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Poetry Canadian

I have to live


by (author) Aisha Sasha John

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Apr 2017
Canadian, General, Women Authors
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2017
    List Price

Classroom Resources

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A new collection ablaze with urgency and radiant inquiry from a 2015 finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry
A demand and promise; an obligation and challenge; a protest and call: I have to live.
Juiced on the ecstasy of self-belief: I have to live.
A burgeoning erotics of psychic boldness: I have to live.
In which sensitivity is recognized as wealth: I have to live.
Trumpeting the forensic authority of the heart: I have to live.
This is original ancient poetry.
It fashions a universe from its mouth.

About the author

Contributor Notes

AISHA SASHA JOHN is a poet, dancer, and choreographer. Her most recent collection, I have to live., was a finalist for the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize. Her solo performance the aisha of is, which premiered at the Whitney Museum in 2017, will be presented at Toronto’s 2018 Summerworks Festival. In addition to her solo work, Aisha choreographed, performed, and curated as a member of the collective WIVES from 2015–2017. Aisha's other books include The Shining Material and THOU, which was a finalist for both the Trillium and Relit Book Awards. Aisha was the 2018 University of Toronto, Scarborough Writer-in-Residence. She was born in Montreal.

Editorial Reviews


“Aisha Sasha John’s I have to live shows what poetry can become when stripped of prettiness and polite convention—when in survival mode. Spontaneous, its subjects unposed, its language unrehearsed, each poem has the effect of being taken with a polaroid camera. John writes poems that are resistant to overwrought aesthetics, poems that have popular appeal yet are uninhibited by audience, poems whose casual demeanour belie their fight against casualty. They wind their way into us like a chorus. They gain force by accumulation: 'I do. / I did it. / I did. / I had to. / I have to. / I have to live.' As a result, one does not engage with I have to live by familiar means of dissection and analysis. One need only listen, as to an aching friend. No need to fix anything. Just listen.” --Griffin Poetry Prize Jury Citation
Praise for THOU by Aisha Sasha John:
• "An act of deep attention to the physical self, to the positioning of bodies in the world, Aisha Sasha John's THOU takes us on a journey through power and society, hatred and love, anger and healing, offering an intimate, clear-eyed look at our shared humanity. Original, funny, sensuous; at once profound and unpretentious, John's lines are a pleasure and a revelation." -- Jury comment, Trillium Book Award for Poetry
• "To read this book is to experience the poem happening to you--and to want in." -- 49th Shelf
• "A book of meditative chant, sing-song patter and performance lyric, THOU is a collection of poetry shaped around a pronoun, inquiring, shaking and prodding and shattering." -- rob mclennan
• "Aisha Sasha John's THOU re-plays that archaic pronoun as a constantly present movement and rhythm of attention: the suddenness of the interpolative 'moment.' These lines of poetry 'shake . . . a little' as the 'I' narrates and choreographs a monologue of the self in motion; each page is the dance floor and John's words break through the 'I-as-you' with both the foreignicity of anticipation and the reflection of grace." -- Fred Wah
• “[John’s poetry] bristles with an intelligence sharpened on the realization that feeling is a way of thinking. . . . The effect, of looseness carrying and building tropes in a way that explicates and satisfies, while maintaining an air of mystery, makes THOU a model of poetic construction.” — Michael Newton, Urchin Movement

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