It almost feels like my life has been sort of summed up in verse.
We are always in awe of those who speak more than one language fluently, even more so when a poet writes in their second or even third language. But we rarely see the doubts behind this, heightened when that second language is the English of oppression and colonisation. Fizza reveals these doubts in a very personal and beautiful way and it is for this reason that ‘How Inferiority Complex Talks to A Writer Whose Mother Tongue is Urdu’ is the Pick of the Month for February 2022.
Fizza Abbas is a writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She is fond of poetry and music. Her work has appeared in more than 90 journals, both online and in print. Her work has also been nominated for Best of The Net and shortlisted for Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition 2021.
Fizza has asked that her £20 ‘prize’ be donated to the Orchid Project which works towards ending female genital cutting (FGC) worldwide.
How Inferiority Complex Talks to A Writer Whose Mother Tongue is Urdu
I wake up at 7 am, sleep again for two hours, get up at 9 am to finally work,
open my laptop, remind myself, no big deal, it’s a day, after all, it will pass.
Boss sends a message, could you please take care of this? I agree. I can do it.
I find online tools to work, my own toolkit is empty. Poor at English, bad at using Grammarly.
I juggle with the task-at-hand like a clown and send it over after an hour.
Boss calls me a nut case; I feel a buzzing in my veins. I slam my laptop shut,
take a shower to wash off anxiety and settle on my sofa for the evening;
I flip pages after pages of a book, learn four new words,
forget two before I browse through the dictionary.
The meaning is there, written in bold letters, but the context seems too hazy.
I refill my fountain pen, open my tattered notebook and write,
I CAN DO IT but the ‘CAN’ scatters across the page,
and I wipe it off with clumsy fingers.
I look at them with a wondering sadness, soaked in blue ink, ruined, perhaps forever.
Then stamp the residues of my affirmations on the entire page, in anger.
I begin on a fresh page, a non-native writer, pretending.
My mind, an echo chamber, echoes the subtle voices of my inferiority complex:
I imagine her as a woman in a wedding gown, lying in a coffin,
shrieking so loudly, I fear those nearby may hear,
and call a priest perhaps, to exorcise this demon out of me, calming her incessant shrieks of:
“English poetry is not for you. You’re only meant for writing in Urdu”
“Get moving with Alif, Bay, Pay. ABCs are for people with brains.”
“Don’t waste time learning rhyme and meter, you are too dumb to understand them.”
“Ballads, sonnets and limericks only perch on virtuous minds, they will stare at your ignorance in disbelief”.
“Don’t let pastorals or ghazals lure you to the pen—the beauty of flowers and passionate love will not make a poet out of you.”
“Metaphors will always remain invisible ghosts beyond your grasp, similes are mirrors that will not hold your reflection.’’
For a moment, I shudder at the truth of this voice,
Her honest concern, full of seductive charm laced with venomous hatred
I want to believe her, she cares for me. She wants to spare me the embarrassment
of becoming who I think I can be.
But as a strong gush of wind passes through the window,
and the page – speckled with small dots of ink from my suspended pen- stares at me with dread.
I realize this is what I’m meant to do:
save words from the wrath of my inferior ink.
Voters’ comments included:
It’s really powerful, especially that last line. Beautiful imagery and connection to familial love.
Fizza’s honest way of retelling her experience really resonates to me as fellow POC; having doubts not from ourselves but also from other people. The beauty of poetry transcends of who we are and what language we speak. It’s heartwrenching but also hopeful in a way that there are more POC out there who will embrace the beauty of poetry no matter what forms of doubts will come to us.
It speaks to the struggle of a dual language speaker, and is beautifully written!
It’s very moving and well written
Because the poem resonates how i feel in the society the pressure to speak English flawlessly to appear well to do
I like the accessibility of the poem and its relatability.
The poem addresses my personal experience. As a writer too It’s so true to me.
Use of language
I relate to it on a deeply personal level. It almost feels like my life has been sort of summed up in verse.
You can feel like it is the reality and effects people.
I can relate to it. It sits deep into my emotions
I love the thoughts of the writer, her way to explain this is something that give you goosebumps
Fizza speaks from a place of deep vulnerability and truth.
It relates to my story
It’s unique and touched my heart.
THE REST OF THE FEBRUARY 2022 SHORTLIST
Subtraction of Grief by Dorothy Baird
Yesterday I slipped into a broken space
the wind couldn’t mend. Beside me the reservoir
dazzled in the cold sunshine and larch trees
losing their copper needles in the fleecing gusts
were still, are always, all one in themselves, needing
nothing but wide light and earth and rain.
I know we, too, can be all one in ourselves –
we can walk in the sound of the stone chat
and sense the certainty, the rightness of things –
but a flash of memory out of the blue or the grey
can render us aching and minus –
and we don’t even know what it was
in the water’s light or the rasp of a crow
or the curling edges of a fly agaric, kicked over
in a hiding of grass, that cut through the one
we were, to make the wound smart
as if a salt fingerprint rubbed our past
into the present and we’re raw again
and lonely as only love can make us.
