Chosen by Farhana
‘this poem is not for you / you can’t wear it on your forehead / it won’t look good in your profile picture...’ The opening lines of the first poem in Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s collection, Postcolonial Banter, dare you to read on. As the title suggests, it’s a timely book that deals with big themes, but always in a direct, fresh and playful way. I agree that these poems are not for you. They are for everyone.
Born in Bradford to second-gen British-Pakistani parents and raised in Leeds, Suhaiymah studied History at Cambridge and Postcolonial Studies at SOAS. She is an educator, writer, spoken-word poet, founder and author of www.thebrownhijabi.com, and the co-author of A FLY Girl’s guide to University: Being a Woman of Colour at Cambridge and Other Institutions of Power and Elitism (2019). Her poetry has had over two million online views and since going viral as runner up of the 2017 Roundhouse National Slam, she has performed in a number of places including BBC Radio stations, television, TEDxes, and poetry events in Britain and abroad. As you can see from her videos on YouTube and elsewhere, her style is dynamic and witty, and this is evident on the page.
Featuring some of her most well-known and performed poems as well as brand new material, Postcolonial Banter is a debut collection that covers a range of topics, including race/ism, Islamaphobia, gender, feminism, state violence and decoloniality in Britain. It is unapologetically political and unsettling – in a good way.
My history is imprinted in the spaces between the ink printed on pressed pages
My history is the screams shouted out through the silent slots in syllabi [...]
and my archives
are the chicken shops
the taxi stops
the backseats of rentals [...]
No, cos my history is the shame of your history
(from 'Where is my history?')
she slips money into children’s hands with a two-eyed wink
and she is fresh fresh freshly bathed
clean like rose water
knees like old age
but lips murmur over English words
learning learning learning
she gave and she gives
Do not wait to become a fashionable trend
Is it faster just to love yourself.
Do not believe the exhibitions.
100 years for who?
Some women stood on the round darker bellies of others
Just to get a taste of the pie.
(from '20 Point Manifesto for Women Living in Genocidal Times')
These poems convey a searing critique of certain institutions and trends that uphold the status quo at the expense of minority groups, such as the way history is taught in some countries and which languages and people are valued more than others. However, there are also joyful and tender details woven throughout these pages, which are full of love for the women, friends and allies in the poet’s life, and full of hope.
I want men who cry like thunder
who step out of their glass forms
men before man is moulded [...]
beards like pearly necklaces
big as the sun
and just as brightly burn
(from 'Maybe I Don’t')
Britain is bismillah, basmati and bilingual
box braids and black barber’s shops
Bollywood and bangra
body-popping outside the tube
Brick Lane before it was cool
(from 'British Values')
So this will not be a ‘Muslims are like us’ poem
I refuse to be respectable [...]
Love us when we aren’t athletes, when we don’t bake cakes [...]
Because if you need me to prove my humanity
I’m not the one that’s not human
(from 'This Is Not a Humanising Poem')
This is a collection that is as multi-faceted as Britain is multicultural, but these poems also transcend borders and boundaries. And (at the time of writing this post), in an ongoing period of history where most of us are experiencing/ witnessing a global health crisis, police brutality, Black Lives Matter protests, and the toppling of racist monuments in Bristol and beyond, it is more urgent than ever to consider the ways in which recorded history celebrates and hides certain people and powers, and how this still affects all of us now. And Suhaiymah’s book is a fresh, witty and welcome addition to this bookshelf and to this moment.
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