Conversations with Natasha Ramoutar and Tazi Rodrigues

We touched base with a couple of the emerging poets from our recently-published Emergence Issue to chat about everyday inspiration, reading different forms, working with a mentor, and how those things have helped inform their writing. You can read these brief interviews with Natasha Ramoutar and Tazi Rodrigues below, and find some of their poetry featured in the Emergence Issue—as well as a link to purchase the issue itself—here. Please note that these conversations are web-only content. Only the poems themselves are printed in Vol. 42 No. 2, "Emergence".

Contemporary Verse 2: How/why did you start writing and what motivates or inspires you to continue? What does your writing process look like?

Natasha Ramoutar: The first story I ever wrote was for a class in grade 4. Since I hadn't seen myself in the stories that lined our bookshelves at school, I really wanted to write a character that looked and felt like me. I continue to centre the familiar when I write. I love documenting those moments that people might consider inconsequential - loitering in the mall, sitting by a waterfront, or taking the bus home. My hometown of Scarborough is a big source of inspiration for me. There is a lot of love, joy, and resilience here.

My writing practice is a bit fragmented these days because I have a full time job. If I have an idea or an image, I'll jot it down in a journal or in the Notes app on my phone. When I get a free evening or weekend, I'll try to build on that snippet or collage snippets together.

CV2: Can you speak a bit to what it was like doing a mentorship with Sheniz Janmohamed? In what way(s) has your writing evolved since working with her?

NR: Although I approached Sheniz to do just a manuscript review, she ensured that it was a well-rounded mentorship. We began most conversations with how we were feeling about the writing life and the larger writing ecosystem we were a part of. She always took time to connect on an emotional level and answer my questions about the industry. We would then move to editing the manuscript itself. Sheniz is a very sharp editor and helped me eliminate excess in my work. She also had prompting questions that helped me reimagine existing poems and write new ones. When the project was edited, she helped me prepare my manuscript for submission and connected me with an independent publisher. My collection is now forthcoming from Mawenzi House in 2020. Lastly, as I was a student at the time and had a limited budget, Sheniz was able to work with that budget at her rate to tailor an appropriate number of sessions.

Sheniz has revolutionized my writing practice, in particular how I self-edit. I am much better now at catching the excess or asking myself prompting questions. I have also learned how to explain the creative choices I make. This has also resulted in me becoming better at giving feedback to others. Finally, this mentorship has changed how I approach writing. I would often write pieces as individual stories or poems. I now conceptualize larger themes for my projects right from the beginning, and use guiding questions to move the project along.

CV2: How has reading helped you as an emerging writer? Do you have a favourite under-appreciated book or writer, or anything you’d like to recommend?

NR: Reading widely has helped open my mind to the possibility of what writing can be. When I start a new project, I like to think about which writers are already writing on that same topic and how I can be in conversation with them - whether that's in poetry, scholarly literature, fiction, or anything other form.

Some of my favourite writers are my peers in Scarborough. Two of my peers, Oubah Osman and Leanne Toshiko Simpson, are also in the Emergence issue of CV2! A few other emerging Scarborough writers who I love include Adrian De Leon, Téa Mutonji, and Chelsea La Vecchia.


Contemporary Verse 2: How/why did you start writing and what motivates or inspires you to continue? What does your writing process look like?

Tazi Rodrigues: I can’t remember not writing. It’s evolved somewhat, but it has always been present in my life in one form or another. Similarly, I can’t pinpoint why I continue, other than I don’t think I can stop.

There is very little consistency in how I write. Sometimes I have a few words pop into my head that become a poem immediately, sometimes I collate fragments over months and eventually end up with a finished piece. Often poems start while I’m walking somewhere, which is when I have enough space in my head for them to form, I think. This is probably the most consistent part of my writing “process” – a need for space in my head and sometimes physical separation from the place I’m writing about in order for the poem to breathe.

CV2: Can you speak a bit to what it was like doing a mentorship with Chimwemwe Undi? In what way(s) has your writing evolved since working with her?

TR: Chim and I met at the first spoken word open mic I ever went to, and with her encouragement, I started regularly attending Voices, Ink. youth poetry slams, which she co-ran. Having somewhere to go once a month, perform my poetry, listen to other young poets, and develop relationships with the Winnipeg poetry community at large was integral to me feeling like part of something as a poet, instead of just an eccentric teen writing in the corner between sports practices. 

Since leaving Winnipeg, I haven’t been part of an in-person, live-feedback poetry community in the same way I was at Voices, Ink. However, I’m still connected online with many poets I met both in Winnipeg and at the national youth poetry slam, and that remains an important part of my sense of writing fellowship. My writing now plays a lot more with space on the page rather than space on the stage, but that element of experimenting with form that I learned mostly in spoken word is still one of my favourite parts of writing.

CV2: How has reading helped you as an emerging writer? Do you have a favourite under-appreciated book or writer, or anything you’d like to recommend?

TR: Chapbooks are my favourite, perhaps underappreciated, medium. I like the possibilities for different tactile manifestations of poetry. As an emerging writer, I think I particularly learn from this length: just long enough to get a satisfying, concentrated dose of a poet’s work, while short enough that they often have intense focus (and many can fit on my bookshelf). I recommend local poets’ chapbooks – wherever local is as you read – as a way of exploring and supporting nearby writing communities.  

Published online January 09 2020.

Natasha Ramoutar is an Indo-Guyanese writer by way of Scarborough (Ganatsekwyagon) at the east side of Toronto. Her work has been included in projects by Diaspora Dialogues, Scarborough Arts, and Nuit Blanche Toronto and has been published in The Unpublished City II, PRISM international, Room, THIS Magazine and more. She is the Fiction Editor of FEEL WAYS, an anthology of Scarborough writing, and the Social Media Assistant at the Festival of Literary Diversity. Her first book of poetry, Bittersweet, will be published in 2020 by Mawenzi House.

Tazi Rodrigues currently lives in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Her work, which is rooted in transit, has previously appeared in Room and Vallum Magazine, amongst others.