Poet professor explores the Metropolis

Rishma Dunlop (left) is hard to find. The York professor’s home – a small, renovated coach house in Toronto’s historic Cabbagetown district – lies tucked behind other houses and is accessible only via laneway. It is also the perfect geographical metaphor for her new collection of poetry, Metropolis (2006), a small but urgent volume that explores the intersections and alleyways of the post-9/11 global city.

“This book marks a departure for me,” said Dunlop, professor of literary studies in York’s Faculty of Education and author of several acclaimed volumes of poetry, including Reading Like a Girl (Black Moss Press, 2004) and The Body of My Garden (Mansfield Press, 2002). She is co-editor, with York Professor Priscila Uppal, of Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Canadian Women Poets (Mansfield Press, 2004).

 “While my previous collections have been described as very lush and intimate, this is an edgier book, a more urban book,” Dunlop said. “The poems are not conventionally pretty. They’re like shards of broken glass that you’d find on a city street.”

Metropolis‘ poems span a wide range of subjects that are highly relevant to contemporary urban life, from drug abuse and homelessness to globalization and terrorism – all captured in Dunlop’s vivid and often devastating language. One poem hauntingly describes a New Orleans “French Quarter rot and filigree”. Another poem explores a Venice that is “lavish with gondolas and moonlight”, crumbling around itself. Yet another poem sets off “rush hour bombs on subways”. Despite its seemingly cosmopolitan reach, Metropolis returns again and again to the local, situating itself in the streets of Toronto and reminding readers, ultimately, of the interconnectedness of the global landscape.

“The world is not a compartmentalized place,” said Dunlop, who was born in India and raised in Ottawa and Beaconsfield, Que. In fact, the award-winning poet and scholar has spent much of her academic career breaking down boundaries – in particular, the traditionally rigid divisions between academic scholarship and artistic practice.

In addition to her academic and poetic activities, Dunlop has also worked with fiction and radio drama. She frequently collaborates with visual artists, blending text and image in new and exciting ways. She was a finalist for the CBC-Saturday Night Canada Council Award for Poetry in 1998, for poems that were published as the chapbook Boundary Bay by Staccato Chapbooks in 2000.

“I always strive to integrate my academic work with my creative work,” she said. “And I think Metropolis reflects that desire to think outside of boundaries – whether they’re the boundaries that define our careers or the borders that encompass where we live.”

Metropolis, will be officially launched on March 8, at 7pm, at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Dunlop will also read from Metropolis on Jan. 31 at Ryerson University in Toronto, Oakham House, Room G, at 7pm.

This article was submitted by Jason Guriel, a York PhD student and a frequent contributor to YFile.