Poet of Honour: Moniza Alvi

Poet of Honour, an accolade by Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation, celebrates our best contemporary poets we should have read by now. They are iconic and a major inspiration.


One can be unbearably expressive with the implicit statements, but when you are not being Bukowski, a good poet shows us how doubly effective the subtly can be and how it devastates us with a message that can whip up in us reactions more strongly than any megaphone noise ever can. This month, Moniza Alvi brings us such a shattering reality and leaves us asking to redefine the use of the word animal. When I watched the harrowing award-winning series Delhi Crime on Netflix, it reminded me that miles away from the megaphone feminism the artists can create a better narrative than the political correctness that springs up from any tribal uprising! I hasten to add that Moniza’s poems here may be dealing with one issue, the poet’s palette is wide-ranging. A key to notice is her craft: very precise and incisive with each word weighing in with its presence. Just look at the poem Candle. With candle, caves, stalagmites and stalactites, does it need to say more? That such mastery appears throughout her collected oeuvre is what makes Moniza our extraordinary poet. I must thank Neil Astley and Bloodaxe once again for their kindness and permissions as with some of our previous Poets of Honour, Imtiaz Dharker, Pascale Petit, Vidyan Ravinthiran and Tishani Doshi.

-Yogesh Patel MBE


Poems by Moniza Alvi

Mermaid

after the painting ‘When We Talk About Rape’ by Tabitha Vevers

About human love,
                            she knew nothing.

I’ll show you he promised.
But first you need legs.

And he held up
                          a knife    

with the sharpest of tips
to the ripeness of her emerald tail.

She danced an involuntary dance
captive
             twitching with fear.

Swiftly
             he slit

down the muscular length
exposing the bone in its red canal.

She played dead on the rock

             dead by the blue lagoon
             dead to the ends of her divided tail.

He fell on her, sunk himself deep
into the apex.

Then he fled
                     on his human legs.

Human love cried the sea,
the sea in her head.               


Candle

The fresh wound is a candle
Lighting steps down into the caves.

Among stalagmites and stalactites
The old wound crouches low.


The Sleeping Wound

Hush, do not waken
The sleeping wound.

It lies on its crimson pillow,
red against red.

The long wound in the afternoon.
The long wound in the evening.

Centuries later,
no longer red,

it opens its eyes
at the most tentative kiss.


Happiness

Halfway down the stairs
I hugged it to my chest.

It was the size of a small
collection of laundry,

The shape of the bundle
Dick Wittington carried

on a stick at his back,
or the tiny parcel of spices

(the woody ones)
My mother would lower

for the duration
into a pot of steaming pullao rice.

For the duration.
that would be a fine thing.


Moniza Alvi
Moniza Alvi



Moniza Alvi was born in Pakistan and grew up in Hertfordshire. She worked for many years as a schoolteacher in a London comprehensive school. Moniza has published nine poetry collections including The Country at My Shoulder (OUP, 1993) which was shortlisted for T.S. Eliot and the Whitbread poetry prizes, and chosen for the New Generation Poets promotion.  Europa (Bloodaxe, 2008) and At the Time of Partition (Bloodaxe, 2013) were both Poetry Book Society Choices and shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.  She received a Cholmondeley Award in 2002.  Homesick for the Earth, her versions of the French-Uruguayan poet Jules Supervielle, was published by Bloodaxe in 2011. A new collection Fairoz will appear in spring 2022.

To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Cyril Dabydeen

Tishani Doshi

Martina Evans

Sinéad Morrissey