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Rishma Dunlop - Award Winning Canadian Poet


Reading Like a Girl

In Reading Like a Girl, award-winning poet Rishma Dunlop blends the autobiographical with the imagined to produce an evocative collection of 21st-century poetry. From the childhood book that “thumbs her open” to the post-9/11 classroom in which she must somehow bring meaning to “rows of firemen’s boots abandoned,” Dunlop’s brilliant language explores what it means to learn and teach in an increasingly violent and fractured global landscape. An essential book from an uncompromising voice.

Reviews and Praise for Reading Like a Girl

If there is a precipice at which language, especially its lyrical form, must hover, in order for one to feel dangerously alive and subsequently on the verge of death, then Toronto poet Rishma Dunlop takes us there, seducing us with a relentless passion for the intangible beauty wrought visible in “objects” cathected with reverence and desire.

Lydia Kwa, West Coast Line 38.3
A Round, Full Moment: Review of Rishma Dunlop’s Reading Like a Girl

Guided by the heart of a girl and written by the hand of an experienced poet, the lyrical meditations in Reading Like a Girl take us on a journey through a poet’s life, storied and mediated by the texts she reads. This is poetry that has the smell of ink and the smell of skin, as Dunlop writes: “a poetry of shine.” Rishma Dunlop speaks eloquently from the perspective of a witness as much as a participant, bringing us into a world one can’t be immune to.

Goran Simic, author of Immigrant Blues and Sprinting from the Graveyard

Dunlop’s phrasing…can spur leaps of the heart; she’s a writer whose passion and large-spiritedness are inspiring.

Barbara Carey, The Toronto Star

Born in India, but raised in Ottawa and Anglo-Quebec, Rishma Dunlop has experienced decolonization on two continents. In Reading Like a Girl, she reconnoiters the world – yielding fine poems on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the Serbian repression of Albanian Kosovo – but also personal pieces connecting literature and lived experience.

In the title poem (really a series of five), the persona recalls “The nurse (distributing) pamphlets about / life cycles and Kotex,” and brochures featuring “the beautiful fresh-faced / girl, blonde hair swept back with pink satin ribbon,” she and other young women are asked to emulate. Instead, “It takes us years before we realize how many / things will make us bleed, how easy / for the world to rip us to pieces.”

… Dunlop is concerned, in this very good book of poems, with mental liberation: “We do not choose to love. / It breaks us and we obey.”

“Your hands wrench open the history I bear. / My black vault is unlatched for you to enter.”

Open this book; read like a girl.

George Elliot Clarke, The Halifax Herald

White Album

White Album charts the life of a young woman born in India in the late 1950s and growing up in Canada during an era of explosive change, both political and cultural. Set to some of the most popular and revolutionary music of the last half century, White Album   explores how the white noise of history―the chanting crowds, the gunshots, the guitar feedback - soundtracks the formation of a sense of self. Rishma Dunlop's luminous poems present a moving memoir about what it means to live in an increasingly fractured and precarious, postcolonial world. The book resonates with the sounds of global music, including The Beatles, jazz, rock-and-roll, soul, gospel, ghazals, and zydeco. Blurring together diverse media, White Album   blends the words of award-winning poet Rishma Dunlop with the paintings of acclaimed artist Suzanne Northcott. The result is an interdisciplinary collaboration and a groundbreaking collection―a montage of brilliant images, set to a score of electric, yet lyrical language. White Album   is a unique and essential work of 21st-century poetry and visual art.

Reviews and Praise for White Album
Bracketed by the violence of the turbulent 1960's and our current violence of terrorism and the war in Iraq, this extraordinary collection of poetry draws us into the life of a Canadian woman of Indian descent as she grows up in a hybrid world where she helps her father wrap his turban each morning and yet sings along with him to An English Country Garden; where she marries in a sari, yet grooves to Motown and irons her hair to look like Ali McGraw in Love Story. The collection is also luminously inflected with loss―the death of her father, the loss of her innocence, the loss of her daughters as they take up their own trajectories.  Rishma Dunlop's work, in the vein of writers like Wayson Choy and Judy Fong Bates, documents the life of those who were multicultural when Canada was overwhelmingly white and Anglo-Saxon. White Album  speaks for that silent generation. In her poetry, Dunlop brings such a knife-like precision of language, such a concentrated clarity of image, to the life documented that it riains seared indelibly into our minds.
Shyam Selvadurai, author of Funny Boy

