The central poems of Ontario-born Rahat Kurd's first poetry collection, Cosmophilia (Talonbooks $16.95), a term that means "love of ornament," reflect her experiences among family members in Kashmir and the influence of traditional Kashmiri handicrafts on her. Integrating Islamic imagery, the poems share the perspective of a modern Muslim woman. The "cosmic colours" of the book jacket are intended to represent the juxtaposition of the darkness and lightness of being. Cosmophilia was launched in Vancouver at the Heartwood Café.

Rahat Kurd was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1970 and she came to B.C. in 1997. She was a finalist for the 2014 Gwendolyn MacEwen Poetry Prize and was named Emerging Artist in the Literary Arts category of the 2013 Vancouver Mayor's Arts Awards. Her work has also been nominated for National Magazine Awards in the categories of poetry and personal journalism (2011); and she has been shortlisted for a CBC Literary Award (2007). She also wrote and illustrated Reading Rights: A Woman's Guide to the Law in Canada in 1999. 978-0-88922-946-4


The City That Is Leaving Forever. Co-written with Kashmiri-based Sumayya Syed (Talonbooks, 2021) $19.95 978-1772013573

Cosmophilia (Talonbooks, 2015) Poetry. $16.95 978-0-88922-946-4

NW15: The anthology of New Writing Volume 15 (London: Granta, 2007). Edited by Maggie Gee and Bernardine Evaristo. Rahat Kurd's "A Memoir of Modest Appearances" is one of two Canadian contributions to this international collection of prose, fiction and poetry.

Rahat Kurd wrote and illustrated READING RIGHTS: A Woman's Guide to the Law in Canada (Kingston: Quarry Press, 1999).

[BCBW 2015]

The City That Is Leaving Forever: Kashmiri Letters by Rahat Kurd and Sumayya Syed (Talon $19.95)

Review by Trevor Carolan (BCBW 2022)

The City That Is Leaving Forever borrows its title from the poem “The City of Daughters” by Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali, and recounts six years of friendship, 2014-2020, between Rahat Kurd writing from Vancouver and Sumayya Syed from Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir famed for its Himalayan beauty. An epistolary gathering of letters, text-messages and 29 of their poems, their task, they agree, is “to name the things that can survive erasure.”

Kurd and Syed are poets of place. Kurd has lived in Vancouver for twenty years. A single mother with a teenage son, we learn belatedly she is going through a trying divorce. Syed, we also learn later, attended grad school at UBC and works in a clerical position at a university. Ardent feminists and sick of the situation in Kashmir (see sidebar), happiness seems to elude both women. They are pious, though not uncritical Muslims and from the depth of their religious salutations and benedictions that are offered with tenderness and care, each writer derives solace from her faith. At a time in North America when spiritual conviction slips another point or two each season, it’s affecting to witness intellectuals still affirming strength from the divine in times of personal crisis.
Syed is notably vulnerable. There’s no end to the indignities she reports that are imposed by the Indian army’s ongoing military interventions—incidents of “suspended mail deliveries, communications blackouts, travel restrictions and banned news coverage,” as well as allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture and rape. These letter exchanges are vital to her and to those like Kurd who await them in the Kashmiri diaspora. Supportively, Kurd writes that their correspondence is challenged to bring “order, legibility, and linear cohesion to seeming chaos.”

Syed initiates an exchange of poetry that blossoms. In a fragment of an untitled work, she relates that what binds the two in the face of disparate geographies is “...Facebook, there’s Gmail, there’s a search history /... There’s a playlist between us...There is God.” The pair observe the synchronicity of snow and water between their cities as a kind of “Tropic of Poetry.” They also note their mutual questioning of Islam, its historic exclusions of women from Cordoba, Spain to Kashgar, China. This conversation is compounded when Syed reports on an Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca with her mother: the pair are outraged at the strict security within the holy sanctuary areas, prompting Syed to write of her “extreme disgust with patriarchy.” With pent-up anger of her own, Kurd responds from Canada in a poem asking, “could our acts of inspiration/be our true acts of rebellion? /To write upon the surfaces of our exclusion /until we carve a doorway into belonging...”

Kurd comments at one point that it has been a year since the killing of the rebel, Burhan Wani when a subsequent Indian government crackdown compelled her to cancel a visit to Srinagar. The result has been, as Syed has noted, “the clash of extreme force and extreme resistance.” Few Canadian readers however, will know of this rebel leader killed in a gun battle and an explanation of his significance is needed. That’s the rub with reading text message conversations that tend toward the hyper-lean. Occasionally an e-link reference will appear that if searched provides valuable depth information, but in print this doesn’t work and critical narrative meaning is lost. Some basic footnotes would provide clarity. A back-of-book glossary of the dozens of Urdu terms would also be helpful.

But life goes on. Ultimately, Kurd is able to visit Srinagar for a family wedding. The friends meet, although there is illness and some things are unaccomplished. Syed talks of an engagement, then disillusionment. Kurd mentions a rare, welcome stroll with her son, and both find retreat in the landscape comforts of their respective cities—Vancouver’s wooded parks; Srinagar’s Dal Lake houseboats and Mughal gardens. It’s these simple moments that offer relief from daily hardship, but the coronavirus arrives in Kashmir too, then existential crisis. Inspiration comes through craft discussions and searching poetic analysis, particularly the stylized Persian ghazal form each loves. Rahat shares a searching poem/critique, “Alkohol” with a blistering view of gender relations, proposing, “Could it be the only sexy thing/ever suspended in the air/between women and men/...the promise to meet as equals?”

The grief continues. Syed takes her little niece out to the festive Eid prayers in all her finery and they must walk among armed soldiers while the mosques are “roaring with the takbeer prayer”—Allahu Akbar. When the child’s innocence backs off the soldiers, Syed bravely offers to escort her grandparents outside. It’s heartbreaking to read. Her auntie concludes, “the zeitgeist isn’t of revolution but wretchedness.”

By the end, as Kurd hopes, their poetic correspondence creates “a fierce, substantial body of work”—not without imperfections, but that defiantly recounts in a time of conflict and trauma “what love is possible from a place of despair.” 9781772013573

Trevor Carolan’s most recent book is Road Trips: Journeys in the Unspoiled World (Mother Tongue, 2020)