“To inspire and empower future generations of writers”: Gitanjali Bal interviews Poetry Decoded

For National Poetry Month, we’re publishing Gitanjali Bal’s interview with Poetry Decoded from our latest issue, Room 47.2: Seedpod. A passion project co-created by friends and local multidisciplinary artists, Bisharo Farah, Amana Park and Kasra Kooshafar, Poetry Decoded aims to curate spaces that amplify local voices and create discussion around the literary craft.

At Poetry Decoded’s March 25th event, which featured spoken word performances, a group panel discussion, and multiple interactive community installations, Bisharo Farah shared the following poem, “Hooyo’s Legacy: A Tribute to Community and Home.”

 

Hooyo’s Legacy: A Tribute to Community and Home
by Bisharo Farah

In Somali culture community is deeply ingrained
It’s who we are in our essence, it’s explained
From a young age Hooyo showed its worth
Community was her anchor her source of light
She journeyed from Somalia to Delhi then here
And community remained steadfast and clear

I recall her dragging me to events so sincere
Celebrating our culture raising awareness year after year
Back then I couldn’t grasp why she’d give so much
Time effort without seeking wealth’s touch
But Hooyo taught me, it’s beyond material gain
It’s the support in times of need that remains
In Toronto she rose as a community leader
Hooyo a blend of home and mother’s embrace
Guiding my soul with her love and grace

She’d recite prayers before I stepped out each door
A mother, a mentor, and so much more
In her strength, compassion, and unwavering faith
I find solace in her love’s infinite embrace
They say, heaven lies beneath a mother’s feet
For her love knows no bounds, it’s endlessly sweet
Hooyo, there’s no one like you in this world we share
Your love, your devotion beyond compares

My promise to you, my qalbi, my dear
Is to honour your teachings, to hold community near
For you’ve shown me what it means to truly thrive
And in building our community, your legacy will thrive
With gratitude and love, now and always
I cherish your wisdom, in all of my days
Thank you, Hooyo for everything you’ve instilled
In my heart, your teachings forever fulfilled

 

The Poetry Decoded event had an open sense of community. The room was dark, decorated for intimacy, the comfort of couches and close seating invited you to start conversation with a stranger. Through the night, featured artists spoke about their reasons for writing, this ranged between speaking personal truth, telling stories and spreading awareness. Poetry Decoded is a growing space for young artists, encouraged by a community that will celebrate the vulnerability and strength in giving written work a voice.

What inspired Poetry Decoded, and what was the process you took to make it reality?

BF: Poetry Decoded was inspired by a desire to reignite creativity and celebrate the power of poetry and writing. The idea came to me during a period of creative stagnation while I was preparing for exams. Feeling disconnected from my writing, I longed to immerse myself in spaces where poetry was celebrated. Upon discovering World Poetry Day approaching on March 21st, I saw an opportunity to create an event that would bring together talented artists and enthusiasts to celebrate poetry and writing. I recognized the significance of this idea and immediately began planning, envisioning the concept, selecting featured artists, and seeking collaborators to bring Poetry Decoded to life.

 

How do you see Poetry Decoded influencing the writing community in the future?

BF: Poetry Decoded holds the potential to redefine the landscape of the writing community by fostering a culture of collaboration, inclusivity, and innovation. Through its emphasis on personal narratives, insightful discussions, and collaborative creations, Poetry Decoded encourages writers to explore new avenues of expression and connect with audiences on a deeper level. By providing a platform for emerging voices and celebrating the diverse experiences of writers, Poetry Decoded seeks to inspire and empower future generations of writers to share their stories fearlessly and authentically.

AP: I see Poetry Decoded becoming a space for Creatives to not just share their work but their stories and create a road map on how other Creatives can shape their paths.

KK: I believe that Poetry Decoded has created a unique space in the writing community that has opened the floor for conversation; one about creativity, of courage, and of possibility. Poetry Decoded has become not only a space for conversation but also for artists to be able to share their stories and work in an environment that genuinely supports the artists’ need to be heard.

 

There were a variety of elements, Poesy – a Toronto based community focused on creating an intimate on-the-spot connection through poetry, affirmations, and letters for visitors to reflect on their year. Could you talk about each element and how you hoped visitors would connect with them?

