Poet of Honour: Mimi Khalvati

Mimi Khalvati
Mimi Khalvati


An eleven year old boy from Aleppo
whose eyes hold only things no longer there
– a citadel, a moat, safe rooms of shadow,
‘afterwardness’ in his thousand yard stare –

years later, decades even, might turn around
to see, through the long tunnel of that gaze,
a yard, a pond and pine trees that surround,
as in a chaharbagh, four branching pathways.

Where do memories hide? the pine trees sing.
In language of course, the four pathways reply.
What if the words be lost? the pine trees sigh.

Lost, the echo comes, lost like me in air.
Then sing, the pathways answer, sigh and sing
for the echo, for nothing, no one, nowhere.

Afterwardness (Carcanet 2019)

Ghazal: It’s Heartache

When you wake to jitters every day, it’s heartache.
Ignore it, explore it, either way, it’s heartache.

Youth’s a map you can never refold,
from Yokohama to Hudson Bay, it’s heartache.

Follow the piper, lost on the road,
whistle the tune that led him astray: it’s heartache.

Stop at the roadside, name each flower,
the loveliness that will always stay: it’s heartache.

Why do nightingales sing in the dark?
Ask the radif, it will only say ‘it’s heartache’.

Let khalvati, ‘a quiet retreat’,
close my ghazal and heal as it may its heartache.

Child: New and Selected Poems (Carcanet Press 2011)

Come Close

Come close the flower says and we come close,
close enough to lift, cup and smell the rose,
breathe in a perfume deep enough to find
language for it but, words having grown unkind,

think back instead to a time before we knew
what we know now. When every word was true
and roses smelt divine. What went wrong?
Long before the breath of a cradle song.

Some lives fall, some flower. And some are granted
birthrights, a verandah, a sunken quadrant
of old rose trees, a fountain dry as ground
but still a fountain, in sense if not in sound.

Like a rose she slept in the morning sun.
Each vein a small blue river, each eyelash shone.

Mimi Khalvati
Mimi Khalvati

Mimi Khalvati was born in Tehran and has lived most of her life in London. She has published nine collections with Carcanet Press, including The Meanest Flower, shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize 2007, and Child: New and Selected Poems 1991-2011, a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. She was poet in residence at the Royal Mail and has held fellowships with the Royal Literary Fund at City University and at the International Writing Program in Iowa. Her awards include a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors and a major Arts Council Writer’s Award. She is the founder of The Poetry School, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of The English Society. Her most recent collection, Afterwardness (Carcanet 2019), a series of Petrarchan sonnets, is a Poetry Book Society Winter Wild Card and a book of the year in The Sunday Times and The Guardian.

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