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 Poetry Business Prize in 1991. Since then, Moniza Alvi has written eight 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;
How the Stone Found its Voice (2005), inspired by Kipling's Just So Stories,
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.
Homesick for the Earth (2011) selected poems by the French poet Jules Supervielle with versions by Moniza Alvi.
At the Time of Partition (2013) a Poetry Book Society Choice, shortlisted for the 2013 TS Eliot Prize and won the East Anglian Writers Prize for poetry.
Moniza's latest collection is Blackbird, Bye Bye and was published on the 21st June 2018.
Moniza Alvi now tutors for the Poetry School and lives in Norfolk. In 2002 she received a Cholmondeley Award for her poetry.
Moniza Alvi's new book is unified by birds. Her creations 'Motherbird' and 'Fatherbird' are inspired by her parents, and by the loss of her father and by his emigration from Pakistan. Among the many bird-related poems are versions of the French poets Jules Supervielle and Saint-John Perse, and poems 'after' the paintings of the Spanish-Mexican surrealist artist Remedios Varo.
Blackbird, Bye Bye is Moniza Alvi's first new poetry book since her T.S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted collection At the Time of Partition, published in 2013.
'She has a metaphysical wit, both very economical and very wild; the power to create extraordinary concrete images with a lot of space around them; and an imagination so surreal that surreal is where we start. We only gradually realise that she is using the surreal as a lens through which her poems marvel at so-called real life. It is all presented so fluidly and naturally, with a smile and subtle humour, that you accept it instantly.' – Ruth Padel, The Poem and the Journey
'At the Time of Partition is a truly extraordinary collection, a work which succeeds in being spare, compelling and timeless. Furthermore, for the subcontinental reader, it captures a moment of time, a memory, so visceral that it has an extraordinary power. This book should not be missed.' - Muneeza Shamsie, Dawn
'These poems are about what is just out of reach, what cannot ever quite be captured but can be imagined with such delicacy that it becomes real.’ – Helen Dunmore, Observer
'Moniza Alvi's world is a place of wild energy... Alvi's voice has achieved a relaxed naturalness, a fluidity which allows her to present these delicious, extraordinary poems as though it were easy.’ – Kathleen Jamie and Hugo Williams, PBS Bulletin
Shortlisted for the 2013 TS Eliot Prize
Poetry Book Society Choice
East Anglian Writers Poetry Award
This book-length poem is set at the time of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 when thousands of people were killed in civil unrest and millions displaced, with families later split between the two countries. Inspired by family history, Moniza Alvi weaves a deeply personal story of fortitude and courage, as well as of tragic loss, in this powerful work in 20 parts.
At the Time of Partition is Moniza Alvi's first new poetry book since her T.S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted collection Europa, published in 2008 at the same time as Split World: Poems 1990-2005.
'Alvi...takes a historical journey as the structure for this narrative poem. The year is 1947 – the year of Partition – and a family is forced to leave their home in Ludhiana for Lahore...Alvi captures the trauma of a nation in this slim, exquisitely mournful story of departure, migration and the uncertain feelings of settling in a new country...' - Arifa Akbar, Independent
'The volume consists of 20 poems which flow into each other to create a single haunting and lyrical narrative, welding the personal and the public. The result is a stunning, skilled and controlled work of immense grandeur...At the Time of Partition is a truly extraordinary collection, a work which succeeds in being spare, compelling and timeless. Furthermore, for the subcontinental reader, it captures a moment of time, a memory, so visceral that it has an extraordinary power. This book should not be missed.' - Moneeza Shamsie, Dawn (Pakistan)
'One of the few British poets whose work could currently be described as essential reading, not least as we try to grasp what fractures of cultural difference might have contributed to the 7 July bombings.' - Tim Robertson, Magma.
Bilingual French-English edition
Jules Supervielle (1884-1960) was born to French parents in Montevideo, orphaned within a year of his birth, and grew up in Uruguay and France. He spent the Second World War exiled in Uruguay, afflicted by ill health and financial ruin.
His poems are dreamlike, often gently fantastical, imbued with an appealing surface clarity:
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?
His work stands apart from much 20th-century French poetry, and he has been characterised as a writer of Basque descent who wrote in French but in the Spanish tradition, with a strong affinity for the open spaces of his South American childhood and nostalgia for a cosmic brotherhood of men. In many respects he seems our contemporary, a writer of highly personal poems as well as poems concerned with war and the environment.
Moniza Alvi writes: ‘I have been making versions of Supervielle’s poems for several years, strongly drawn to his style of writing, while also finding coincidental parallels with my own life, such as his birth “elsewhere” on another continent. My aim has been to retain the spirit of the French poems, and as many of their implications as I can, while making a poem that has a life in English. I thought he was an enchanting, inspiring poet who deserved to be so much better known in this country.’
‘In her striking versions of poems by the French poet Jules Supervielle, written against the backdrop of wartime France, Moniza Alvi has found a soul-mate, a poet companion’ – Penelope Shuttle, Poetry London
Shortlisted for the 2008 TS Eliot Prize
Poetry Book Society Choice
Many of the poems in Moniza Alvi's Europa relate to ancient and modern traumas, including enforced exile, alienation, rape and 'honour killing'. Its centre-piece is a re-imagining of the story of the rape of Europa by Jupiter as a bull. Her latest collection also includes a series of poems exploring post-traumatic stress disorder, and further versions of the French poet Jules Supervielle with their Second World War background. Europa is a dark, unified book whose poems move towards regeneration. It is published at the same time as Moniza Alvi's Split World: Poems 1990-2005.
