Project Bookshelf with Editorial Intern Ashley Somwaru

I dream of one day having a wall in my home dedicated to shelves of books, books that have journeyed with me across my lifetime and tailored my thinking as a reader and writer. But even with this lovely thought in mind, I know that my ideal storage is impossible when my hands constantly reach out to any book I can get into my grasp. In every corner I settle down to write, there are stacks of books ready to buoy my poetry to safety. I can’t possibly think of placing my collection into one spot when I need it every time I fiddle with my work to get the outcome of a “perfect” line. 

Writer’s block is an illness for me. I almost always sit in my “lucky” chair while the sun starts to warm the room and… just stare at a blank page. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if what I want to write is good enough to take up the white space taunting me. 

The books I’ve read have been open windows to the dust filled room my mind becomes when unwilling to write. They have been the affirmation that yes, voices representing diverse communities do and can exist in literature. Rajiv Mohabir’s The Cowherd’s Son showed me that poetry could successfully be multilingual and be translatable across different communities. Jake Skeets’ Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers gave me permission to extend my poetry across numerous pages. Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas taught me how to write against a narrative and play with page space. Max Porter’s Grief is The Thing With Feathers teased me into leaning towards strangeness in writing. Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightening pushed me beyond my dialectic comfort zone, to go word searching and not get stuck in language.

My futuristic “one day” may or may not come to fruition, but I find supporting marginalized voices in the literary world to be more important. My stacks of inspiration will continue to be from these voices so that I can understand their struggles and join in their conversations for justice and recognition. Topics like Islamophobia, mental illness, domestic violence, queerness, discrimination, and immigration are no longer stigmatized like they used to be. They are taking their rightful spotlight and attention in the reading community.

It is heartwarming to see how cultures inspire a difference in writing and also a similarity in a need for being heard. These amazing writers give me the inspiration to find what is invisible but on the tips of my fingers. They encourage me to believe that what I have to put into words are important and worth reading. They are opening many pathways for more writers with silenced backgrounds to come forward and reveal unique perspectives from their experiences that have been ignored (read: buried).

I may not have an actual shelf in my home for books, but the bookshelf I created in my poetry to accumulate all I’ve learned from these narratives (from writing style to content) feels more rewarding.


Ashley Somwaru is an Indo-Caribbean woman who was born and raised in Queens, New York. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Queens College to immerse herself in pride for her mixed tongue, religious upbringings, superstitions, and cultural traditions that have made her into the red hibiscus she is. As a storyteller and poet, her work seeks to magnify the voices of women in her community, who have been silenced and abused, and to rewrite the history of her ancestors, those who were forgotten. She hopes to find them. Somwaru’s work has been published in Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the Spring 2020 issue of A Gathering Together, and will be in the forthcoming FEED issue of No, Dear.

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