Verses from the Abstract

A young poet explains how he finds the words

Young man standing on a roof of a building
Courtesy of ManifestoTV

My dad was a social worker. He used to give, even though we didn’t have much. I knew I wanted to help people too, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. And then I found poetry and I found the arts. I was writing about change, about Regent Park, the beauties of my life. Sharing my poetry, I felt like people connected.

I started off at ten years old, just writing to communicate with my sister. I thought it was cool and I loved doing it, but I also felt like I had a voice. As I grew older, my poetry grew as well.

When I’m dialed in, I love every moment of it. I just need to get in my own space and write. There’s this desperation: all of what’s inside just screaming at me to share my words. The most important thing is developing whatever feeling I have. If, as an artist, I’m unable to make myself vulnerable and allow myself to feel, I won’t be able to write.

A little while ago, I was in the studio with Illangelo. Hearing his music felt like a direct portal for my work. I was bursting with inspiration. The next day I woke up at 5 a.m. and wrote poetry the whole morning. There will be weeks when I don’t write at all. And then that will happen. You never know when it’s going to come, but the evidence is there. All over my phone and in my drawer, there are bits of text everywhere: drafts, scraps, pieces of paper. Sometimes my mind races faster than my hand.

I’m writing through the journey. But, if I can’t continue it, I’ll stop and I’ll give it time. When I force the poetry, it’s horrible, it’s never good.

At times, I have felt like I was drowning from carrying all this weight. But, then, I have to wear this mask—I don’t want to break down and show people that I can’t breathe. I make it look like I’m not drowning, like these situations don’t exist, and that everything will be okay.

My friend was shot in the leg last summer. Half of the poem inspired by that, “Closer,” was finished by the hospital bed. I was writing so fast, so fast. I knew exactly what I needed to say. I’d been meaning to say it and I finally got the opportunity. “I’ve been drowning in grief you caused / and for the sake of your family I wore the mask of an amphibian,” goes one line.

Last November, I performed “Danger Zones” at the International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit in Charlottetown. The title suggests what I was driving at. If someone has a safe zone, it’s easy for them to regroup. But when you’re at school and you’re being tormented, and then you go home and it’s all online, there’s nowhere to go. It’s not like it doesn’t exist anymore if you turn off the computer. It’s still there for people to see. You can’t escape and you can’t stop it.

It’s so easy for people to say, “This isn’t my issue. I have my own issues to deal with.” But it’s all about creating a body within our schools, within our communities, within our homes. When you think about a body, if one part is hurt, then the whole body will attend to that one part. That’s what is needed. There should always be love and appreciation to go around for everyone.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Amiri Baraka. He passed away in January, but he’s living on through his words. I know he wanted that for his poetry—for it to live longer than he did. And that’s what I want for my own work as well.

—As told to Julien Russell Brunet

Listen to “Closer” by Mustafa Ahmed. His debut EP, Mustafa the Poet, launches tonight in Toronto. A performance will accompany the release.

Mustafa Ahmed
Mustafa Ahmed started writing at the age of ten as a means of expressing himself and reflecting on society. His poetry touches on the subjects of poverty, drugs, violence, and immigration. Living in Regent Park, Canada’s first inner-city housing project, Mustafa was exposed to the experiences and lifestyles he writes about. Mustafa has performed in association with the Children’s Aid Society, the Toronto District School Board, Hot Docs, and TEDxToronto. You can now purchase his debut EP, either as a CD or digital download, at