Nazifa Islam



a found poem: Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway

She hadn't beauty and knew it.
Hour after hour of life came to stay and made her

feel cut to such an extent that she wrapped herself
in brown paper. The blood that rushed in her

veins shocked her. In summer she sat smoking after dinner
with her arms round her knees

talking to the floor. Society was not to be envied.
The world was nothing kind.

She could quarrel with literally anything:
the penny in her pocket

an old man talking to a ruby ring
the cows in the field. She liked nothing but evening

and night—where ideas were
when a private letter could be written.

Large-eyed life was always
upsetting her.




a found poem: Virginia Woolf's The Waves

The elm tree in the park where I finally clutched your hand.          
The rose umbrella I bought us.
Your voice.

I was so myself—opened up, stupid
always talking. Buzz, buzz, buzz.

You—faithless and empty—darted in and left me
battered and hollow.
Was I the wind of death to you?

When I knew our partings were forever
I walked my cut heart
down into the desert for a lion to destroy.

You once seemed tender.
I doubt it all now.




To write these poems, I select a paragraph of text from a Woolf novel—so far, either The Waves or Mrs. Dalloway—and only use the words from that paragraph to create a poem. I essentially write a poem while doing a word search using Virginia Woolf as source material. I don't allow myself to repeat words, add words, or edit the language for tense or any other consideration. These poems are simultaneously defined by both Woolf's choices with language as well as my own. They feel like an homage to Woolf as well as a way to express my own often-chaotic thoughts about the world I inhabit.