Try Poetry: Coconut + Nisha Patel

Spoken word poet and Edmonton’s Poet Laureate Emeritus Nisha Patel shares “questions for google assistant at 4am”, a poem from her collection Coconut (NeWest Press), and tells us about how writing can be like sculpting, “weird flexes” in the performance space, and more in today’s interview.


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An Interview with Poet Nisha Patel

All Lit Up: When was the moment that you decided you wanted to write poetry? Nisha Patel: Although writing as a teenager hadn’t stuck, I knew I wanted to be a spoken word poet the moment I saw Ahmed Knowmadic perform a poem about his anxiety to a captive audience. In seconds, a thought had crystallized as I felt moved to tears: I want to do that, too. Later that year, after a summer of heartbreak, I wrote my first spoken word poem and when I performed it an entire family in the audience approached me and said “You made a whole table of Eastern Europeans cry.” Weird flex, but touching an audience is a gift and a responsibility to tell the truth the best I can at any moment. ALU: If you had to pitch your featured poem to someone who had never read poetry before, how would you do so? NP: This poem was an experimental piece inspired by my everyday life. Like most of my work, each poem starts with a spark, a sentence, a refrain that reveals itself to me. My writing process then becomes one of uncovering the story like a sculpture is uncovered out of stone. You take away the parts that aren’t the poem. In climate grief, everything feels like the poem, so my job is harder: you take away the parts that aren’t true to the poem. What’s left is a precision of writing that comes to me when I’ve created the conditions for the truth to show. ALU: What’s a poetry collection or individual poem that you’d recommend to anyone looking to get into poetry?NP: My favourite Canadian poetry collection right now is Nancy Lee’s What Hurts Going Down. But I also think a good reader of poetry is someone who experiments and finds out what makes them feel alive through attending poetry nights and events and hearing poems, as that is a masterclass in how to connect with an audience (or what to avoid).

“questions for google assistant at 4am”

From Nisha Patel’s collection Coconut
okay, google
define life:
define: the capacity for growth
define: functional activity
define: continual change
okay, google
do you know where the last koala lives?
do you know how she is treated like a queen
how she wears the memory of her lost daughters and sons
deep within the follicles of her fur
how even the sound of their laughter
as they fell from the eucalyptus tree
cannot bring them back?
okay, google
do you know what the octopus say when we’re asleep?
how they have grip enough for strangling
how they would rise against us if not
for the blood they refuse to spill
how life itself is sacred
even on the ocean floor?
okay, google
will we learn to breathe underwater in time
to save the dolphins?
what of the spiders?
is there anyone who will outgrow loneliness
when we are gone?
[the scene: a fat woman is drowning.
there are men at the shore.
the stage is an ocean. no one helps ]
and what is the ocean if not a woman
the way men take and take of her body
entanglement nets imprinting on her flesh
the space between her legs yet another man’s bycatch
the way they pull her up by her hair
leave her on the wharf for the bleeding
how they hunger with full stomachs for the taste of her
lick the salt from her eyes and say they are still starving
and watch as her coral-reef organs collapse on themselves
I was an ocean once
bare shoulders and whale-song in my ribcage
watched as the rigs drilled holes in my body
they left no part of my trenches unmanned
turned me into a war instead of a homecoming
I should have evaporated sooner
left this ozone and oozed into stars
[ the scene: the stage is an ocean. no one helps ]
and what of the human race
that has learned so little and so much about the earth
how she moved beneath us once
are we not estranged lovers
and the ancestors of this place
those who were tricked into treaty
who lived for thousands of years before us
the story-keepers and secret-tellers that
fought for a truth they’ve known since the start:
that the universe knew of our greed
knew of our follies and our steam engines
of our clocks and brick houses
of our gold, our borders and our lust
but also of our vast hearts
our clasped hands and protests
our demands and our dreams and our children
people who can still come together against the draining
and the gutting of the ground, the burning of the forests
the scent of coal and gasoline
fueled hope that spills across a prairie sky
it is a characteristic of life itself
that all that is living must die
okay, google
define: life
the capacity for growth, continual change
define: death
the fact of dying. being killed.
define resistance:
refusal to accept. refusal to comply.
some days, I cannot see past the blood on my hands
read names like a eulogy:
the leopards
the gorillas
the elephants
the sea turtles
the rhinos
the tigers, god how I never wished
to outlive the tigers
on those days, I uncurl my back
breathe, drink water like it is a privilege
think of the slumdogs in the streets of india
dying in the heat
it is, indeed, a privilege
I stand at the edge of the precipice
both feet on the ground
look the thirsty children in the eyes
and write
“questions for google assistant at 4am” is excerpted from Coconut by Nisha Patel, copyright © 2021 by Nisha Patel. Reprinted with the permission of NeWest Press.

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Nisha Patel
is the Poet Laureate Emeritus of the City of Edmonton. An award-winning disabled and queer artist, she is a Canadian Poetry Slam Champion and holds a Master of Arts in Cultural Studies from Queen’s University. Her debut poetry collection, Coconut (NeWest Press) was a finalist of the ABPA Regional Book of the Year. She is currently finishing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, where she is writing her first graphic novel.Nisha’s latest works include multimodal inquiries into disabled life. She is currently working on promoting her newest chapbook, How to get a Thigh Gap (Collusion Books).Photo of Nisha by Matthew James Weigel.

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Thanks to Nisha Patel for answering our questionnaire and sharing “questions for google assistant at 4am” with us for Try Poetry (Why Not?).Remember, if you purchase a copy of Coconut or any of the other featured Try Poetry collections, you’ll receive a free digital sampler containing all of our featured poems. (Purchase from All Lit Up or from your local independent bookseller; send proof of payment to if you purchase from your local!)