Sunday Poem – Moniza Alvi

Evening folks – I’m really excited about this week’s Sunday Poem because it is by one of my favourite poets, Moniza Alvi.  I’ve been reading Moniza’s work since I first started writing poetry – so am very happy that she has agreed to let me use one of her poems today.  In fact feel slightly guilty about wittering about my week and making you wait for the poem! But I am nothing if not a creature of habit..

So this week has been pretty full – I’ve started running sectional rehearsals for my junior band to get ready for the South Cumbria Music Festival – this week on Monday the Solo cornets and the Soprano player came and rehearsed for an extra hour before the full band arrived.  Next week it’s half term so I have Monday evening off but after that I’ll be doing sectional rehearsals for an extra hour every week until the Festival.  I wouldn’t want you to think I was competitive though…haven’t even thought about winning…honest…

So as well as obsessing about the music festival and doing lots of music teaching I had some good news this week – the Wordsworth Trust managed to get some extra funding for some more sessions with the Young Writers group that I’ve been working with in Kendal which is great news because they are a fantastic group.  So I went off to Kendal this Friday to run another session – it just happened to STILL be Valentines Day – unfortunately I had forgotten this fact – despite remembering it in the morning and buying appropriate card for the husband – anyway, luckily for me the teenagers disliked Valentines Day as much as I do so were appreciative of not having to read any love poems during the session.  Anyway, all week I’d been looking forward to going for a meal after the session had finished at 5.30pm and before Brewery Poets, the critiquing group that I go to once a month started at 7.30.  There is a really nice Chinese restaurant called the Bejing House in Kendal that I wanted to go to after having a lovely meal there previously but it wasn’t until I sat down and looked around and realised that everybody in said restaurant was a couple and that the restaurant was festooned with red balloons and hearts everywhere that I remembered that it was in fact, still Valentines Day.  By then it was too late to escape and go to the drive through at Mcdonalds as I’d sat down and the staff had been very nice so I stayed.  And it was actually fine!  I would never have sat on Valentines Day, on my own ten years ago or maybe even five years ago, but it was kind of funny, not really embarrassing – so decided that my whole life, had in fact, been preparation for this day and this proved I was now emotionally mature, fully functioning, independent adult etc etc.  Maybe I read too much into it!

The other poetry related things I’ve done include finally finishing off my sequence!  I am very excited about it – 20 poems about domestic violence which I will maybe write more about another time – but they have now gone off to a publisher who has expressed an interest in publishing them as a pamphlet – so I’ll let you all know if I hear anything.  I’ve also sent 16 of these poems off to three different magazines – its the first time they have had the chance to be accepted or rejected and I’m not sure how well they work in a small group or on their own so it will be interesting to see what happens to them.

The other nice thing that happened this week was that the lovely Rialto arrived!  The Rialto is one of those magazines that smells really good.  I have two poems in there this time but am especially grateful to the Rialto because I read it whilst in the Chinese Restaurant on Valentines Day and maybe it was this that made me not care…I thought this issue was really, really good – new poems from lots of great poets – well worth checking it out at the same day, rather excitingly, a proof from the TLS  for my poem ‘The Fall’ – I don’t know when it will be published but I have my mum and dad on watch!

As I said before, this week’s poem is by Moniza Alvi.  Moniza’s most recent book ‘At The Time of Partition’ was shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize this year and is a wonderful book – but because it is a book-length poem which is very much of a piece I didn’t think it would do the poem justice to quote just a section from it.  As well as this, I heard Moniza read last week from her book ‘Homesick for the Earth’.  Moniza has translated, or made versions of poems by Jules Supervielle who was born in Montevideo to French parents and grew up in Uruguay and France.  The poems have an edge of surrealism and I think a kind of childlike wonder sometimes – the poem I’ve chosen definitely has this.

I wrote to Moniza and asked her for this poem as soon as I read it – it is about a third of the way through the book.  Then I carried on reading and found more and more poems which I loved – in ‘Animal Faces’ the poem asks the question of what would happen if animals could speak – not a particularly original idea you might think – but the poem takes this idea and makes it surprising and thought-provoking – the poem finishes

“We long for a wink, a gesture from a foreleg.
But if you complied, we’d run a mile
in fear of the trouble this would cause.
We would never be alone in the fields or forests.
The moment we left the house
we’d hide our heads under a dark cloth.”

I love the ending of ‘Fish Swimming’ as well –
“Swim out to sea, leave me on dry land.
We weren’t meant to mix up our lives.”

The book also has the original French text on the opposite pages which I think is so important with translations…I read the book cover to cover and will definitely go back to it and re read it more slowly.  Moniza has also written a great introduction to the book as well about the challenges of translation which is worth reading.

So after you’ve read ‘Homesick for the Earth’ you should then go and read all of Moniza’s other books – they are all fantastic and I love the way Moniza does something new in every collection – she doesn’t hit something that works and then repeat it – it seems that she is constantly moving forward and developing and challenging herself – and the reader in fact – in her collection ‘Europa’ for example I think the way she writes about violence is original and exciting and necessary.

Moniza Alvi was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and came to England when she was a few months old. She grew up in Hertfordshire and studied at the universities of York and London.  She has published eight books of poetry with Bloodaxe and tutors for the Poetry School.  If you would like to find out more about Moniza Alvi you can go to her website at

If you would like to order any of Moniza’s books, you can go to Inpress which is a much more worthy company than the big A which I won’t mention here!  The Inpress website is here:

I’ve chosen the title poem of ‘Homesick for the Earth’ because I believe in the voice of the poem.  I like how it made me think differently about the sun and the planet – for a short poem it does a lot of work!

I hope you enjoy the Sunday Poem!

Homesick for the Earth – Moniza Alvi/Jules Supervielle

One day we’ll say ‘The sun ruled then.
Don’t you remember how it shone on the twigs,
on the old, as well as the wide-eyed young?
It knew how to make all things vivid
the second it alighted on them.
It could run just like the racehorse.
How can we forget the time we had on earth?
If we dropped a plate it clattered.
We’d look around like connoisseurs,
alert to the slightest nuance of the air,
knew if a friend was coming towards us.
We’d pick daffodils, collect pebbles, shells –
when we couldn’t catch the smoke.
Now smoke is all we hold in our hands.’

4 comments on “Sunday Poem – Moniza Alvi

  1. It’s poems like this that are uncomfortable reminders of how A levels and university taught me a lot about “Literature” but that the price was learning ‘how not to read’…but to become a metaphor-and -image-grubber. Took me a lot of years to get back to knowing what children know. That poems and stories are about those W s. The who, where, when, what, why. And that it’s only when you think you can answer these questions that you need to turn to the ‘how’s. I don’t think I trust the who – the storyteller – so readily. Because I don’t feel at all sure about where and when I am, or about why this narrator’s talking to me. Even though s/he seems to assume we’re complicit. One day, (why not now?) we’ll remember. Why not now? It plays games with narrative time, this story. It looks simple but it’s artful. The sun alights on twigs. Where are the leaves? We realise too late(?) we were connoisseurs. It bothers me, this poem. That seems to be your shtick, Kim Moore. Poems that get under the skin, that make you attend. I think they do me good.

    1. I know what you mean. I felt when I read this one that the poem moved me away to a different perspective. ..I also think that this poem is about a third of the way through the collection and am wondering anout the cumulative effect of reading more of the supervielle poems before getting to this one…

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