This reading comprises Dharker's own selection from her five published poetry collections to date. Those from her earliest books, Purdah (1988) and Postcards from god (1997), feature concise, atmospheric conjurings of place: one of Dharker's better-known poems, 'Blessing', which describes a slum neighbourhood in Mumbai where a mains water pipe bursts, is here read in her captivating trademark style; each lingering vowel sound and full rhyme painting the scene. But there are also poems with a philosophical edge, which ventriloquise the almighty so as to question the nature of belief and the tensions between the religious and secular. In 'Postcards from god I', for instance, the deity is a blank canvas, "nothing but a space / that someone has to fill", while in "Question 1" God becomes a TV channel-hopper, fast-forwarding, pausing and rewinding through our prayers, asking: "Am I there / when I can’t hear your voice"? These poems harbour an obvious gravitas, but their accessibility, contemporaneity, and occasional levity lend them an inviting dynamism.
Poems from a third collection, I speak for the devil (2001), explore the place of women in contemporary societies both East and West. 'Honour killing' is a defiant, subtly politicised piece, beginning with an identity strip-tease; "what happens when the self", as Dharker herself puts it, "squeezes past the easy cage of bone". The subjective nature of perspective and openness of interpretation are also at the crux of a fourth book, The terrorist at my table (2006), which revels in blurring the public and personal. 'The right word' is perhaps the most successful of these: describing the same scene in repeatedly differing terms, an anonymous man is seen as a terrorist, freedom fighter, guerrilla warrior and martyr, before being cast as "a boy who looks like your son". This Archive recording, then, gives listeners the chance to fully experience Dharker's poems with all of their bristling nuances; her introductions to, and delivery of the poems as measured, detailed and illuminating as the distinctive drawings which also feature in her published collections.
Imtiaz Dharker's recording was made on 22nd June 2010 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.