External Relations - Nisha Patel
Written by: Timiro Mohammed
As seen in the September 2019 issue of Lazy Faire magazine
Thank you for sitting down with me today. First off, can you tell me a little about your role as the Poet Laureate?
The Poet Laureate for the City of Edmonton is a mix between a historian and a storyteller that works to reflect the pulse of the city. The Poet Laureate position affords poets’ visibility, so if they have certain goals or dreams it is a great way for them to access the community and build upon their resources. For me, a legacy as Poet Laureate will fall under two ideas. First, how we re-imagine where we’re going and what we hope for is going to be in writing. The second is to establish a culture of mentorship. I want to invest in individual poets in the city and allow them to have the same opportunities as myself.
Can you tell me how you came into this position?
I started writing after seeing a poet perform a powerful poem about their struggle with anxiety. I was so moved that I thought I would like to do that one day, and I kept that dream in the back of my mind. I had always wanted to affect individual lives and before that point, I thought that the only way to do that was through politics. I really valued that idea of supporting individual citizens to affect change. As I moved through my career in politics, I found that my poems were living in people. I found that they were affecting individual people in ways that I had never imagined but had always wanted.
What has been one of the biggest challenges of the transition into a full-time artist?
The hardest part was the uncertainty. Politics is about repeating the same cycle; although the contracts are short term, the work is unlimited. However, there is no blueprint for success in the arts; there are only skills that you can build up that will allow you to find success. At the root, there is a very deep uncertainty that has everything to do with your future as an artist and has very little to do with free will.
How did your time as a business student at the University of Alberta shape your career as an artist?
What the business school taught me - at its purest and most beautiful form - is that there wasn’t anything that I could not do. I had seen my parents work extremely hard; I came up in a culture that works hard but it was business school that asked me: Why not you? Even when I was in government, I dreamed of running for office, and business school gave me the foundation to believe it was possible.
It taught me that I could rely on myself and my work and do anything I wanted to. I carried that mentality into my poetry career. I know that I, myself, am a business as an individual artist - the product is myself and my own work, and there are efficiencies I can achieve while doing that.
Of course, those are all tempered by my heart. Meeting in the middle between the business and artistic world, and finding a balance allows you to have a very successful and meaningful career in the arts.
I know you recently read your first poem to the city council and it was clear that your poetry is political in nature and works to dismantle systems of power and privilege. What types of stories are you trying to tell as an artist?
Right now in my life, I want to write the revolution. I don’t know what that looks like, but I know what it means. It means that I want to be part of the really calamitous changes that are taking place in public discourse. My art has always had a hunger and urgency and I want to lean forward into that. It is a privilege to think that one’s existence is not political. Inevitably when you tell the truth of your story...it becomes political. So, I need to ask what stories absolutely must be heard and then get them to the right people.
What comes next in your journey as a poet?
The idea of a Polymath is that they can do everything. My vision as an artist is to do and create everything. To figure out all the different ways I can create and contribute to the fullest extent of all my curiosities and to showcase a wide variety of artistic skills at once. The underlying theme in all of my work is a hunger for justice, love, compassion, and empathy; as long as that theme continues to exist, my work will come together naturally.