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Summer Reads: Imtiaz Dharker eases readers into poetry

In the final instalment of our six-part summer series, we speak to Imtiaz Dharker, a poet who believes that poetry should be fun and accessible to everyone.

The poet Imtiaz Dharker. Sarah Dea / The National
The poet Imtiaz Dharker. Sarah Dea / The National

Imtiaz Dharker is considered one of India's most distinguished poets. Having written five volumes of poetry, she's known throughout the world in poetry circles and is even a prescribed poet on the British GCSEs (an education certificate).

A woman of many interests, she's also a documentary maker and an accomplished artist. One of her major interests is reading.

"I read morning, noon and night as I think that literature and poetry are the meat and drink of a poet," she tells The National. "Obviously, as a writer, it's important for me to see what other people are doing and how they're using language."

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Dharker was raised in Glasgow. She now lives in London but travels extensively and has spent much of her life in Mumbai. "I eloped to Mumbai, which was then Bombay, with a Hindu Indian when I was 20 years old. We met at Glasgow University when I was 17 and fell in love," she says, explaining that she is no longer with her first husband but that they have a daughter together. "It was a lovely marriage and there were many good things that came out of it," she smiles. "What's more, as a poet, I found my voice in India, because Mumbai is a very welcoming place. In fact, I would perhaps not be the poet that I am if it were not for having lived in Mumbai and experienced the kind of excitement that the city throws at you."

Upon leaving India, Dharker went to London where she married a Welshman. "So I am also Welsh," she laughs. "But I now live in London and I travel a lot."

She's quick to add, however, that she considers herself first and foremost Scottish and defines herself as a "Scottish Muslim Calvinist". "I always loved Scotland and growing up I felt Glaswegian," she says. "At the same time I knew I was different. But then I think that's typical of teenagers in general. I also think that being an outsider - being in the cracks, if you like - is a very good thing as a writer."

As a child growing up in Glasgow, she loved to read. "I read all the classics and I adored Roald Dahl, for example. I can remember hiding under the bed covers at night and reading with a torch. I still read and I do a lot of my work late at night."

She points out that it's important for young people to be encouraged to read and write. "It's very important because it opens up their world. I used to write little rhymes when I was a child but I didn't know I was writing poetry - for me it was just something I enjoyed doing. I think that's how it starts and it should be something you want to do."

It is partly for this reason that Dharker is a member of Poetry Live - a group which tours the UK encouraging young people to read and write poetry. "It's so lovely to see the young people listening to poetry readings in pin-drop silence," she enthuses. "It's really good for them to see that poets are living, breathing creatures who talk in voices they understand, as opposed to dead people."

The Bees - Carol Ann Duffy

"Carol Ann Duffy is the recently appointed Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom and The Bees is one of her first books after being appointed. I found it brilliant. It's about human activity and the bees are a metaphor for that. It does so many different things on different levels. On the one hand, the writing is very public and at the same time there's a private element to it. All poems in the end are about life and death and I think The Bees shows this beautifully."

Mean Time - Carol Ann Duffy

"I'm a big fan of Carol Ann Duffy. I love the fact that you can read one of her poems again and again and each time take a different meaning from it. Mean Time is perfect for that."

The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins - Gerard Manley Hopkins

"I love everything written by Gerard Manley Hopkins and I've collected his poems for many years. They warm my heart."

Shakespeare's Sonnets - William Shakespeare

"Shakespeare's writing was, in my opinion, the beginning of so many things. He was amazing and had a big effect on the literary world. I never tire of reading him and I've always been fond of his sonnets in particular. I love the fact his writing is so apt even today."

Nuskha Haa-e-Wafa - Faiz Ahmad Faiz

"I admire the writing of the Pakistani left-wing poet Faiz and this is a compilation of all his works. It is poetry that comes from the heart. The language he uses is similar to that which I used to hear when I was growing up in Glasgow, in Pakistani songs played in my home. It's very much a part of my background. It's the same language found in the poetry that my father used to recite to me as a child. He is 95 years old now and he too is a poet. The oral tradition of recitation has always been important to him."

Being Human - Neil Astley

"This is the follow-up to the two best-selling modern poetry anthologies Staying Alive - Real Poems for Unreal Times and the sequel, Being Alive. They are edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe books and all three feature completely diverse but inspirational poems by different people from around the world. They've been selected very carefully and are a pleasure to read. It's no wonder they've sold tens of thousands of copies."

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