The Scotsman Sessions #190: Imtiaz Dharker

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Imtiaz Dharker reads two poems ahead of her appearance at this year’s StAnza poetry festival in St Andrews

Imtiaz Dharker has always lived between cultures, born in Pakistan, growing up in Glasgow, running away to live in India, and more recently dividing her time between Bombay and London. “It’s like being a trapeze artist,” she says, “swinging between languages and cultures, between what you know and what you half-understand. I think that’s not a bad place for a writer to be, hung out on the edge, taking risks.”

Dharker, who was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014 and was considered for Poet Laureate in 2019, is one of the writers headlining at this year’s StAnza Poetry Festival, though the digital format means she doesn’t have to leave home. “I really wish I could have come to St Andrews,” she says. “Scotland is in my blood. Like my father did, I love the sound and feel of the language on my tongue. All the years in Bombay stole my accent but I get it back if I spend a few days in Scotland. Jackie Kay invited me to her Makar to Makar series and that felt like being home.”

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Childhood memories of day trips to Loch Lomond and the Campsies inform the first poem she has chosen to read for Scotsman Sessions. In her seven collections of poetry, all illustrated with her own intricate drawings, she moves skilfully between the personal and the public. In Purdah and Other Poems, she addressed aspects of Muslim women’s experience; in Postcards from God, she wrote in the voice of a deity bemused and anguished by fundamentalism.

Imtiaz Dharker

She says: “I don’t write to send a message but I do believe everything – even the intensely personal – has a political context. Poetry speaks back to the whole messy business of living with everything it has. It speaks with the body, the rush of blood to the heart and the music of being human.”

For more in Imtiaz Dharker, visit www.imtiazdharker.com The StAnza Poetry Festival is taking place online from 6-14 March, with a range of international guests including Naomi Shihab Nye, Raymond Antrobus and Sasha Dugdale. For more information and to book tickets see www.stanzapoetry.org

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