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About the Poet Born in Pakistan and brought up in Scotland, Imtiaz Dharker is a poet, artist and documentary film-maker who divides her time between London and India. This mixed heritage and itinerant lifestyle is at the heart of her writing: questioning, imagistic and richly textured poems that span geographical and cultural displacement, conflict and gender politics, while also interrogating received ideas about home, freedom and faith. Yet for all the seriousness of her themes, Dharker is a truly global poet, whose work speaks plainly and with great emotional intelligence to anyone who has ever felt adrift in the increasingly complex, multicultural and shrinking world we inhabit. For a number of years now, her poems have been taught on the UK national curriculum. Right from 'Speech Balloon', which energetically opens this Archive recording, charting the spread of a phrase from one culture to another, you experience Dharker's restless search for meaning and identity; what critic Arundhati Subramaniam describes as an "unabashed embrace of unsettlement as settlement" and "an exhilarating sense of life at the interstices". This is resonant in companion pieces 'Living Space' and 'One Breath', in which the fragility of homes in Mumbai, India becomes a wider metaphor for unstable personal and communal identities, as it is in the title poem from Leaving Fingerprints (2009), where the symbolism of those marks – immutable, personal and unique – merges with the stratigraphy of the living landscape.

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.
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  • Leaving Fingerprints
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