INTERVIEW WITH PARKDALE STREET WRITERS DANI MAS AND IRFAN ALI

Dani Mas lives her life like it’s golden.  She believes love is what makes us human: to love is to be human.  She approaches everything with love.  

Dani’s thirst for life means she enjoys all facets of it.  She enters many worlds and they all influence her heart (music, drawing, and dancing).

BCP: Why song?

DM: I find it to be a deeper connection to he emotions being conveyed. Reaching out sound song and music it just seem to communicate the poetry in a holistic way.

BCP: What is your process?

DM: The process is a messy chaotic thing: guided by will , inspired by life, altered by emotion and tempered by rational (at times).

BCP: How long have you been writing songs?

DM: Don’t really recall.  Before I had the intent to write it was just a natural reaction to life: singing, story telling, rhythm came naturally just a part of being.

BCP: Who are your influences?

DM: I’m sure I’ve have many, some famous I’m sure, most you’ll never know.  Still, on a whole, I’d have to say life itself for sure.

BCP: Your song Grab Life and Run With It (featured in underground inspirations) is very positive.  What do you try to convey to your audience?

DM: Well I  know how dark it can be, there are many valid reasons: people, situations that can pull a person down into that to a point where you give up on life itself;  when you give up on life you begin to walk the path of death, be it a slow decay of self, suicide or a more violent end; in the end it’s death that you cling to.  This song is about the about not walking that path, about not giving up on your dreams, about holding on to life for as ling as you live, run with life not sinking into death.  

BCP: Does your spirituality play a part in your writing?

DM: It’s a good part of who I am and my approach to life; so, yes it does play a part in my writing.

BCP: Do you see song as a form of prayer?

DM: It’s a kin to prayer but no it’s not a prayer.

BCP: How has working with the Parkdale Street Writers workshop helped your song writing?

DM: The Parkdale Street Writers community is a wealth of inspiration, a mode for exploration, so many brilliant prospectives bring about in oneself new growth.  I’ve grown as a writer and a person in wonderful company and each year I encounter interesting minds; some stay, some come and go, some stick around as I have.  It all influences my writing .

BCP: Do you perform regularly?

DM: Not at all in fact the other aspects of my life keep me rather occupied.

BCP: What are you working on now?

DM: I have a few things on the fire: I’m looking for some serious musician multi-talented, flexible range for a project.

BCP: Are you aiming to put out an EP or an album?

DM: Aiming for so much more but an album is a goal, yes.

BCP: What advice do you have for other musicians out there who are having difficulties with their song writing or who are afraid to perform their music?

DM: First of all fear, is your friend use it; and last, live your life, have fun, try new things. If the songs not happening switch it up, write some straight poetry, spoken word; if fun, just you know go with it, stay positive, run with it, and you can always drop into Parkdale Street Writers next year. 🙂

Irfan Ali is a silent comedian, funnier than his one and only partner in crime, Zi Rex.  Do not mistake his laissez-faire attitude for laziness; that’s his pondering-a-quick comeback-face that will top what you thought was funny.  In his spare time, he works at the LOFT Community Centre and dreams of being a (cartographer) destitute poet.

BCP: Why poetry?

IA: While I read a lot of prose and non-fiction, I find that poetry is much better able to evoke and capture the visceral emotional response that is really important to my writing style.

Also, don’t tell anyone, but I don’t have the attention span to write anything longer than a page.

BCP: What is your process?

IA: I get ideas for new pieces pretty randomly, so I have a lot of little notes scribbled on napkins and on the margins of whatever paper I had on hand at the time. I’ve been getting better at keeping a notebook with me to aggregate those little thoughts in one place. I do most of my writing on my computer because I find it easier to re-arrange lines and adjust the flow, though I’ve been trying to do more writing by hand as per a friend’s suggestion. My creative window tends to be pretty late at night and supplemented by a lot of cigarettes. I recently quit smoking though, so I might need to adjust my writing habits.

BCP: How long have you been writing poetry?

IA: Since early on in high school. However, I’d say I didn’t take it seriously until last year around the time I joined the Parkdale Street Writers; before that I’d never shared my work or tried to get serious feedback. More importantly, I felt like I was writing in someone else’s voice – trying too hard to be ‘poetic’ – and that’s something that only changed when I opened myself up to criticism and started seeking out advice to improve.

BCP: Who are your influences?

IA: A lot of people. Leonard Cohen, Robert Priest, Anne Wilkinson, Frank O’Hara, and Charles Bukowski are people that heavily inspire me, or more accurately, are people that I consistently try to emulate and steal from. I’d also say a lot of the tenderness of poetry, literature, and the holy scriptures of the Islamic world has also inadvertently slipped into my writing by virtue of me being surrounded by it throughout my upbringing.

