Brooke Sahni graduated from New Mexico State University in 2019 with her master of fine arts degree in creative writing. She wrote her 38-page book of poems titled “Divining” while working on her thesis at NMSU. After winning the 2019 Orison Chapbook Prize, the company published her work in early July 2020.
Orison Books is a non-profit literary press that publishes spiritually engaged poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Their mission is to be inclusive and open to different perspectives spiritual and religious thoughts, ethnicities, gender identities and sexual orientations.
Each year, Orison Books holds three contests, including the Orison Chapbook Prize for manuscripts of 20-45 pages in any genre. The winner receives a cash prize and publication of their book. Each chapbook manuscript is judged by Luke Hankins, the editor and founder of Orison Books.
Critic Jessica Jacobs said Sahni’s poems “dive into her mixed heritage and follow her journey to find her spiritual identity.” Her work is described as “exalting the borders between human and divine, child and woman, and her personal need to understand her inheritances.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Sahni moved to the Southwest to continue her education at Prescott College in Arizona before attending NMSU to complete her MFA. Sahni started “Divining” while working on her thesis.
“I have always been interested in religion and philosophy,” Sahni said. “Especially questions that move beyond the religious doctrines themselves, but ask, how and why do people tether themselves to particular ideologies?
“In order to avoid sweeping statements and generalizations, I used my two cultural backgrounds, Sikhism and Judaism, as springboards from which to dive into some of these questions,” Sahni said. “The poems in the chapbook are also particular to girlhood; they track the speaker’s coming of age —finding meaning in nature and in sexuality, in her own body.”
It took a year to complete “Divining” and soon after she sent her manuscript to the Orison Chapbook Prize competition. Sahni is grateful her poetry resonated with the judges.
“It always feels good to have work that you’ve spent so much time on recognized by a reader/editor,” Sahni said. “Writing is a solitary act and it is a labor, so when someone publishes something it feels like a relinquishing —like, yes, take this from me, it’s yours now.”
Sahni remembers writing “Divining” with the help of her fellow classmates and Connie Voisine NMSU English associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“All of the poems in ‘Divining’ have been revised several times based on the feedback of my cohort at NMSU,” Sahni said. “We were a small group of three, just me, Jill Mceldowney, Caroline Chavatel and our teacher, Connie Voisine. Their feedback along with NMSU graduate Tyler Julian and my undergraduate mentor Sheila Sanderson were invaluable in helping me make my poems stronger.”
This fall Sahni will move on to Northern New Mexico College, where she will become an English instructor, using what she has learned at NMSU to mentor and teach a new group of budding poets and writers.