CoCoPoPro: Masham Means Evening: Poems about Canada's war in Afghanistan

April 21, 2013

Today we're in Ottawa, the place where poet and soldier Kanina Dawson lives and works. She was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 and her debut collection of poetry Masham Means Evening (Coteau Books, 2013) is a reflection, an interpretation, and an exploration of all the things she saw and grappled with while there. As the back cover of the book says, "These poems are a thin membrane barely containing both fury and grim fatalism at the new cruelties each day brings. It is an extraordinary debut collection rich in the images of a daily life forged from extreme circumstances."

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Today we're in Ottawa, the place where poet and soldier Kanina Dawson lives and works. She was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 and her debut collection of poetry Masham Means Evening (Coteau Books, 2013) is a reflection, an interpretation, and an exploration of all the things she saw and grappled with while there. As the back cover of the book says, "These poems are a thin membrane barely containing both fury and grim fatalism at the new cruelties each day brings. It is an extraordinary debut collection rich in the images of a daily life forged from extreme circumstances." You can listen to the author read a few of these poems herself, here

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Q&A with Kanina Dawson 

What are you reading right now? 

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad—love its imagery, its sparseness, its realism. I love that it is the literary debut of an 80-year-old man who has truly experienced the region about which he writes.

Where is the oddest place in which you have ever written (or been inspired to write) a poem?   

Afghanistan. I was sitting near the runway at Kandahar Airfield, watching the planes. It was late afternoon. They always stir the septic pond at that time—right at supper for some reason. Dust, sunset, fuel, septic smell—it was a visceral combination and I pulled out my notepad to see if I could capture it.

Who are your favourite poets?

I’m a huge fan of Evelyn Lau—those gritty, controlled, beautiful words of hers always make me wish I’d thought of them first. I feel the same way about Gary Geddes—his book Falsework is a staple. I learn something new every time I read it.

What's your guilty pleasure (when it comes to reading)? 

Historical fiction, fantasy if it’s grounded in something real—stories that are sumptuous and full of pageantry, lost worlds, forgotten languages. Give me Rome or ancient Egypt or Atlantis. Give me Winterfell.

Why poetry?

I actually didn’t think my first book would be poetry. Based on the non-fiction pieces I’d already written, I assumed that any experience I lived would take the same form—but that’s not what happened. I began writing these poems while still in Afghanistan—I’d jot down lines and words on my field message pad, on maps, inside book covers. I think partly there was never enough time to write something more fulsome. But I also think that some things are too hard, too surreal, too compartmentalized, to take the form of anything less than poetry. For me, a poem is a snapshot of a moment in time and space that defies any other form of articulation—like a heartbeat, or that feeling of having touched something hot. That’s what Afghanistan was.

When did your interest in reading/writing poetry start?

Probably in my later teenage years.  The thing that I felt most drawn to in regards to poetry was how, in comparison to other forms of writing, a mere handful of words could be so powerful. It’s a safe place to be raw.  It doesn’t drag itself out.  

Sometimes when I write I envision it’s like I’m holding up a sign in a window for passersby to read, and then after a moment I take the sign down and go back to the business of being me.  I like that it’s both personal and strangely impersonal.  I think that gets reflected in my poetry as well—many of the pivotal characters in my writing lack names. That’s the intimate, impersonal nature of a glimpse.

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Kanina Dawson is the author of several works of literary nonfiction published in magazines such as Event and subTerrain. She has been awarded numerous prizes for creative non-fiction since 2001. Masham Means Evening is Kanina’s first published poetry collection and is based on her experiences while deployed as a serving member of the Canadian military in Afghanistan. Kanina lives and works in Ottawa.

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Edited from the original post, published on the LPG blog


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