We had a guest lecturer in my class on Islamic mysticism this week: talented Toronto poet/spoken word artist Sheniz Janmohamed. She came in at my beloved professor's request to talk to us about Sufi poetry and music. Janmohamed is young, but she's already done lots, such as founding Ignite Poets, an initiative that allows young poets and spoken word artists to collaborate and work together for peace and social justice. Last year, Janmohamed travelled to Kenya, and organized an Ignite Poets show to raise money for the Hawkers Market Girls Centre in the slums of Nairobi.
Janmohamed also recently published her first book of poetry, Bleeding Light, which is a collection of ghazals, a traditional poetic form much loved in many parts of the Muslim world and definitely by Sufi poets. Janmohamed describes it as "heavily influenced by Sufi philosophy." Her mentor, the late poet Kuldip Gill, wrote of Janmohamed's work:
Sheniz Janmohamed is one of a very few new poets who has mastered the form of the ghazal in a way that brings together the emotional aspects of the form and the expectations of the listeners who know the form and its cultural unity: mystic illumination, rhyme, refrains that exude passion, and couplets with wise insights. The couplets in her eloquent and appealing ghazals dazzle one with their precision, sudden turns and brilliant use of the cultural memory of language and imagery.
After Janmohamed was finished her lively lecture on poetry and music, my prof asked her to read some of her poems. Rather than reading from her book, though, she instantly launched into two well-rehearsed spoken word pieces, with a force and energy that I think surprised and electrified most of the students in the room, myself included. Suddenly this pleasant and interesting lecture felt like a poetry slam, and it was awesome. One of the two pieces she recited was this one, "Lyrical Kiss." I would actually say the performance she gave in class was even stronger than the one in that video. If you have the chance to hear her somewhere, I'd recommend it; you can keep up with her on her Facebook page. In the meantime, check out this enjoyable interview with Janmohamed, and also this other powerful piece, "My People Killing My People." Janmohamed is definitely one to watch.