Accepting the Gift, Doing the Work: Angelita Biscotti Interviews Sara M Saleh

By and | 1 February 2022

Catching COVID-19 didn’t stop Sara Saleh from showing up to this discussion about poetry, place, and the place of poetry in the present moment. The exchange took place between 21 – 25 January 2022, quickly expanding into a 7,000-word conversation. The below interview reveals a condensed version of this chat without removing the essence of our exchanges.

Sara has walked many roads, traces of which are present throughout her published work: she is an eldest daughter, child of migrants from Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, community organiser, Juris Doctor graduate, editor, future novelist, advocate, Bankstown Poetry Slam board member, Scorpio Sun, Virgo Rising, Sydneysider, multiple award winner, oat milk drinker, Banksia Bakery apologist, and poet.

Together, we explored Sara’s journey through the often-contentious world of poetry.

Angelita Biscotti: Hello Sara!! How has your day been? These have been interesting times, to say the least.

Sara M Saleh: Bed-ridden this week unfortunately, coming to you from day 10 of COVID, a stockpile of tissue boxes, vitamins, ibuprofen tablets, lozenges, and Hydralyte (COVID survivors toolkit). Yesterday I may have gone back to working from home too quickly, so I decided to give my body the rest and hydration it needs because clearly, it’s in overdrive. It’s been a precarious time. I feel grateful to be supported right now.

AB: I’m so sorry to hear that, Sara. Please do take the time to recover. The thing about mission-orientated humans is that there’s an incredible energy to push beyond the limits of what’s possible – and succeed. But the body and the mind have real limits. If you ever need a rest and recovery playlist, or Netflix recommendations to help with the lie-down period, let me know.

[A space between communications while Sara takes time to recover from the virus and continue with her other commitments]

AB: In a 2012 Cordite Poetry Reviewinterview, Emily Stewart asks Astrid Lorange: ‘What kind of a place is your Sydney? What are your key coordinates?’ I’d like to ask the same of you.

SMS: I don’t think I have ever been asked this question before and I love/hate it … probably because I love/hate ‘Sydney’.

I love it deeply. It is a city that has looked after and grown us, it holds so many people and places I love (Banksia Bakery is the best – fight me), the proximity of country – being in bodies of water, in nature, and of course, any place with books, including my local library, is often where you will find me.

But really people hold the coordinates down for me – my mentors and teachers and elders. Cup of coffee around the kitchen table with them is my starting point. You bring your problems and they have an answer for everything. There’s caffeine and accountability and a whole lot of mockery and laughter. It’s perfect Arab Aunty Energy.

But … I hate the city because how do we ignore the ugly side? The unsafe side? Taxing people out of their family homes, the profiling of us in department stores, the over-policing of black and brown communities and the ‘areas of concern’ rhetoric we recently heard during the lockdown, rhetoric that is an inevitable, logical extension of our elected officials and their racist policies, the fact that even public spaces like parks and stations and benches are made with the intent of keeping the public out! It’s cold and cruel. This is the social theory of space, architecture, and place as power … and it’s playing out daily.

Ultimately, it’s hard to reconcile anything ‘good’ with the fact that we are on stolen land. Hard to ever be truly at peace knowing this.

If people don’t see the cosmetic façade of the city – they are not paying attention. And that’s deliberate.

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