'Much of Alvi's work engages with a surreal or fantastical world of fractured and partially recovered identity, working through sequences in her most recent poetry.' - Deryn Rees-Jones, Modern Women Poets'
Moniza Alvi left Pakistan for England when a few months old. In her early work, she drew on real and imagined homelands in poems which are 'vivid, witty and imbued with unexpected and delicious glimpses of the surreal - this poet's third country' (Maura Dooley). Her less autobiographical later books are concerned not only with divisions between East and West but also with the interplay between inner and outer worlds, imagination and reality, physical and spiritual. Split World is published at the same time as Moniza Alvi's latest collection, Europa, and includes poems from five previous collections: The Country at My Shoulder (1993), A Bowl of Warm Air (1996), Carrying My Wife (2000), Souls (2002) and How the Stone Found Its Voice (2005).
In the new poems of Carrying My Wife, Moniza Alvi's delicately drawn fantasies transform the familiar into strange evocations of the joys and tensions of relationships, of love, intimacy, frustration, jealousy and paranoia, her rich imagery and luxuriant imagination recalling the transformations of Chagall paintings, the dream-visions of Douannier-Rousseau.
In the title-sequence she plays the role of husband to an imaginary wife. Writing from a male or "husband" viewpoint, she is able both to distance herself and to zoom into sensations and difficulties, so that surreal aspects of relationships emerge as well as the humour which might have been blurred in a head-on approach. Her poems do not attempt a male stance, but show another way of looking at oneself.
'These poems are about what is just out of reach, what cannot ever quite be captured but can be imagined with such delicacy that it becomes real' - Helen Dunmore, Observer
'She writes with a quiet, concentrated simplicity . . . an impressive debut' - Fleur Adcock, PBS Bulletin
'This poetry is deceptively simple, disarmingly truthful, full of a vivid and delicate individuality and jouissance' - Linda France, Poetry Review
As well as the new poems of Carrying My Wife, this book also includes poems from Moniza Alvi's OUP collectionsThe Country at My Shoulder and A Bowl of Warm Air.
The souls inhabit us 'as if our faces were portraits in galleries - and stare out of us until they are tired of looking,' writes Moniza Alvi in one of these delightfully paradoxical and daringly imaginative poems . . . 'We only know about life. To the souls, we're the real immortals.'
The troubled and troublesome souls are characters in her sequence The Further Adventures of the Souls whose escapades touch different facets of life and death, exploring tantalising dualities through delicious transformations. Their moods and desires dart about on the edge of daily reality, revealing as much about ourselves as our own fantasies.
The other poems in Souls, while different in approach, are equally strong evocations of the fragility of life, exploring birth, death and parenthood with a sure wit and lightness of touch.
'Alvi is a bold surrealist, whose poems open the world up in new, imaginatively absurd ways' - Ruth Padel, Independent
'Moniza Alvi's world is a place of wild energyŠAlvi's voice has achieved a relaxed naturalness, a fluidity which allows her to present these delicious, extraordinary poems as though it were easy' - Kathleen Jamie and Hugo Williams, PBS Bulletin
Moniza Alvi’s title sequence How The Stone Found Its Voice is a series of poems inspired by creation myths. Begun in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, they are imbued with the dark spirit of that time, with titles including ‘How The World Split In Two’, ‘How The Answers Got Their Questions’ and ‘How The Countries Slipped Away’.
These are followed by poems in which Moniza Alvi takes a more autobiographical approach to racial conflict and the split between East and West, and by The Return of My Wife‚ a continuation of a sequence from her earlier book Carrying My Wife. Versions of the French poet Jules Supervielle (1884-1960) with their Second World War background and
exploration of personal fragility provide a linking thread. How the Stone Found Its Voice is a varied collection with echoes across its different sections, all equally vital to the whole.
‘Moniza Alvi’s world is a place of wild energy…Alvi’s voice has achieved a relaxed naturalness, a fluidity which allows her to present these delicious, extraordinary poems as though it were easy’ – Kathleen Jamie & Hugo Williams, PBS Bulletin
‘She is a skilled storyteller, recounting the extraordinary in the voice of the everyday, so that we accept the miraculous as something we need…the overriding impression is of a deft, restrained language carrying ideas with metaphysical wit and seriousness’ – Leonie Rushforth, London Magazine
In this wonderful second collection, Moniza Alvi steps boldly into the territory she made her own in The Country at my Shoulder, a book which made her one of the chosen "New Generation" poets.
These poems, many based on visits to her birthplace, Pakistan, are at once beautiful, thoughtful, and quite marvelous. Alvi's work has grown in confidence and warmth since her last collection published in 1993. A greater depth of seriousness infuses her poems on Pakistan and India, but she has retained her delicacy of spirit and the gentle surrealism that identifies her work.
This is Moniza Alvi's first full-length poetry collection, and includes a number of poems which won the 1991 Poetry Business Competition. At the heart of the collection is a group of poems called "Presents from Pakistan," which explores the gathering significance to the poet of her birthplace. Many people today have a "country at their shoulder"--a homeland left behind, or a birthplace seldom, perhaps never, visited, but nevertheless a vital part of their imaginary and real lives. Highlighting the uneasy as well as the celebratory, these poems are diverse in both subject and approach. They are written with a light touch, but they are rich in imagery, and the poet's voice, though delicate, is distinct and memorable.