Words, to me, are needle and thread, brick and window, heart and sleeve.

On a page, they are the line and curve, the dot and dash that can summon a memory to my mind, brim a world in my eyes, stir a new breeze in my body. When given voice, the right words can place the scent of an old lover back in my hands, they can strum a harp I didn’t know I had inside of me, they can move through my breath like music, like something thinner than air, something close to silence, something more than words can say.

Sanam as a child, with her mum

I grew up in a city in the South of India called Bangalore. Ulsoor Lake hangs in the backdrop of most of my memories, a thick knot of mosquitoes always swaying above the water’s roll and ripple— mosquitoes my mama would swat with her dupatta as she braided my hair on the jhoola. I left home to come to the USA in 2014 and earn my BA in Creative Writing. There is something about coming into yourself in a place that is so completely foreign that is both painfully silencing and utterly freeing. In the wind of this discovery, Philadelphia opened its arms to my poetry. It listened. It pulled the rocks from my fist and laid them at my feet. Stepping stones. I built family and community. I grew. I traveled and shared my work. Over and over again, I have been astonished by the way in which these words, these sturdy vessels, these gentle hands, have carried me across my own mind and then upward, onward, into the world beyond it.

Right now, I am based in Philadelphia, working, with much love, on my debut poetry collection. I graduated from Washington University in St.Louis with an MFA in Creative Writing in May of 2021. I spent 2018-2019 traveling the globe as a Thomas J.Watson Fellow, exploring storytelling as a form of healing.  To me, queerness and gender fluidity is a lens of liberation. I believe we survive by the light of our stories. I believe the power of vulnerability is transcendental when we as poets can offer our own trembling voices to the webs we’ve spun, and this cements my allegiance to the artform of spoken word. We are all here together so wondrously, yet so briefly. I think we can preserve our imaginations by creating them. Thank you for leaning in, for listening, for bearing witness.

Sanam Sheriff is a queer poet and artist from Bangalore, India. She has received support from the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, The Watering Hole, Pink Door, Seventh Wave, and is a Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Academy of American Poets, The Offing, Vinyl Poetry & Prose,  Black Warrior Review, Kweli Journal, Shade Literary Arts, DW B, and elsewhere. Sanam holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. She currently resides in Philadelphia, PA, and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College. Sanam is working, with much love, on her debut poetry collection.