White Album       offers the impossible and necessary love song of our time, reaching half-way around the world, to gather the available fragments of disparate cultures, places, times, in a passionate, dissonant, gritty, open-eyed ibrace. The lush interplay of image and text adds shivery, contrapuntal textures to this pleasurable read.
Di Brandt, author of Now You Care

Each lucid image shines in Rishma Dunlop's fourth book of poems, White Album. Sometimes mournful, sometimes full of sass, her poems come marbled with song lyrics, and blended both with memories of a suburban girl's coming of age and coming to grips with her heritage.  Dunlop achieves her crystalline power by directing a bright white light on all her manifold subjects. Here is a poet who, with muscle, grace, and even a discography, fearlessly focuses on the contradictions of her time.
Molly Peacock, author of Second Blush


Metropolis is a visionary work that dreams the elegiac landscape of cities like Toronto, where genteel Victorian culture leans hard against Sri Lankan ghettos; where prostitutes and cocaine dealers ply their trade next to green streets immaculate with rose gardens. In Metropolis, urban portraits of violence, grief, mourning, and joy are underscored by philosophical, historical, and theological concerns. Rishma Dunlop has a gift for looking at cities in all their contradictory beauty and reading the scars of history as the graffiti of everyday life.

Reviews and Praise for Metropolis

Metropolis is a gritty testimonial of the city life, from the copper shine of roofs to the indifferent glares of pedestrians. There is an otherworldly quality to this poetry collection, as if Dunlop observes the world and then seeks to internalize it. [...] Dunlop has an innate ability to contextualize tragedy and the loneliness of the city with the hope of love, of restoration. [...] Dunlop's genius lies in her documentation of the human psyche and the desire for human interaction. [...] In her poem "Seeing", she masterfully describes the city as a "glass book." Metropolis is a glass book in itself, and each poem is a window overlooking the intricate life of a city.

Sheniz Janmohamed, City Masala
Excerpt from review of Rishma Dunlop's Metropolis

The Body of My Garden

In The Body of My Garden, Rishma Dunlop takes a voyage around the heart in poems that embody the burdens and exhilaration of love. Whether recreating the paradise gardens of Moghul India, or writing an erotically charged poetry of absent lovers, Dunlop uses language in a painterly way, creating sensory images that shimmer with light and humanity while probing the darkness of a sometimes paradoxical and violent world. Ultimately this romantic collection of poems is about seeking grace in the eros and desires of everyday life.

Reviews and Praise for The Body of My Garden

Grieving, celebratory, these are sensuous songs for the world's body and for our own easily broken bodies. With care she extracts the words of a lover's yearning. Above all, most movingly, most finely, she sets those of a mother aching for the lives of those jeopardized by the cruelties and accidents that would claim them. Lines that startle and please so much you might, like me, write them down, think of committing them to memory, wishing they were your own.

Dennis Cooley

The romantic, The Body of My Garden (Mansfield, 2002), comes from the skillful, painterly pen of Toronto poet Rishma Dunlop. These sensuous songs embody the burdens and exhilarations of love as the poet seeks grace in everyday life. The language shimmers as it probes the darkness of our paradoxical world, finding salvation in the many forms that love may take.

The Comstock Review (

[...Dunlop] has gathered fifty-two poems under six titles that provide directions for reading the book, that is, as if it were separate chapbooks about a woman's love, and a mother's love. But this does not detract from the book as a collection; rather it shows the versatility and craft of this writer. It was difficult to find a favourite poem, for much of this work sparkles. Wherever one turns, words fly out and blind the reader.

I have opened up the Atlas with my bones
found my own wild acres (Geography)

I am signed by you
your name stroked
upon my forehead (Autograph)

I will always know your absence
as an alphabet; it spells my name. (Variations of Blue: ii)

Dunlop combines the academic precision she has learned as a professor of literary studies with the casualness of a poet in love with the written word. Dunlop is not afraid to open up her heart. For all who love or have ever loved, this collection is a must.

Joy Hewitt Mann, The Danforth Review (


Edited by Moira Richards, Rosemary Starace and Lesley Wheeler

Rishma Dunlop's poem, "Naramata Road," is included in the ground-breaking anthology, Letters to the World: Poems From the WOM-Po Listserv. Letters to the World is the first anthology of its kind-a collaboration from the Discussion of the Women's Poetry Listserv (Wom-po), a vibrant, inclusive electronic community founded in 1997 by Annie Finch. With a brief introduction by D'Arcy Randall and brief essays by the poets themselves reflecting on the history and spirit of the listserv, the book presents a rich array of viewpoints, and poems ranging from sonnets to innovative forms. The 29 contributors represent 19 countries and 5 continents including: Australia, Canada, Cuba, France, Greece, India, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Palestine, Philippines, Romania, South Africa, UK, and the United States.

