Edmonton’s new poet laureate, Ahmed ‘Knowmadic’ Ali, is poised to elevate the city’s art scene.
The city announced Tuesday that Ali will take over the role for two years, after outgoing poet laureate Pierrette Requier’s bids farewell on June 30.
Ali, whose family fled civil war in Somalia in 1989, lived in Italy before coming to Canada. In Edmonton, he was co-founder of Breath in Poetry, a spoken word collective.
This new role typically requires laureates to perform poetry throughout the city and reach out to various organizations.
Metro chatted with Ali to better understand what he hopes to bring to Edmonton.
What’s it like to be Edmonton’s new poet laureate?
It’s a huge honour and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’ve always worked towards making sure other people’s voices are heard, so for the city to honour my voice and allow me to speak on an official capacity is really an honour, and I’m looking forward to it.
Tell me about some of the work you’ve done in Edmonton?
I try to empower youth. Nonetheless, I’ve been part of the Breath in Poetry collective, and every Tuesday we have regular poetry nights where we bring artists across the globe and within Canada.
I’ve also worked with disadvantaged youth by going to correctional facilities or working with organizations that don’t have access to art, and to just try to empower people, to raise awareness that art is very good for mental health and it could be considered an actual career. People should value expressing their creativity, because nobody thinks the way we do.
What’s that like, going to correctional facilities?
It’s honestly refreshing. I humble myself, and I’m not here to teach, but to learn, to share knowledge and bring creativity out of them. Sometimes our life might not allow us to do that because there are people struggling to survive.
What got you into poetry originally?
When I was first learning English, my ESL teacher introduced me to Maya Angelou, so I’ve also been interested in poetry and I’ve always loved wordplay, so privately I was writing for that and theatre. It’s when I came to Edmonton that I started performing poetry publicly in 2009.
Can you give me an example of a poem off the top of your mind?
When I set the course for success, I begin with the knowledge that these oceans are capable of swallowing me whole.
I’m a student but a warrior at heart, and my destiny is already set, so I’m not alarmed at these distractions.
Come the waves, try to drown me in overwhelming despair.
To me, failure isn’t an option, but the fail is a necessary step to achieve my dreams, so I’ve accepted that I cannot change the world, and choose to change how I view it.
What’s next now that you’re the laureate?
I hope to take an opportunity to do some self-focus and contribute to the community. It’s about time I publish my collection of poetry. I’ve been discouraged and intimidated for a long time and I think I’ve built enough courage and confidence to do this collection. But I also want to bring a literacy exchange where we bring artists from across the world to Edmonton and do vice-versa, so we can cross-pollinate and raise awareness of Edmonton’s art.
Anything you want to add?
I know this sounds super motivational and extra, but anything is possible. If I can come from a country where English isn’t a first language, but now I speak it and do it as a career, and then be awarded as a career, anything is possible. Whatever you want to do, chase it, because time is the most valuable thing in this world.