Dorothy Baird lives in Edinburgh where she is a psychotherapist and facilitates writing groups in the community. She has two collections: Leaving the Nest (Two Ravens Press) and Mind the Gap (Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd). Her website is: www.dorothybaird.com
The inventor’s wife predicts a storm by Fiona Cartwright
Each coming storm, I’m alone, love.
I take to bed as my blood constricts,
is corseted by whalebone. I blot the sky
with clouds of my own invention
and watch the day run
like a shawl’s pulled thread, unravelling.
You’ve meanwhile jailed some leeches
to do your bidding. You ask me
to admire your new device – ugly, but
useful, so you say. Each leech inside its jar
feels the storm, climbs up, rings a bell.
I make a jar to contain myself, pull sheets
around my clanging head,
into my ears, my skull
its own barometer. My migraine’s
your storm predictor. Look at me,
not your treasured leeches.
Fiona Cartwright is a poet and conservation scientist. Her poems have appeared in various journals including Magma, Mslexia, Interpreter’s House and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Her debut pamphlet, Whalelight, is available here (www.dempseyandwindle.com) and she tweets @sciencegirl73.
Note:The tempest prognosticator, or leech barometer, was invented by George Merryweather in the nineteenth century. Leeches were believed to become agitated by coming storms and to climb up inside the glass bottles in which they were placed, which would lead to a warning bell ringing. Many migraine sufferers also find that atmospheric pressure changes trigger their migraines.
True Lies by Arji Manuelpillai
My bro’s so good at dying, he shakes this way and that,
dancing in the shrapnel. Mama shouts play nice so
we bundle into the sofa bed, bodies clumsily naive.
Arnie’s on the telly, a CIA agent, a body of nothing but
muscle and man, chasing a terrorist (I forget his name)
trying to stop him nuking the world, stealing $60 million,
it doesn’t matter, because Arnie throws a knife so hard
the handle juts from the eye like a lever on a ghost train.
Good ol’ Arnie, he’d make a shoot-out funny, a sex scene
violent, a string of dead bodies entertaining. You’re fired!
they’re all bad guys after all, with hocked up names,
indecipherable lines, from countries too terrible to visit.
That’s the beauty of a blockbuster it can take you anywhere.
25 years later, Arnie’s a politician, my bro and I on the bus,
a man in full thobe walks on. The thought rolls in like a tank.
Arji Manuelpillai is a poet, performer and creative facilitator based in London. For over 15 years Arji has worked with community arts projects nationally and internationally. Recently, he was the Jerwood Arvon Mentee mentored by Hannah Lowe. His poetry has been published in magazines including Cannon’s Mouth, Strix, The Rialto and Bath Magg. He has also been shortlisted for the BAME Burning Eye pamphlet prize 2018, The Robert Graves Prize 2018, The Oxford Prize 2019, The Live Canon Prize 2020, The National Poetry Prize 2021 and Winchester Prize 2021. He was runner-up in the Robert Graves Prize 2020. Arji was provided a Develop Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council in January and has been using the time to interview and discuss extremism in its many forms. Arji is a member of Wayne Holloway-Smith’s poetry group, Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and London Stanza. Arji’s debut pamphlet ‘Mutton Rolls’ was published with Out-Spoken Press. www.arji.org in 2020
The Cyclist’s Breed of Freedom by Andrew Pidoux
Cycling the five miles to work
under the blue sky of something like summer,
I see hundreds of cars going past me
in a blur of metal and memory.
The garden greens and reds of the traffic lights
hush me over and under the bridges,
past the parks in their vast quivering greenness
and I feel free.
Not free as a bird, perhaps,
but free as a horse on a carousel,
following a set path akin to fate,
but happy enough with that limitation.
Better to be me than the hordes at the roadsides
waiting like parents for the ride to end,
or the cars and lorries whose flanks I brush
but who can’t brush me back.
I’m a moving law surrounded by rights,
maintained by simple mechanics.
A reality let be.
Andrew Pidoux was born in Buckinghamshire in 1974. His book of poems, Year of the Lion, was published in 2010 by Salt. Since 2016, he has been living in China, where he teaches English at Guangdong University of Finance and Economics. He has had poems in Ink Sweat and Tears on three previous occasions.
Luciferins by Judith Taylor
Yeah: all the colours
crowding the daylight
claiming their own
place in the sun
and then there’s us
reacting with oxygen
to make our own position
clear, our own
why not, we say
as we spark the darkness.
Judith Taylor comes from Perthshire and now lives and works in Aberdeen. Her first full-length collection, Not in Nightingale Country, was published in 2017 by Red Squirrel Press, and she is one of the Editors of Poetry Scotland magazine. Find her on her website.