Poet and writer Fareh Malik, a recent recipient of the 2022 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award, has always been fascinated by word-of-mouth and oral storytelling, and has been actively involved in “spoken word” since high school.
“Until recently, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer, but I always knew I wanted to be an artist,” Malik told CBC Hamilton on Sunday.
Malik, 28, was born in Toronto, grew up in Oshawa and moved to Hamilton in 2012 to attend McMaster University. Now he calls this city his home.
He describes himself as “an artist who loves to get involved and help the community” and has been a “semi-professional dancer” for nearly 10 years.
“I feel a lot of things and tend not to express them very well, so [dancing is] one thing that has always really helped me in expressing [what I feel],” he said.
The pandemic has forced more attention to poetry
While he spent his early years dancing, Malik is more recently known as a writer, which he finds amusing.
“It’s just funny because even in high school my English teacher told me I wasn’t the best at English,” he said with a chuckle.
Malik says it was during lockdown earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, when he was “prevented from going to dance studios,” that he began to focus more on poetry.
He says writing poetry allows him to speak directly to people.
“What I want to do now with my artistry is just try to make a difference for people who are going through negative circumstances,” Malik said.
“My work has to deal a lot with, you know, racism, racism, Islamophobia, all these negative things that we see in our community, and how to deal with and overcome these things.
“I try not to focus on the negative aspects of these things, but I like to emphasize their negative nature because it gives us the opportunity to move towards the positive and move towards reconciliation of these things,” he said.
One of Malik’s poems – aftershock – refers to “concussions … that occur in your family, even years after the injury has been resolved.”
Another poem – Since 9/11, the war has engulfed our hometowns and made us grow up too fast, and my sister no longer wears the hijab. focuses on Islamophobia.
“First of all, it is about Islamophobia, but to give it more dimension and depth, the poem… also about the cyclical nature of hatred, when someone is racist towards me and my family, and therefore I hate this person… …and then they start hating other people,” Malik said.
“So, I don’t like to focus on the negative, I like to focus on what processes are behind this hate and this negativity and how we can fix it.”
Debut collection of poems coming out this month
Debut collection of poems by Malik – Streams leading somewhere — will be published by Mawenzi House on August 15.
Malik says the book starts off on a very negative note, but there is a flow that shows people how to follow the positive and how to get to a better place.
“The book talks a lot about racism, xenophobia and grief,” he said.
“The big, big cornerstone of it all is how all these things affect mental health. As someone who has suffered from mental illness in the past, and many people around me, I feel this is important to talk about.”
He does such a wonderful job of articulating those experiences thoughtfully and really creating wonderful scenes with his own words.– Josh Taylor, artist, choreographer, teacher and storyteller.
Josh Taylor, choreographer, artist, teacher and storyteller, is a longtime friend of Malik, whom he first met in 2012.
“We’re kind of like brothers in hip-hop as far as culture is concerned,” Taylor told CBC Hamilton.
“We’ve had hundreds of conversations about the racial person’s experience in the art space, in society, and what we could do to influence that.”
Taylor says that his “friend and collaborator” has always been “very thoughtful, and it shows in his poetry”.
According to Taylor, Malick uses poetry to connect the racial experience, the mental health angle, being Muslim, and what he has experienced and seen around him.
“He does such a wonderful job of articulating those experiences thoughtfully and really creating wonderful scenes in his own words that really make you think,” Taylor said.
“It was very interesting to see how well he touches the nerves and evokes emotions, and also talks to others who have had similar experiences.”
Taylor said that Malick is “talented” and “a thoughtful person who thinks of others, very empathetic”, and this took his talent for writing and his talent to the next level.
“His work is so well connected because it comes from a place of introspection, but also from a sort of critical look at the world we live in. own experience,” he said.
“Those are some of the reasons to read what he does and follow what he does, because he will make you think, make you cry or laugh, or he will make you feel many things and great things.”
RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award Winner
In June, Malik won the 2022 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award, a national competition that honors emerging writers across genres.
The jury described an excerpt from his poetry collection as a vivid “portrait of what it’s like to feel alienated and alienated from daily doses of hate.”
The citation noted the “gentle and throat-catching use of imagery” in the verse, as well as Malik’s “wide range of voices and tones to convey a subtle spectrum of emotion, and laser-sharp critique of Canada’s blatant and covert systemic racism.”
Taylor said he had two reactions when he heard that Malik had received the award.
One of them was: “Of course, he said… I like it, of course, because he is so good. He’s talented, insightful, and what he wants to say is what people need to hear and read,” Taylor said.
“I sent him a text with a lot of emoji and exclamation points, and a ‘Bro’ with a lot of O.
“I’m really glad they chose him because he deserves it and is just getting started,” Taylor added.