BCP: Your poetry is unconventional. You describe it as “weird”. What do you try to convey to your readers?

IA: I don’t think I actively try to convey anything to my readers. Writing helps me sort out a lot of the issues I grapple with internally; whether about my family, sexuality, love, hate, memories, or the hundred other things I’m always thinking about. I just hope that readers are able to see some common truths between my observations and their lives. From the feedback I’ve received so far, I’ve been at least somewhat successful in that. Did I even answer the question?

BCP: Your bio in the Underground Inspirations zine by Parkdale Street Writers says you “dream of being a (cartographer) destitute poet.” Explain.

IA: Bahahahahaha! Actually, my fellow Parkdale Street Writer, Nadia Alam, wrote that. I’ve always thought being a cartographer would be a really interesting profession, especially back in the days of Columbus and all his colonizing buddies. The destitute poet part came from Parkdale Street Writer guest Jean Yoon, who only half-jokingly said that being a full-time poet is the quickest path to poverty.

BCP: The poetry you have shared with blackcoffeepoet.com involved the death of a homeless person. You brought to light how homeless people are some of the forgotten in society. Is a lot of your poetry like that?

IA: Actually, the incident involved the death of an older guy in the Eritrean-Ethiopian community. I live and work in the area and can say that the community is very tight knit and he wasn’t forgotten by any means. I changed the incident for poetic purposes, so to speak. While a lot of my work deals with love and sex, I try to make an effort not to neglect the more difficult things in life that affect and inform my worldview like global politics, police brutality, violence, discrimination, and poverty.

BCP: Do you see poetry as activism?

IA: Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I was raised in an Islamic household and a lot of the poetry that I was surrounded with was either overtly or indirectly activist in nature. I’ve found this to be as true of relatively recent writers like Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani as it was of much older writers like Rumi. I hope I could say the same about my writing at some point in the future, but I don’t have the skill, ability, or understanding to be able to legitimately do so yet.

BCP: Your poem Concord and Bloor is set in Toronto, the city you live in. Is a lot of your poetry set in Toronto?

IA: Yes. A lot of my writing comes directly from my memories or day-to-day observations, both of which have been mostly situated here. Toronto’s a really interesting character in its own right. It seems at once very distant and intimate, alive and dead, genuine and fake. It’s like the city’s perpetually trying to figure out its own identity similar to what I’m attempting to do through my poetry, so it complements my work really well.

BCP: You’ve been attending the Parkdale Street Writers workshop for a while. Do you recommend writing groups?

IA: 100%! To be honest, I don’t get much of anything done at Parkdale, but I’m surrounded by a lot of really talented writers there who heavily inspire me. Even if it’s a couple of days later, I always have new material or ideas thanks to that group. It’s also a great place to get feedback and build confidence, so I highly recommend it.

BCP: What are you reading now?

IA: I’ve been slowly getting through Anais Nin’s collection of erotica, Little Birds. The problem is I always end up reading it in public places like walk-in clinc waiting rooms and inevitably become too uncomfortable reading that kind of stuff with other people around… My mom and older brother have also been suggesting that I read more Pakistani writers so they’ve been trying to get me some translated Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

BCP: What are you working on now?

IA: More poetry. A friend rightly accused me recently of skirting around really difficult personal issues in my writing, so I’ve been trying to approach them more honestly. The process has been making me cringe with discomfort, but I’m liking the results so far.

BCP: When do you expect to have your own collection of poetry published?

IA: Hopefully I’ll have enough material (that I’m satisfied with) by sometime next year. I’ve never had anything published before so it depends on how quickly I’m able to navigate the publishing process after that.

BCP: What advice do you have for other writers out there who are having difficulties with their writing, or who have yet to see their work in print, or who are afraid to perform their poetry?

IA: Embrace your fear. I’m always afraid that my writing is horrible and the constant attempts to address that has really improved the quality of my writing. If you’re really paralyzed with fear, try counting to three and jumping one little step forward and keep doing that every time you feel like chickening out until you’re finally standing in front of a group of people and it’s too late to run away. As long as you don’t faint, it’ll be a lot better than you think.

Tune in to Black Coffee Poet July 8, 2011 for videos of Dani Mas and Irfan Ali singing and reading poetry.

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About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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3 Responses to INTERVIEW WITH PARKDALE STREET WRITERS DANI MAS AND IRFAN ALI

  1. Emily says:

    Great interviews! The personalities really shine though. I love that both Dani and Irfan end with a similar comment that “fear is your friend” and encourage people to “embrace” it. We seem to talk about fear a lot at Parkdale Street Writers, because it’s a writer’s biggest block (I think).

  2. Pingback: PARKDALE STREET WRITERS DANI MAS AND IRFAN ALI SING AND READ POETRY | Black Coffee Poet

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