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.
Peacock Luggage, a book of poems by Moniza Alvi and Peter Daniels, was published as a result of the two poets jointly winning the Book & Pamphlet Competition in 1991.
Since then, Moniza Alvi has written seven poetry collections: The Country at My Shoulder (1993), which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award, and which led to her being selected for the Poetry Society's New Generation Poets promotion; A Bowl of Warm Air (1996), one of the Independent on Sunday's Books of the Year; Carrying My Wife (2000), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation; Souls (2002); How the Stone Found its Voice (2005), inspired by Kipling's Just So Stories and Europa(2008), a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize. Also published in 2008 Split World includes poems from her first five collections.
Moniza's latest publication is At the Time of Partition (Bloodaxe, 2015) which was also a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize.
Moniza Alvi now tutors for the Poetry School and lives in Norfolk. In 2002 she received a Cholmondeley Award for her poetry.
THE COUNTRY AT MY SHOULDER
There’s a country at my shoulder,
growing larger—soon it will burst,
rivers will spill out, run down my chest.
My cousin Azam wants visitors to play
ludo with him all the time.
He learns English in a class of seventy.
And I must stand to attention
with the country at my shoulder.
There’s an execution in the square —
The women’s dupattas are wet with tears.
The offices have closed
for the white-hot afternoon.
But the women stone-breakers chip away
at boulders, dirt on their bright hems.
They await the men and their trucks.
I try to shake the dust from the country,
smooth it with my hands.
I watch Indian films —
Everyone is very unhappy,
or very happy,
dancing garlanded through parks.
I hear of bribery, family quarrels,
travellers’ tales — the stars
are so low you think you can touch them.
Uncle Aqbar drives down the mountain
to arrange his daughter’s marriage.
She’s studying Christina Rossetti.
When the country bursts, we’ll meet.
Uncle Kamil shot a tiger,
it hung over the wardrobe, its jaws
Fixed in a roar—I wanted to hide
its head in a towel.
The country has become my body —
I can’t break bits off.
The men go home in loose cotton clothes.
In the square there are those who beg —
And those who beg for mercy.
Azam passes the sweetshop,
names the sugar monuments Taj Mahal.
I water the country with English rain,
cover it with English words.
Soon it will burst, or fall like a meteor.