Managing Darkness by Sheniz Janmohamed

“My heart is a wave, blue and breaking on the shore” -Ciaran O’Rourke

It will take more than poetry to come to terms with the many issues facing us today, but it can certainly help ” -Paul Muldoon


This year at IFOA, I had the formidable task of hosting four events and attending various panels. When I wasn’t hosting or attending events, I spent my time in the Author’s Lounge: snacking on cookies, laughing with authors and enjoying the view of planes coming in over the lake to land at Billy Bishop Airport. It was in the moments between readings, panels and discussions that I was able to make connections between what I was hearing and what I was feeling. In all the events I attended and participated in, I listened closely for links between writing and the writing process. What I uncovered were ways in which authors managed grief and darkness—from Ciaran O’Rourke claiming that poets and poetry lovers have a special relationship to misery to Paul Muldoon writing elegies as a way to come to terms with the loss of people in his life.


I had the pleasure of hosting Pushing the Boundaries, a panel discussion with authors Amy Jones, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Suzana Tratnik and Charlotte Wood, which was moderated by Susan G. Cole. The topic turned to exploring ways in which fiction writers use landscape and humour as a way to hold space for darkness. Charlotte Wood spoke to the slippage of reality as vital to her story, counterpointing darkness with humour and the beauty of landscape. Amy Jones confessed that she used humour as a coping mechanism in both writing about darkness and her own experiences of darkness, and that a sense of place rooted her writing. When she was writing Sarong Party Girls, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan reminded herself that it was important to balance darkness with humour, particularly while exploring the suppression of Singlish in Singapore. Suzana Tratnik tackled darkness head-on by creating unlikeable characters, as a nod to the fact that LGBTQ+ people are not two-dimensional.


In Stories of Redemption, another panel I was pleased to host, Darren Greer spoke to writing as redemptive, Cornelia Strube explored the ways in which children manage darkness, and Anosh Irani admitted that he had to mentally prepare himself, as a human and a writer, to write The Parcel. Irani begins his writing process by asking, “What is the wound of this character?”, and then works to expose the wound as a means to bring about healing. Maybe we need to ask ourselves what our wounds are.

It was Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Best Place on Earth, who captured the writer’s condition best, “Is it weird that when things go wrong, I imagine writing about it?”

No, it’s not weird at all.

It’s what we do.


By guest blogger Sheniz Janmohamed. You can follow Sheniz on Twitter @ShenizJ