Poetry Muse: Salimah Valiani + 29 leads to Love

April 21, 2022

Today's Poetry Muse's featured poet is Salimah Valiani: activist, researcher, and author of 29 leads to Love (Inanna Publications). In our Q&A, Salimah shares how in her new collection she traces love in 29 different ways, and how her muse for this collection is al-jinn, which can take either a human, animal, or other natural forms. 

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1.     Who is your muse?

As a poet I am taken by ‘al-jinn’, or the many, neutral, intelligent spirits that roam all around us. Of a lower rank than angels, al-jinn date back to pre-Islamic cultures. al-jinn can take human, animal, and other natural forms and in my latest poetry collection, 29 leads to love, you can see all these forms as expressions of the larger love I am both proposing, and asking us to search for.


2. What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing? 

I read many other poets, from around the world and in translation. I am sure I first came upon this notion of grand love in the works of other poets. Jelalludin Rumi had to have been the first of these poets. Other types of artists have also depicted the larger love, which has inspired me, for instance the painter Daphney Ojig, whom I quote in my second poetry collection, Letter Out: Letter In. My first ‘On love’ poems appeared in Letter Out: Letter In, and then more in my subsequent collections: land of the sky, and Cradles. 29 leads to love gathers all of these and adds new poems on love. 

My creative process involves daily reading and writing poetry in the first hour(s) of the day. Sometimes I read and re-read other poets, sometimes I re-read my own work, other times I write, rework and edit new poems. I also try and share my drafts, as a means of workshopping my poems. Feedback always improves my work and I am grateful for this, no matter what shape it takes.


3. When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?

I began writing poems when I was 11 or 12. I am not sure I chose it. In Arabic literature there is the sha’ir, the poet inspired supernaturally by al-jinn.


4. How would you describe your poetry collection?

Three words: loss, love, opening

In a world barely beginning to recognize itself as dazzlingly multihued, the erupting ecocide is teaching that while no accounting of complexity is complete, change is true and the sky, singular. We are of parts fundamentally interconnected and overlapping. If we choose it, this overlapping can become a continuum. A continuum of movement combined with stillness, of individuality reaching for whole, of loss and surrender, abandon and opening. And of falling: an ever-falling, toward the intensive care that is love. In this collection I offer 29 keys to this falling. I trace this love in 29 different ways: 29 leads to love.


5. What advice would you give to aspiring poets? 

I give aspiring poets this poem:


On writing (ii)


listen first

listen again

(reading is like listening)

watch third

(travelling is watching widely)


(through experience: yours and others’)

ask fourth

(asking is analyzing)

remember fifth

(the deepest emotions ideas images)

speak last

(speaking is like writing)



Poem from 29 leads to love 




a table is a table is a table


but a table is a gathering

space that creates the possibility of intimacy


wood surface with stone inlay

synthetic surface with synthetic decoration


long legs and top allowing legs underneath

short legs and top allowing just thighs


slab manufactured

poles fine-lathed

assembly lines machines computer programs minds hands


wood or marble  square or circle

stone or wood carved spindles or

no spindles at all


a table is the art of all this cutting and carving


tears dripping from sun eyes to tree veins


meals consumed before and during table-making


invisible hands  creativity  energy of the meal-makers


time of all the makers  


carpenters cooks caregivers line workers systems scientists designers artists tree cutters

trees raw material extractors earth water fire


a table is

a table is





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Picture of the Author

Salimah Valiani is a poet, activist and researcher. She has published six collections of poetry: breathing for breadth (TSAR), Letter Out: Letter In (Inanna Publications), land of the sky (Inanna Publications), Cradles (Daraja Press), 29 leads to love (Inanna Publications). Her audiobook, Love Pandemic is forthcoming from Daraja Press. She has also published one research monograph, Rethinking Unequal Exchange - The Global Integration of Nursing Labour Markets (University of Toronto Press), and one edited volume, The Future of Mining in South Africa (Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection). She has lived and worked around the world, with extended stops in Montreal, London, New York City, Binghamton, Toronto, Cape Town, Ottawa and Johannesburg. Throughout, poetry, lands, greenery and water have been vehicles of reflection, observation and spiritual calm. Her poetry has been featured in ‘All Lit Up’, the online book forum of The Literary Group of Canada, and has received an Honourable Mention in the Lena Wilson Endicott Poetry Contest of Our Times Magazine. In June 2012 she was awarded the Feminist Economics Rhonda Williams Prize for her research and advocacy work. Her poem-story, “Dear South Africa”, was selected as one of 7 chapbooks of Praxis Magazine’s 2019-2020 Chapbook Series. 

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During the month of April, you can buy 29 leads to Love and our other featured Poetry Muse books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!

Keep up with us all month on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryMuse. And catch up on the rest of the Poetry Muse series here.


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