Anis Mojgani – Slam Rhythms, with Marty Smith

Word_ThugAnis Mojgani was born in New Orleans and this is what his first poem settles on: his childhood. Alongside Mojgani, Marty Smith joins him in reading his opening poem by echoing certain phrases, giving the impression of multiple voices shifting and coming together to shape a certain rhythm. When Mojgani completes his poem and lets these final sounds dissipate, a single speck of silence permeates in the air before the sound of applause fills it again.

The first question Smith asks of Mojgani is one about culture, and the two exchange ideas linking this to poetry; certain cultures sound different and therefore have different musicalities. Mojgani talks about how often his “work returns to the city rhythms”; New Orleans is the musicality that he has grown up with and that he finds himself frequently writing about.

Mojgani’s response to Smith’s question about writing with intent and purpose was perfect – Smith suggested that his performance poems are like “sound recordings of his life”; Mojgani agreed with this but also proposes that they are more like “capsules of time” that float both close by and away. Therefore, others can respond to his poetry but his writing doesn’t have to be as conscious and deliberate as recordings. I found myself agreeing with his ideas, and how he believes that poetry is both a “plotted and unplotted endeavour”.

Mojgani therefore gave a sense that poetry doesn’t need to be inherently purposeful. He simply has a human need to create art, to process himself and the world; poetry is simply figuring out “emotion into language you know”. He employed a digression on how we wear our vulnerabilities and emotions like coats. We shed or put on more coats depending on the situation we’re in; we want to protect the one thing—our actual selves—that is truly ours, but we are also terrified of sharing it.

This talk of vulnerability lead to a discussion of his life as a slam poet, a life that includes speaking about personal things to audiences filled with strangers. Mojgani’s advice is simple: we think so much about the things we fear but “the things we fear don’t happen” or if they do, they are simply done and in the past. When his final poem of the evening, ‘Shake The Dust’, fills the room, I’m left with an extreme need to write something. For me, good poetry is poetry that inspires you to write, and this was definitely the case for Mojgani.

cv_the_pocket_knife_bibleI was so enthused by his view of poetry as a purely human and emotive art that I had to go have a talk with him after the event was finished. His latest book, The Pocket Knife Bible, is a beautiful hardcover filled with colourful illustrations and sections of both prose poetry and writing in verse; this is the book Mojgani signed for me. Since his idea of poetry as simply figuring out emotions resonated with me, I asked him what his favourite thing to write about was. After rewording my question to what he wrote most about, he settled on childhood, a topic that he often found himself coming back to and was still sticky in his mind, as is the case with many moments in life.

The note that Mojgani wrote for me alongside his signature simply reads: “Keep your words close and far”. After hearing Anis Mojgani speak, I feel this means keeping words and emotions close to my own heart but also not being afraid to share them with the world.

Attended and reviewed by Emma Shi

Anis Mojgani: Slam Rhythms
5pm, Friday 11 March
NZ Festival Writer’s Week

Anis Mojgani will perform solo at a NZ Festival event in Paekakariki on Sunday, 13 March at 2.30pm in the St Peter’s Village Hall. It will be wonderful, I hope you are going.

Anis Mojgani is doing two events next week in Christchurch, in association with WORD Christchurch, on 15 and 17 March.

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