Letter Out: Letter In


poems by Salilmah Valiani

170 Pages
October 01, 2009

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Letter Out : Letter In is a poetic synthesis of social commentary, political-economic analysis and philosophical meditation. Re-interpreting meanings and frames of reference by taking distance, the poems delve into the complexities of divisions, and explore the Sufi notion of love. The first section, Letter to South Africa, offers a uniquely Canadian perspective on post-Apartheid South Africa. Letter to Canada is a re-examination of Canada following from experiences of South Africa. Letter to All moves beyond borders, to larger frames of reference. The final section, Letter Out : Letter In, attempts to relocate the individual within the big picture. 

In Letter to South Africa Valiani holds a mirror to our faces. She shines a torch on the selves we may not wish to illuminate and on those we’d like to remodel. Blink, close your eyes, shift, crouch, turn around, hide – her words expose like the midday sun.
—Makhosazana Xaba, Poet, these hands (2005) Tongues of Their Mothers (2008)

Salimah Valiani’s work embodies a miraculous fusion of talents and perspectives.  She shows us the world through a poet’s eyes but with a political-economist’s understanding of power and structure.  Above all she conveys an undying respect for the dignity and staying power of humanity, and an undying hope that we will make it better.
—Jim Stanford , Economist, Canadian Auto Workers

Salimah Valiani asks, “how can we know ourselves/ if we don’t know each other?”  Entering “a dialect of internationalism,” her poems push us to expand our contexts, to look more closely into global dynamics as home.  From revisiting Inuit sculptures in a Canadian airport to a black history tour of Halifax and much more, Letters In: Letters Out responds to what’s happening in our streets and planet today with urgent love. As Valiani reminds us, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabanto”
—Rita Wong, Poet, Winner of the 2008 Dorothy Livesay Prize, for forage (2007)

Letter Out: Letter in

Born in Calgary, Canada, Salimah Valiani is a poet, activist, and researcher of world historical political economy. Active in the international anti-Apartheid movement during the1980s, she also worked in Cape Town in 2004-2005, witnessing the ten year anniversary of the first democratic elections in South Africa. Her experience as an advocate of economic justice spans three continents—Africa, Asia and North America—bringing a unique perspective to her poetry and other writing.

2 reviews for Letter Out: Letter In

  1. InannaWebmaster

    February 18, 2010
    by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
    Letter Out: Letter In
    by Salimah Valiani

    “It’s refreshing to see a new poet on the scene who brings a different perspective to the privileged life we live as Canadians. Salimah Valiani, a queer activist of colour, brings readers to different places with very different views on what it is to educate and challenge through poetry, letters and memoir.

    Packed in the 150 pages that is Valiani’s second, and newest, collection, Letter Out: Letter In, are memories, meditations and calls to action through radical thought and crisp sentences. The collection is split in four parts: Letter to South Africa; Letter to Canada; Letter to All; Letter Out: Letter In.

    Using quotes from notable artists such as Toots and the Maytals, “They can move mountains but only love can set us free,” Jelaluddin Rumi and proverbs from the Zulu Nation, amongst others, Valiani’s own words are ones that could be quoted. In her poem “Love or Death,” Valiani writes: “the present speaks to the violence of the past.” Valiani cleverly writes of colonialism and its after effects without putting a name to it….
    Letter Out: Letter In both educates and entertains readers through Valiani’s different forms of writing — lyric, catalogue, prose and excerpts. Valiani’s thoughts are accessible, true and important.”

    Please see the complete review at:

  2. InannaWebmaster

    June 26, 2011
    The Chronicle Herald
    Excerpts from a book review by George Elliott Clarke

    “Letter In: Letter Out … worries the personal and the political…. [Valiani’s] verse addresses the politics of race in a context of official non-racism, in South, yes, but also in Canada.…
    Valiani’s muse is editorial and didactic, but her sentiments stab and jab. She is Emily Dickinson with a razor at the ready, but she also recalls Maxine Tynes.…
    Letter In: Letter Out is also a red-letter book.”

    Salimah Valiani takes big-picture politics to heart
    WORD & DEED / Valiani’s art and academic work are rooted in activism
    Jorge Antonio Vallejos / Toronto / Thursday, May 06, 2010
    There’s a new writer in town.

    Salimah Valiani, a queer woman of colour, uses poetry to expose truths, confront unjust realities and bring people together.
    Working as a coordinator for Toronto’s Colour of Poverty, a community-based organization that raises awareness about the racialization of poverty, Valiani works on her passion — poetry — in her off hours.

    “I write and read every morning. My creative writing is the start of the day. It sets the tone,” says Valiani.
    Letter Out: Letter In, her new collection, takes big-picture political analysis and searches for ways to “bring it back to the heart.”
    Having started writing at the age of 10, poetry has always been an outlet for Valiani.

    Letter Out: Letter In builds on lessons learned in the fight to end apartheid and a yearlong stay in post-apartheid South Africa.
    “It gives a good reflection on the anti-apartheid movement: what we learned from that, what we’ve forgotten and what we can think of Canada through the lens of South Africa, 10 years after the death of apartheid,” says Valiani.

    A researcher by trade — with a freshly minted doctorate in historical sociology — Valiani’s art and academic work are rooted in activism.
    Raised by parents from East African countries — Tanzania and Uganda — Valiani quickly learned to see the world as political.
    “I was taught that history as a child. I looked at the world through that kind of lens from a very young age. So, I knew the history of Canada as a colony, who we colonized and all the power dynamics of the world economy. Those have always been there, talks at the dinner table woven into how we hear world news today,” says Valiani.

    At age 15, Valiani became part of the international anti-apartheid movement, joining thousands of students in Montreal in the 1980s to protest Canadian companies invested in South African businesses.

    Valiani’s activism continued in Calgary, her place of birth, when writing in the mid-’90s for the now defunct queer publication Outword. She also became involved with The Fire I’ve Become, a queer film and video festival held in Calgary in 1995, organized by Of Colour: Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Colour Calgary.

    Travelling for study and work, Valiani had the opportunity to work as a researcher for an NGO in South Africa in 2004/2005 and see the place she helped change.

    “What I observed in South Africa is people, in facing this one major state force, people came together, they broke down the divisions that were imposed on people and communities,” says Valiani.

    Describing an example closer to home, Valiani recalls a magical time and place where no barriers existed, as a teen in Calgary.

    “I used to hang at a place called Radio City. This was a place for queers, Native peoples, and any other reject in Calgary society used to hang at this bar. We felt like freaks. We felt like we didn’t belong. We had a place there, and we came to know each other in that space. That to me is an ideal now that I’d like to see made a reality in a huge queer community like the one in Toronto,” says Valiani.

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