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Crossing the Line of Partition,
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This review is from: At the Time of Partition (Paperback)
My first acquaintance with the poetry of Moniza Alvi came when in 1994 she was listed with 20 other poets as one of the Poetry Society's "New Generation." Most of those poets are still writing and have continued to win plaudits. Of them Alvi stood out for me for a couple of reasons.
Some of her poems reflect on her being a child of two cultures, namely Pakistani and English. One of her poems in this vein has reflected on how she became an English girl. Another, well anthologised poem, dealt with a relation arriving in England and travelling on a train seeing all the washing hung out. This itself shows, metaphorically, another current in her work of looking for patterns beneath the surface, including metaphysical and psychological patterns and even directly exploring what a soul is or might be as in her collection Souls. Many of her poems have also a distinctly colourful, surreal aspect as in an early one " I Would Like To Be A Dot IN A Painting by Miro" or in later poems with a fabulistic edge like those in How the Stone Found Its Voice. Perhaps I should also add that these are all told in a very direct and visceral language, which those suspicious of modern poetry need not be out off by.
In "At A Time of Partition," Alvi returns to earlier times in her family history before those explored in her previous collections. This is the chaotic time of Indian and Pakistani independence, with the partition of those two countries split by religious as well as political differences. A time when people dashed across borders into which ever of the new countries they hope to feel safe in. Yet Alvi shows an acute awareness that this partition still has repercussions. As she states:
Can it it be studied like life on a leaf
or under a stone?...
Pity the ending.
No story has an ending."
The story unfolds looking at people lost in the chaos. People praying for and imagining better futures. Attempts to resettle in a country that is not a one like on One Thousand and One Nights but a country in embryo, subject to poverty and uncertainty. The man story of both men and women caught up in events beyond their control, and how they look beyond this to the possibilities of a possible better life in England, which also has uncertainties as reflected in the literature of Hardy and Dickens.
This span is a new departure for Alvi, who has written sequences of poems before, but none that weaves an almost epic tale in this way. It is however an epic which does not gloss over the intimacies of human sufferings, which are also carried with great delicacy. She has lost none of her capacity to examine these with great sensitivity, and to look them from new and surprising angles. Readers new to her work, or new to contemporary poetry will find this a good volume to start. Those of us more familiar with her oeuvre, here is more to read, ponder over and savour.