Soraya Peerbaye Interview @ The Torontoist

Continuing with this series of interviews I’ve been doing with local poets for The Torontoist’s Book Page, here’s one with my friend and fellow author Soraya Peerbaye. Soraya is the author of Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names, out in Fall 2009 from Goose Lane Editions. More about language than about “poetry”, the interview also contains the full text of her sublime little poem, “Pomme”. Here’s a link to the full interview. And here’s a selection for those with attention issues:


Jacob: Thanks for doing this. I thought we could spend our time talking about language (and languages). The complex identity politics of mixed-history languages (specifically Mauritian Creole) weigh heavily on the book’s first section. And of course, the poems themselves add another layer to that complexity, because they’re all written in English. I imagine this was something you considered while writing the book. Can you walk me through your concerns regarding language and identity, and how those concerns might be manifest in the final product?

Soraya: My first concern with language was less immediately connected to cultural identity, and more so to familial identity. I think this is one of the oddities about being from a tiny, far-flung island, which had no indigenous population before colonization, and where many have lost a connection to languages of origin (Urdu in my family’s case). Moving to Toronto, my family was somewhat adrift – though there is a Mauritian community here, and my father’s practice as a doctor was one of the things that kept us connected to that. Nonetheless, I can’t say there was a sense of belonging to a diaspora through language.

I read a beautiful essay on growing up in a French-language family in America by Belgian writer Luc Santé, in which he says: “For me the French language very nearly became detached from its base, like so many of our household customs, which had lost their connection to any wider world and hovered in a vacuum….” That – with the added dimension of race – was very much my experience. Even when we are with French speakers from France or Quebec, each one of us in my family loses the island accent and subconsciously adopts a more “cosmopolitan” (i.e. Parisian) accent. Speaking in my own accent in that context is a physical impossibility – I cannot will it. So my mother tongue – in the deepest sense, the language and its natural inflection – hardly existed outside my family.


Read the rest right here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Canadian Literature, Interviews, Poems in the Wider World, Toronto Poetry Cult

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