it is impossible to not write poetry, with the ephemerality of text and the pervasiveness of language. Poetry exists somewhere in between that, even if we don’t call it poetry. The way someone blinks their eyes but the mind doesn’t quite capture the isolated blink without the life which surrounds it. That is poetry I think: the past made present after the irremediable absence of things, in the service of some kind of faith. 

What are you working on now? 

I am working on the final edits of my debut full-length collection of poetry, forthcoming with Guernica Editions in fall 2023: Drank, Recruited. My editor is also a contributor to this issue. Thank you Elana! I am also working on a novel. Also I am thinking about a performance of 8 sleepers who can hear each others’ dreams.

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry? 

At the birthing stages, I don’t really distinguish between forms. The form emerges when it’s ready and then I recognize it. I like inscriptive forms which can preserve the process of creation: writing, filming, audience participation.  

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine? 

I don’t actively make space for it. I guess I am lucky because I have to read a lot of literature and theory for school and reading naturally gives way to writing, or becomes respite from the institutional absorption of work. Lately, since I have been editing my book, I wake up eager to make changes or respond to work that is already in there. 

What are you reading or watching or listening to lately that intrigues or inspires you? 

I’m very slowly reading the Nag Hammadi Scriptures. I’m collaboratively translating a Bourdieu essay. I’m watching Industry because it has the capacity to nullify language to the point of jargonic oblivion.

Have you ever received advice (or has there been something youve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it? 

“If we are telepathic, then language is a raggedy proposition” – FW

“Ami first.” – FA

Why is the poetic form the best fit for your writing? 

I’m not sure that the poetic form per se is the best fit, but it is the most generous fit. Within it, anything is possible. The short story is on the other end of this generosity; to me, it’s like a Law and Order episode which you can completely graph into a compact structure. The novel seems increasingly vulnerable to my desires, so I am going there next.

Do you belong to a writers group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback? 

I’m part of the Toronto Experimental Translation Collective. We work between media and languages to de-instrumentalize the hegemonic power of major languages.

In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?

I prefer to ask questions, or answer questions that are presented to me as answers. I don’t think I can articulate THE BIG QUESTION but once I do…it’s over…

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