Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 17 November 2014

  • Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971

    I am a hardened camera clicking at midnight.
    I have caught it all: the screeching tanks
    pounding the city under the pressing heat,
    searchlights dicing the streets like bayonets,
    Kalishnikovs mowing down rickshaw pullers,
    vendor sellers, beggars on the pavements.
    I click on, despite the dry and bitter dust
    scratched on the lake-black water of my Nikon eye,
    at a Bedford truck waiting by the roadside,
    at two soldiers holding the dead by their hands and legs,
    throwing them into the back, hurling
    them one upon another until the floor
    is loaded to the sky’s armpits. The corpses stare
    at our stars’ succulent whiteness
    with their arms flung out as if to bridge a nation.
    Their bodies shake when the lorry chugs.
    I click as the soldiers laugh at the billboard on the bulkhead:
    GUINNESS IS GOOD FOR YOU
    SIX MILLION DRUNK EVERY DAY.


    by Mir Mahfuz Ali


    Tomorrow (Wednesday), there will be a joint poetry reading at Oxford Brookes by Peter Robinson and Hannah Lowe. It will take place from 12-1pm in T.300 (Tonge Building, Gipsy Lane Campus), and all are welcome. Peter Robinson is Professor of English Literature at the University of Reading, and a prolific and highly influential writer and editor. He has recently published Foreigners, Drunks and Babies, a collection of short stories, and Like the Living End, a chapbook of new poetry. Hannah Lowe is Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing at Brookes. Her collection Chick was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2013, and shortlisted for, amongst other prizes, the Forward Best First Collection Prize. Hannah’s pamphlet Ormonde appeared earlier this month from Hercules Editions. In September, she was named as one of the twenty Next Generation Poets 2014. For more details, contact niall.munro@brookes.ac.uk

    ‘Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971’ is copyright © Mir Mahfuz Ali, 2014. It was published by Seren Books, and is reprinted here by permission from Midnight, Dhaka.

    Mir Mahfuz Ali is an exceptional new voice in British Poetry. A native of what is now Bangladesh, Mahfuz grew up during the difficult period of the early 1970’s when the region was struck, first by a devastating cyclone, then by a particularly vicious civil war. As a boy, Mahfuz witnessed atrocities and writes about them with a searing directness, in poems like ‘My Salma’ and the title poem, but much more than this, his trauma becomes transformative, and his poetry the key to unlocking memories of a childhood that are rich in nuance, gorgeous in detail, and evocative of a beautiful country. They celebrate the human capacity for love and survival in otherwise tragic circumstances. Read more about the book on the Seren website.

    Mahfuz was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1958, moved to the UK in the 1970s. He has worked as a male model, a tandoori chef and as a dancer and actor. He is renowned for his extraordinary voice: a rich, throaty whisper brought about by a Bangladeshi policeman trying to silence the singing of anthems during a public anti-war demonstration. He has given readings and performances at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and in other theatres in Britain and elsewhere; on BBC Newsnight Review, Radio 4, and the World Service as well as speaking at a number of conferences and festivals, including addressing the Home Office on integration policy. His poetry has appeared in London Magazine, Poetry London, Poetry Review and PN Review. His influences include Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Jibanananda Das (1899-1954). Mahfuz is an active member of Exiled Writer’s Ink, which is working to promote the creative expression of refugees and of exiled writers and encourage cross-cultural dialogue. Midnight, Dhaka, is his first full collection of poetry. Several poems from this collection won the Geoffrey Dearmer prize in 2014. You can find out more about his work from his website.

    Seren is based in Bridgend, South Wales and was originally conceived in the early 80's by then Head of English at Brynteg Comp, Cary Archard, on his kitchen table as an offshoot of Poetry Wales magazine. After moving briefly to poet Dannie Abse’s garage in Ogmore by Sea, the advent of Managing Editor Mick Felton has seen the press has go from strength to strength. We’ve published a wide range of titles including fiction (which under Editor Penny Thomas has seen the Booker-nominated novel by Patrick McGuinness, The Last Hundred Days, and an acclaimed novella series based on the medieval Welsh tales from the Mabinogion) and non-fiction (including literary criticism such as John Redmond’s Poetry and Privacy, as well as sumptuous art books like the collaboration between the painter Shani Rhys James and a number of poets and writers: Florilingua). Seren’s poetry list, edited by Amy Wack since the early 90’s, has produced T.S. Eliot nominated titles by Deryn Rees-Jones and Pascale Petit, Costa winner John Haynes, and a large list of Forward prize winners and nominees. Cary Archard remains on our Board of Directors and is a lively and influential presence. We mourn the loss, this year, of the wonderful Dannie Abse, also a guiding spirit. Find out more about the publisher on its website.

    Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.