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Born in Lahore, Pakistan, hybrid-artist Ayesha Raees spent her childhood moving frequently. As displacement became a facet of her identity, it also started showing up as a common theme in her creative work. In many poems, such as in “SI Unit,” she describes her impartial existence being displaced from childhood to womanhood: “I spent much of my little girl in a traveling house. I spent much of my womanhood in an emptying room. I mean, this car, this train, this airplane, is a partial space for impartial exist.”

Now living in Brooklyn, New York, Raees uses poetry to bridge her journey and homes together. Her poems often merge with photography, paint, and video. Her video poem “Don’t Put Baby In The Registry” is currently on exhibit at the COMO Museum of Art, and her first book Coining a Wishing Tower won the Broken River Prize judged by Kaveh Akbar, and is forthcoming from Platypus Press in March 2022.

For Raees, displacement is a reminder that every experience is a greeting. It is a welcome, but also a goodbye.

“The theme of displacement, in every context of its meaning, has become a bridge, in my memory, to my being,” she said. “It helps me acknowledge that I may have moved a lot, but there is still settlement in it. That I’m both fleeting yet concrete at the same time.”

For Raees, displacement is a reminder that every experience is a greeting. It is a welcome, but also a goodbye.

Beyond her lived experience, Raees also portrays the ancestral importance of displacement in her work. In her poem “Bird Fight” she laments on lost speech, butchered land, and parallels ancestral displacement with her own. She feels it is important to recognize these feelings and histories due to how her maternal grandparents faced displacement of their own due to the 1947 partition, and how her mother grew up as the second generation of Pakistan.

Grief River, by Ayesha Raees.

“Acknowledging all of these events, both personal and political, can give ode to my ancestors,” Raees said. “And if everything really is fleeting and displaced, I think my poems are an anchor that holds everything in place.”

But Raees’ art does more than explore displacement. Often, her poetry breaks the conventionality of a particular form. Instead, she believes that hybrid forms give her the allowance to truly express herself. Depending on what she wants to express, her poems can be found anywhere: in photo collages, between paint strokes, even recorded over archival footage. Raees believes her expression relies on the freedom of hybrid art, but she also feels there is a very real contemporary need for it.

“Experimental and interdisciplinary forms give context to breaking conventionality of very old school, very white ideas of what is correct,” she said. “What makes a poem a poem? What makes a story a story? These ideas stem from old literary world narratives where white identities excelled, set the rules, and formed a system.”

These practices might not be compatible with people of color, women of color, queer identities, and marginalized identities’ ways of telling stories, Raees explains. So, using the word “hybrid”  gives her the power to then create a poem as a video, or photograph, or painting. And for her, this is retaliation to whiter literary forms of suppression as well as the oppression of creative practice.

…for her, this is retaliation to whiter literary forms of suppression as well as the oppression of creative practice.

Her latest video poem “Don’t Put Baby In The Registry” illustrates how a mastery of hybrid form allowed her to voice her immigrant Muslim experience in America. Narrated by an automated voice like Siri, it showcases how a generated, amiable personality is more consumable than her voice as a Muslim, Pakistani woman.For the artist, the piece also reflects a historical moment on what it meant to be in America during the Trump era when the Muslim ban was in effect.

“Having the knowledge that there are registries out there that are full of Muslim names made me ask the question: what does it mean to be surveilled when one is just trying to live life, but in the end, is reduced to political nuance?” she said.

Raees is now bringing her experimental journey of displacement to her latest book of poetry, Coining a Wishing Tower. A linear story told in fragments, it includes characters named HouseMouse, GodFish, the Cat, the Moon, and the Sun. She feels that her work is not traditionally defined poetry because it doesn’t present itself in just one specific genre.

The book went through many rejections, but for Raees, the idea of it coming true is a reflection of its title.

“The wishing tower is derived from the western idea of throwing a coin to make a wish in a wishing well,” she said. “But a wishing tower reflects more of a godly thing that you knock on. And coining is almost like stoning.”

I Visit JFK Like I Visit a Temple, by Ayesha Raees.

The image in her head is of throwing a coin at a tower just like stoning a tower, or knocking at this grand thing to get its attention so it can make one’s wishes come true. And this unconventional work definitely demands attention – the collection reads like an intimate journey bridging memoir and fiction: snippets of family memories interwoven with her HouseMouse and GodFish characters growing from their own moments of love, loss, and, especially, faith.

Raees’ chapbook is just the next step in her journey to push the bounds of contemporary poetry. She hopes to continue autobiographical hybrid work that gives ode to her truths and histories; as well as to continue to experiment with the idea of what a poem is, or can be.