Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Mir Mahfuz Ali and the Ten anthology

Mir Mahfuz Ali is shortlisted for the 2010 Picador Poetry Prize and is included in the groundbreaking anthology Ten from Bloodaxe. Ten, edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra, is the culmination of Spread the Word's two year initiative to support talented new black and Asian poets. I had the good fortune to mentor Mahfuz for this project, and what a dream job it was. 

Mir Mahfuz Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1958. He grew up during the war of liberation and came to England in 1973, after being shot in the throat by riot police during an uprising. As a performer, he is renowned for his extraordinary voice – a rich, throaty whisper. His poetry has appeared in PN Review, Poetry London, London Magazine and Ambit. He has also been shortlisted for the New Writing Ventures Awards in 2007. His poetry combines a luxurious Bengali linguistic richness with the trauma and first hand testaments of the atrocities of war.

Read his poems in Ten, and all the exciting poets in this anthology, described by Carol Ann Duffy as "ten sparkling new talents who demonstrate the richness, energy and confidence of the poetic voice in our multicultural country". This book is groundbreaking, necessary, but most of all, an enthralling read. Here is one of Mahfuz's poems:

Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971

I am a hardened camera clicking at midnight.
I have caught it all – the screeching tanks

pounding the city under the massy heat,
searchlights dicing the streets like bayonets.
Kalashnikovs mowing down rickshaw pullers,
vendor sellers, beggars on the pavements.

I click on, despite the dry and bitter dust
scratched on the lake-black water of my Nikon eye,
at a Bedford truck waiting by the roadside,
at two soldiers holding the dead by their hands and legs,
throwing them into the back, hurling
them one upon another until the floor
is loaded to the sky's armpits. The corpses stare
at our star's succulent whiteness
with their arms flung out as if to bridge a nation.
Their bodies shake when the lorry chugs.
I click as the soldiers laugh at the billboard on the bulkhead: