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Agarbatti autocorrects to aggravate

and I realize that I am
an electrical current—


My father
lit the bamboo every day

while I was learning to forget my
First Language

at the elementary school
down the street.

I returned to smoke and calm
and a strange loss

emptiness like clockwork

my body void of its vowels, my mouth

with the metallic taste of this country.

Did agarbatti help

my father who diligently set ablaze
the masala tip alongside

the coo of his favourite radio show?

Or was it aggravate? This tall, gentle man
who possessed a red lick of fire

until the Paxil
settled in. Until each elliptical

cracked open and coaxed his spirit

into a thick fog
I would always return to.


*Agarbatti: incense in India
Paxil: antidepressant drug


ALYCIA PIRMOHAMED is a Canadian-born poet living in Scotland. She is a Ph.D. student at the University of Edinburgh, where she is studying poetry by second-generation immigrant writers. Her own writing is an exploration of what it means to be the daughter of immigrants, and grapples with language loss, cultural identity, and displacement. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, and was selected for the 2018 Best New British and Irish Poets anthology. Alycia received an MFA from the University of Oregon.

We asked Alycia to tell us a little bit more about how she ended up writing poetry and what this prize means to her?

I actually ended up taking a poetry workshop in the third year of my biology degree, and found such an incredible and nurturing community within that classroom. Since then, poetry has offered me a method of self-reflection, and a way to consider, understand and reconcile my questions of identity.

I am so honoured to have been selected as the 2nd place winner in the PBS Student Poetry Prize. As an emerging writer, it means a lot to have this opportunity to share my work. I hope that this poem resonates with readers, and I can’t wait to read the other winning pieces!

The winning poems were chosen (blind!) by Faber poet Sam Buchan Watts from 100 entries worldwide and will be printed in our PBS Summer Bulletin poetry magazine. Find out more about the Poetry Book Society and half price student membership here.

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