Everyone, I have a new favourite poetry collection.
In the notes before the collection, the poet discusses how she wanted to bridge the gap between spoken word and written poetry, so wrote ‘context boxes’ to go alongside each of her poems. She explains that she wrote these poems to be enjoyed, not deciphered and therefore doesn’t wish for them to be puzzled over. I loved this idea and in general this collection’s ability to make you feel and think deeply, without the evasiveness that comes with conventional poetry forms.
The use of language is at the heart of these poems. For example, Manzoor-Khan picks up on the use of the phrase “British-born” in the media’s description of the men behind the 7/7 attacks. She says that to describe them as “British-born”, rather than just simply “British”, seems to deflect responsibility away from Britain and presents the perpetrators as some foreign evil, as if their ‘backwardness’ couldn’t possibly have been cultivated inside such a great nation. Again in her notes, the poet refers to Shamima Begum and how she was stripped of her British citizenship (despite having no other citizenship) because it was assumed there was another place that she was ‘really from’. She reminds us that if the government can do it to her, they can do it to anyone. And they have done it - just look at what’s happening to the Windrush generation.
Focusing on the treatment of Islam in the West, Manzoor-Khan raises points about ‘the war on terrorism’ and how guerilla soldiers were cultivated by the US government for their own political agendas who then later used them as a scapegoat for their war crimes. Later on in the collection, she talks about ‘terrorist prevention’ tactics in the UK and how “prevent is nothing more than prejudice” when it promotes the policing of Muslim people. Many of these poems are written from personal experience, but I loved how there was some factual basis to a lot of them. I especially appreciated the use of referencing and recommended readings ascribed after reading each poem to allow the reader to explore the subject matter further should they wish to.
‘This Poem is Not For You’ is one of my favourites from the collection. In this poem, Manzoor-Khan airs her frustration with poetry slams and the expectation that poets perform their racial trauma for a white audience to consume. It explores themes of voyeurism and the white gaze when it comes to the acceptance of stories from racialised communities. Even outside of poetry, this is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue through the popularity of trauma narratives in publishing which has, despite potentially good intentions, led to these writers being marginalised further.
Another deeply personal reflection that I enjoyed was the poem ‘Paki’ which explores the origins of the violent racial slur used against South Asians in the race riots of the 70s and 80s. This poem encapsulated many of my own thoughts on the term’s usage and I think it especially does a great job at demonstrating the reactions towards British Asian histories across generations. The poet reflects on how her brother and the younger generations are now reclaiming the term but expresses unease about this since the word conjures up many violent memories for her family. She recalls how it was used to “strip humanity from people from or of South Asian heritage” and so the use of this term serves as a painful reminder of the violence South Asians faced in Britain.
I don’t claim to be a poetry expert, but this collection gripped me, spoke to me and educated me all at once. It was everything you could want in a poetry collection and I wish more people knew about Postcolonial Banter because it deserves much more recognition than it’s so far gotten. Highly recommended.