White Ink

Edited by poet Rishma Dunlop, White Ink is a rare and stunning collection by some of the finest poets of the late twentieth and early twenty first century. White Ink is an anthology in which the world's social and political changes, as well as the imaginative pulse of the past three decades, are uniquely reflected in poetry on motherhood. The mother emerges as a powerful, recurring, and central theme in contemporary poetry, written across cultures, ethnicities, languages, genders, and across geographies, politics, and histories White Ink offers the reader a selection of some of the most compelleing voices on the subject, male, female, and international. Unsentimental, edgy and unflinching, this is a gem of an anthology. A beautiful satisfying read.

Poets include Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Joy Harjo, Sharon Olds, Gwendolyn Brooks, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, Allen Ginsberg, Irving Layton, Priscilla Uppal, Sandra Gilbert, Grace Paley, Samuel Menashe, Marilyn Hacker, Steven Heighton, C.D. Wright, Cherrie Moraga, Natasha Trethewey, Rita Dove, Adrienne Rich, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Nicole Brossard, Marie Ponsor, Mahmoud Darwish, Naomi Shihab Nye, Fady Joudah, Daphne Marlatt, Molly Peacock, and many others

Art, Literature and Place

In this special issue of the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, guest editor Rishma Dunlop has compiled a collection of essays, poems, and visual art that explores the interfaces between ecopoetics and other narrative and artistic practices, in the context of  environmental studies. The essays included in this issue address ecological concerns in ways that are innovative for the 21st century. The issue renders palpable the natural world through stories about violence, militarism, imagination, literary traditions, and a global consideration of the possibilities of art in our current historical situations.

Red Silk

Red Silk: An Anthology of Canadian South Asian Women Poets

Edited and introduced by Rishma Dunlop and Priscila Uppal

To link to a review of Red Silk published in The Globe & Mail (April 8, 2005) click here:

The poets in Red Silk explore the diversity, heterogeneity and complexities of South Asian Canadian identities. The poems collected here enact how ordinary objects, a word, a gesture, as well as cultural, religious, and linguistic origins, can trigger a cascade of memories and responses that mark one as South Asian.

Where Is Here

Rishma Dunlop's radio play "The Raj Kumari's Lullaby," was commissioned by CBC Radio in 2005. It is a coming-of-age story set in Beaconsfield, Quebec beginning in the late 1950s and early 60s. It dramatizes the story of a young girl who immigrated to Canada from India. The play documents the lives of those who were multicultural when Canada was predominantly white and Anglo-Saxon. The script includes poems from Rishma Dunlop's collection Reading like a Girl, and is scored by a 1960s soundscape. Inspired by the author's autobiography "The Raj Kumari's Lullaby," the characters in the play reveal the cultural and linguistic complexities encountered in the suburbs of Montreal.

Exile Book of Poetry in Translation: 20 Canadian Poets Take on the World

Rishma Dunlop's translations of Cuban poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela were published in The Exile Book of Translations: 20 Canadian Poets Take on the World. This book is a multi-lingual collection promoting a global poetic consciousness, and presenting the works of international poets in their own languages alongside English translations by some of Canada's most esteemed poets including: Ken Babstock, Dionne Brand, Nicole Brossard, A.F. Moritz, and the anthology's editor, Priscila Uppal.


Studio is an on-line, international literary journal with a focus on the cultural work of poetry in contemporary society. Peer reviewed and published twice a year, Studio seeks to present outstanding poetry and poetry criticism from Canada and abroad, while offering an innovative and unprecedented focus on the interdisciplinary relationships between poetry, education, cultural studies, and other art forms. Every issue of Studio will feature a pedagogy section that explores issues of education related to poetry and the education of the poet.

Additionally, Studio provides a forum for the concerns of poetry in relation to literary studies, internationalization, globalization, contemporary society, and human rights. Studio introduces established and new poets, translators, and writers to a large, on-line, global readership. Studio is supported collaboratively by the Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, the Faculty of Education and Department of English, York University.

Rishma Dunlop - Award Winning Canadian Poet