Sujata Bhatt

Image by Carcanet Press

Sujata Bhatt

b. 1956

When I am most deeply absorbed in writing a poem I feel that I am 'translating' images, and sounds, rhythms and an emotional 'tone' into words. - Sujata Bhatt

About Sujata Bhatt

Sujata Bhatt (b. 1956) grew up in Pune but emigrated with her family to the United States in 1968. She studied in the States receiving an MFA from the University of Iowa and went on to be writer-in-residence at the University of Victoria, Canada. More recently she was visiting fellow at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania. She currently lives with her husband and daughter in Bremen, Germany. Her first collection, Brunizem, won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia) and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award. Subsequent collections have been awarded a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and in 1991 she received a Cholmondeley Award.

For Bhatt, language is synonymous with the tongue, the physical act of speaking. She has described Gujarati and the Indian childhood it connects her to as "the deepest layer of my identity". However, English has become the language she speaks every day and which she, largely, chooses to write in. The repercussions of this divided heritage are explored in her work, most explicitly in 'Search for My Tongue' which alternates between the two languages. The complex status of English - its beauties and colonial implications - are also conveyed in the moving ironies of 'A Different History' and 'Nanabhai Bhatt in Prison' about her grandfather who read Tennyson to comfort himself during his incarceration by the British authorities. Such division finds geographical expression in poems which explore ideas of home ('The One Who Goes Away') and question our mental mapping of the world ('How Far East is it Still East?'). It's present too in her voice, with its musical melding of Indian and American inflections.

However, it's in the non-verbal world of animals and plants that Bhatt finds a source of unity denied to humans except for the very young, as in her poem 'The Stare' in which the 'monkey child' and the 'human child' experience a moment of tender connection. Perhaps it is this longing for unity which makes Bhatt's writing so sensual; her poems are rich with the smell of garlic, the touch of bodies, the vibrant plumage of parrots. An intense colourist like the women artists who inspire some of these poems, Bhatt acknowledges that language splits us from experience but through the physical intensity of her writing brings us closer to it so that "the word/is the thing itself".

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 1 September 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Interviews and other readings

Sujata Bhatt interview

Sujata Bhatt is a poet of many different cultures: in this interview...

Pure Lizard, Carcanet, 2006


A Colour for Solitude, Carcanet, 2002


Augatora, Carcanet, 2000


The Harvill Book of Twentieth-century Poetry in English...


Point No Point, Carcanet, 1997


The Stinking Rose, Carcanet, 1995


Monkey Shadows, Carcanet, 1991


Brunizem, Manchester, Carcanet, 1988



1988 Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia), Brunizem

1988 Alice Hunt Bartlett Award, Brunizem

1991 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Monkey Shadows

Prize website

1991 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

2000 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Augatora

Prize website


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1A Different History

2What Is Worth Knowing?

3Search For My Tongue

4The Stare

5Nanabhai Bhatt in Prison

6Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge, July 1990

7The Need to Recall the Journey

8The One Who Goes Away

9How Far East is it Still East?

10Cow's Skull - Red, White and Blue


12The Stinking Rose

13If You Named Your Daughter Garlic Instead of Lily or Rose

14The Voices

15Point No Point

16The Snake Catcher Speaks

17The Fox and the Angel

18The Circle

19The Multicultural Poem

20Self-Portrait with Coppery Red Hair

21No Road Leads to This

22In Her Green Dress, She is

23A Colour for Solitude

24Self-Portrait with Yellowish Green

25Two Girls: Nude, One Standing, the Other Kneeling in Front of Red Poppies

26Self-Portrait with a Sprig of Camellia Leaves

27And What Will Death Do?