These artists step outside the limitations of prose to express the complex ideas that drive them
Historically, female 一 and non-binary 一 voices have often been underrepresented in South Asian literature, but that’s been changing lately. Here are five contemporary poets from the South Asian diaspora making their mark in world poetry. Writing on a range of themes, from wartime violence to disability, each of them brings a fresh and unique voice to their subjects.
I wrote one draft of this poem, then she died. Will I/forget her name, Hasna Henna? Let’s smell a tree;/night-blooming jasmine, o-so-heavenly! A sapling/succeeds by flourishing from a tree’s seed./How else to perfume these needs we breathe? A sapling/of course = a small and soft tree (i.e. baby tree).
– Infinity Ghazal Beginning With Lice and Never Ending With Lies
Tarfia Faizullah is a widely translated Bangladeshi-American author and poet recognized by Harvard Law School in their 2016 list of 50 Women Inspiring Change. In 2010, she traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2010 to interview survivors of the atrocities of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, also known as birangona. These interviews led to SEAM, her heartbreaking, award-winning debut collection of poetry. Her second book, “Registers of Illuminated Villages” “extends and transforms her powerful accounts of violence, war, and loss.”
& that reminds me/of the glowing heart/inside me. How each rib/curves around, locks/tight in neat snaps/along the back — make/your hand like that/around my small/wrist & lead me/to the bathroom.
-Why I Crave Ribs Tonight
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is an American poet and essayist of Filipina and Malayali Indian descent. She is the author of New York Times bestseller “World of Wonders,” and poetry collections “Oceanic,” “Lucky Fish” and “Miracle Fruit.” While known for her excellent nature writing, she explores a wider range of themes in her poetry. What ties them all together and makes them fun to read is her whimsicality and sensual rendering of observational detail. She is a professor in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.
…From Kyphon,/meaning bent or crooked./I greet the diagnosis/with a recognition that’s bone/deep. What twisted me,/what cause has hurt so long,/I hunch and barely notice it at all?
Kirun Kapur is the award-winning author of “Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist” and “Women in the Waiting Room.” Her poetry explores a plethora of themes — from womanhood to silence and speech to partition to mythology. Her work is fascinating because it borrows from so many poetic forms, including the South Asian ghazal.
She is the editor of the “Beloit Poetry Journal,” one of America’s oldest poetry publications. She teaches at Amherst College, where she is the director of the Creative Writing Program.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
brown love is a balm/in this airport of life/where, if we can scrape up enough money/we all end up/because we all came from somewhere/and we want to go there
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a Lambda-award-winning queer, autistic and disabled nonbinary femme writer, disability and transformative justice movement worker, curator and educator of Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan and Irish/Roma descent. They have authored several poetry collections, including “Consensual Genocide” (2006); “Love Cake” (2012), and more. They have curated “Disabled and d/Deaf Poets Anthology,” a curation of poetry by disabled, d/Deaf, neurodivergent, and/or chronically ill poets through the generations.
my people my people I can’t be lost/when I see you my compass/is brown & gold & blood
-If They Should Come for Us
Fatima Asghar is a South Asian American Muslim writer of Pakistani-Kashmiri descent. Orphaned by 5, they explore many themes surrounding the South Asian experience, partition, Muslim identity and more. At the heart of their voice is the “…insistence on creating alternate possibilities of identity, relationships and humanity then the ones that society would box us into, and a deep play and joy embedded in the craft.” They are also the creator of the Emmy-nominated web series, Brown Girls.