Yusuf Saadi’s first collection is Pluviophile (Nightwood Editions April 2020). He previously won The Malahat Review‘s 2016 Far Horizons Award for Poetry and the 2016 Vallum Chapbook Award. His writing has also appeared in journals including Brick, Best Canadian Poetry 2019, Best Canadian Poetry 2018, Canadian Notes & Queries, Arc, CV2, and The Puritan. Yusuf holds an MA from the University of Victoria and currently resides in Montreal, though he thinks of Victoria often.
Pluviophile veers through various poetic visions and traditions in search of the sacred within and beyond language. Its poems continually revitalize form, imagery and sonancy to reconsider the ways we value language, beauty and body. The collection houses sonnets and other shorter poems between larger, more meditative runes. The poems themselves shift to diverse locations, from Montreal to Kolkata, from the moon to the gates of heaven.
Interviewed by Ariel Gordon
Ariel Gordon (AG): What do you want people to know about Pluviophile?
Yusuf Saadi (YS): There are poems in there that express the deepest vision of the world I was capable of until that time, and that I feel only I could have written. There’s a lot of loneliness, introspection, joy, and love poured into the book. A lot of solitary walks. The poems are my offering, the best I could do with who I am.
AG: What were your goals for this book?
YS: I’d say my goal is to bring each poem to its final form; I have a loyalty to each poem. I didn’t have preconceived goals for the work as a whole.
AG: What did it mean for your confidence and your career as a poet to win The Malahat Review‘s 2016 Far Horizons Award for Poetry and the 2016 Vallum Chapbook Award? (Especially given the fact that you are the 2020 Far Horizons judge…)
YS: It was an enormous boost to my confidence! I wouldn’t say the confidence made me a better writer (uncertainty and self-doubt are great for writing sometimes, aren’t they?), but it definitely helped my confidence as a person. I have a folder called “Good Stuff” with nice emails I received; I open it when I feel low.
AG: Tell me about working with your editor for Pluviophile? What kinds of questions did he ask you/your poems?
YS: My editor, Silas, first asked me about the order of the poems in the book; I don’t have any eye for that kind of macro organization. Once he put the poems in a specific order, I could see how much better the collection read as a whole. He and Amber McMillan also made numerous suggestions to the individual poems, many of which were wonderful.
Besides that, I’m very meticulous and anxious about my poems. It was difficult for me to conceive of a time where further edits wouldn’t be possible. I think I annoyed my editors trying to make last-second changes.
AG: What books were important to you while you were writing Pluviophile? Who are your influences?
YS: Mainly books that I read in my undergrad, and mostly fiction: David Foster Wallace, Anne Michaels, Marquez, Nabokov, Rilke, Wallace Stevens. Probably many others whom I don’t remember because my memory has been rotted by the Internet, but which are probably somewhere inside me.
AG: What are you reading right now?
YS: Sitting on my bed right now are Cohen’s Beautiful Losers and Sue Sinclair’s Mortal Arguments.
AG: Many of your poems have what I’d call a consciousness of language, where you’re not describing things but building them out of words. And sometimes you even stop the reader and tell them you’re doing that, for instance “We built / a mountainous flower whose fragrance fills /the sky, but will it fit inside a human word?” in the poem “The Raindrops at Heaven’s Gates.” So, tell me about the importance of language, of whimsy, in your work…
YS: I don’t have a theory of language or understand it at all, really, but I do often find myself enamored with language. I think languages’ surfaces, irreducible to utilitarian meanings, contain the kinds of truths I’m after. I trust what the musician says about God more than the theologian.