Poet Lore and The Writer’s Center present a FREE virtual chat about the craft of poetry! We’re joined by poet Leeya Mehta to talk about her new poetry collection, A Story of the World Before the Fence. Leeya will be in conversation with Emily Holland, poet and Editor of Poet Lore, America’s oldest poetry journal.
RSVP below, and you’ll receive an email on or before January 28 with instructions for joining the chat via our video conferencing platform, Zoom. FREE and open to the public, all times Eastern. Limited space.
We encourage you to order a copy of the book from your local, independent bookseller or online directly from the publisher.
Leeya Mehta is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer and essayist. She is the author of The Towers of Silence and writes a popular column on the reading & writing life, The Company We Keep. Poems in A Story of the World Before the Fence have received an International Publication Award from the Atlanta Review; a Readers’ Choice Award from District Lit; twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize; and a Finalist in the 18th Annual Arts and Letters Rumi Prize for Poetry. A version of the chapbook was a Semi-Finalist for the Black River Chapbook Competition, Black Lawrence Press; and received honorable mention from the Women of Resilience Chapbook Contest, Southern Collective. Leeya was born into a Parsi Zoroastrian family in Bombay. The Zoroastrian Parsis of India trace their descent in different waves from Persia over the last thousand years. They first sought refuge in the tenth century A.D. in Udwada, and other sites on the western coast of India. There are about a hundred thousand Parsis remaining in the world. Nurtured by her mother Avi’s theatre community, Leeya performed on stage and did radio through school and at St Xavier’s College, where poet Eunice de Souza mentored her. She spent much of her childhood living with her mother and maternal grandparents, Armaity and Sorab, whose apartment overlooked the Arabian Sea. Armaity wrote poetry and loved nature. Leeya’s poetry explores the intimate space of the family and how it relates to the physical geography of cities and nature. Leeya spent two years at Oxford University receiving a Master of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) on a Radhakrishnan British Chevening Scholarship. When her mother moved to America, Leeya followed. She received a Master’s in Public Policy from Georgetown University and works at the World Bank. After travels in the Arctic borderlands and a fellowship in Human Rights in Japan, she lives in Washington DC, volunteering for numerous literary organizations as an editor, contest judge and on the board of the Inner Loop Lit. She has recently completed a novel, Extinction. Find her work at leeyamehta.com.
Praise for the Book
A Story of The World Before The Fence is a lush, lyrical study of memory and history. These poems move deftly between the mystical and the known, inviting readers to travel backwards in time and forwards into themselves. Each of us struggles with the heavy-handedness of the past: its merciless shaping of the larger world and, of course, its unrelenting squeeze on our individual lives. Through intense reflection and beautiful invention,Leeya Mehta’s poems offer a kind of second sight. –Tim Seibles
Whether tracing the 10th century journey of religious refugees from Persia to a tender but continually ambivalent asylum in India or dwelling in the complicities and solidarities of our own era, this is a troubled look at belonging, where belonging is ever “like loving a corpse” among “history’s sad funerals”. Mehta’s compassion and clear, unhurried tone leaven the seriousness and ambition of the work’s intellectual horizons, and an emotional power and turbulence as deep as that in certain moods of its Anacostia River: “brown knot of sludge, // a dragon aching.” –Vivek Narayanan
Through centuries and across continents,Leeya Mehta evokes the transgenerational trauma of her ancestors, the Zoroastrian Parsis, to narratively structure an intimate, feminocentric experience of cultural and personal displacement. Her haunting poems, with their hard-won wisdom and exquisite imagery, serve as “a warning that the screws of love sit deep in the bone” despite—yet, perhaps, because of—the various forms of exile that complicate identities, relationships, and senses of place. A Story of the World Before the Fence acknowledges “how barriers can keep / wandering spirits separate from those they love,” but it nevertheless consoles us with the miracle that is laughter: a universal language that can still anchor us to one another and help us learn to forgive ourselves for what we have lost along the way. –Randi Ward