BF: The elements of Poetry Decoded were carefully curated to foster connection and introspection among visitors. The community installation aimed to create a welcoming atmosphere, encouraging visitors to engage with one another and share their experiences. Writing letters to oneself provided a therapeutic outlet for reflection, allowing individuals to express their thoughts and emotions privately. The affirmations wall served as a source of encouragement and inspiration, reminding visitors of their worth and potential. Through these elements, I hoped visitors would find solace in self-expression, connect with others on a deeper level, and leave with a renewed sense of self-awareness and empowerment

AP: Poesy is a company that Bisharo connected with really well, and a couple of my friends that are poets are part of Poesy. The organization goes to markets and events to provide poetry typed on-the-spot. It’s an opportunity to connect with another human being, to just bring up a topic and receive a poem. We were able to meet a lot of people and experience a lot of different kinds of poetry through Poesy. So bringing that in for Poetry Decoded, was an incentive for people to come a little earlier. But also, so people can experience exactly what we experienced. Where you can be vulnerable with another person and have them write something so beautiful. The event itself was with the intention to get people to write more, whether it’s poetry, journaling, whatever it was to just write their feelings out. To interact and connect with themselves on that level. So Poesy, in a way, opened that up. The affirmations, with the time period we’re in right now going from winter to spring, especially in Toronto, it can be very heavy. The affirmations were meant to confirm to people that it’s okay to feel that way. There are a lot of different things we wrote in that, each with the intention of reaching a different kind of person. Some of them had to do with standing in your power, and some of them had to do with feeling heavy and being okay with that. We wanted to encourage everybody to be aware of their own emotions. To know that when they come as they are, they will be accepted as they are. The letters were to encourage every attendee to write a letter to themselves at the end of the year. Because spring in a way feels like new years. It was to receive all these beautiful intentions, with affirmations, with poetry and other people’s words. Then to create something for yourself with those intentions.

 

During the show, Bisharo read Hooyo’s Legacy: A Tribute to Community and Home – a gorgeous piece about her mother and her involvement within the community. Could you expand on her work? Has her representation of community influenced the kind you want to build with Poetry Decoded? 

BF:  My mother has always been a beacon of the Somali community, dedicating herself to serving others from a young age. As a single parent, she demonstrated unwavering commitment to her community through acts of kindness, advocacy, and support. From fundraising for local causes to campaigning for Somali community leaders, she embodies the spirit of selflessness and compassion. Her tireless efforts have deeply inspired me to emulate her example in my own endeavors. Her representation of community has profoundly influenced the kind of inclusive and supportive environment I aspire to cultivate with Poetry Decoded, where individuals from diverse backgrounds feel valued, heard, and empowered to share their stories.

 

The panel discussion functioned as an interim between featured artists and open mic guests. Amana has this magnetic energy, as she reads her poetry the listener is dragged into this world she’s created. Her emotions seemed to rest at the edge of her throat. When asked why she wrote, she expanded on her struggles with finding her courage. How did you find that courage?

AP: I found courage both through support from my community and the desire to turn shared pain into hope. I have written my entire life, but the courage to speak those words out loud first came from wanting to share a story and Toronto providing spaces with kind souls that wanted to hear them. At open mics I would be shaking, crying, as raw as possible and still met with the kindest words. Through the loving embrace of community, I found not only courage but personal power.

 

Kasra mixed mediums between poetry and music, he held his guitar and spoke about finding space away from the opinions and expectations of people. Music has been a new exploration for him. Has the introduction of a new media changed your written work? Are you viewing your creative process differently?

KK: Music has always been a big part of my creative journey. Having written poetry for over 10 years, and performed within the last year and a half, it felt right to incorporate the musical elements of my self expression. In a sense they are one of the same, the way they both provide a flow, a feeling that is translated through the performance. That feeling is what I find to be the most powerful, it is what allows one to get inspired. The song choice was an instrumental of a favorite song that I chose to slow down on the guitar. With poetry it is slightly different from songwriting because you can control the tempo, so I slowed the tempo of the song to match the energy and message of the poem. They came together beautifully and I was extremely grateful for the feeling that I realized after having gotten translated.

 

Hold this interview in your hands with a copy of our latest issue, Room 47.2 Seedpod, alongside art and writing that throws us into the wind so that we may land where we must.


Header photo, from left to right: Gitanjali Bal; Bisharo Farah; Kasra Kooshafar, photo by Aysha Addus; Amana Park, photo by Ogen Kanu.

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