Basma Kavanagh is a poet, visual artist, and letterpress printer who lives and works in Nova Scotia, in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. To make her work, she spends time outdoors, attending to the diverse and complex organisms and forces that animate our living world. Her artwork has been exhibited across Canada, in the US, and the Arabian Gulf. She has been an artist in residence at the Banff Centre, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and the Penland School of Craft. She produces artist’s books under the imprint Rabbit Square Books. She is the author of two poetry collections, Distill? (Gaspereau, 2012), and Niche (Frontenac, 2015), which won the 2016 Lansdowne Poetry Prize, and a book-length poem, Ruba’iyat for the Time of Apricots (Frontenac, 2018).
What are you most proud of as an artist?
What excites me as an artist is the interrelationship of mystery, curiosity, and revelation in the creative process: that starting with a germ of an idea, an intuition, a nebulous impulse, that the process itself (listening, discerning) slowly shapes, and slowly reveals, what a project is about, what it will become. It’s tough but fascinating.
What do you believe is the artist’s role in society?
I think artists pull things in from the very edge of knowing and understanding, transforming those things into what can be contemplated, discussed, or enjoyed back in the realm of the everyday.
What was your biggest challenge when creating your nominated work?
The biggest challenge was imagining a world beyond what we’re now calling climate catastrophe. I had to imagine a world with us, and a world without us, and it was (and is) so hard to get past the despair of what’s happening to glimpse our possible futures.
What do you hope the take away is for people experiencing your nominated work?
For starters, I want readers to appreciate that poetry is for everyone. But I also want readers of Niche to connect with the land they live on (Mi’kma’ki), to understand its history, and how that informs its present. To connect with the people, plants, animals, insects, waterways, watersheds, and rocks, of this place. Its stories. I think we make better decisions with love, knowledge, and a sense of responsibility. We need to make better decisions about water, forests, the foods we eat and how things are shared. But…it’s poetry, not an instruction manual, so I also hope readers will find words for grieving the wrongs that have been done, for mourning what’s been lost, and for celebrating what is still here.