Shazea Quraishi is one of a number of younger black and Asian women poets currently gaining ground in UK poetry. In sensual, clear, perfectly measured tones, her poems meet the male gaze with a female voice. Her long poem sequence The Courtesan’s Reply (“a wonderful study of gender and expectation” – Poetry Book Society) is based on the courtesans depicted in Manomohan Ghosh’s translation of The Caturbhani – four Sanskrit monologue plays written around 300 BC. It is published as a pamphlet by flipped eye publishing and is being developed for stage. Stephen Knight, her mentor, has described it as “an intriguing collision between the archaeological and the lyrical”.
Shazea Quraishi was born in Pakistan and lived in Canada and Spain before moving to London, where she works as a poet, translator and creative writing tutor.
Her poetry has been published in anthologies and journals in the UK and USA, including I Am Twenty People (Enitharmon, 2007) and Images of Women (Arrowhead Press in association with Second Light, 2006), The Financial Times, PN Review, Magma, Modern Poetry in Translation and Sentence: A Journal of Prose Poetics.
In 2008 she was one of ten poets who took part in The Complete Works, a professional development programme for black and Asian poets, mentored by the poet Stephen Knight. Her poems were published in the resulting anthology, Ten (Bloodaxe Books, 2010), which is proving to be an influential work.
'Tambulasena', first published in Modern Poetry in Translation, literally describes the male gaze itself, while at the same time turning its female gaze onto the man:
Now, I bathe while he watches,
feel his eyes,
fireflies on my skin.
I bend over,
my hair, a curtain of water
I let him towel me dry,
his strokes soft at first, then brisk,
like a cloth shining a lamp.
The Modern Poetry in Translation website quotes Quraishi on The Courtesan's Reply project:
"In the original plays, a narrator walks through the courtesans' quarter, commenting on the women he meets and engaging them in a one-sided conversation. I enjoyed the sensuality, charm and formality of Ghosh's prose immensely, but more than that, I was captivated by the courtesans glimpsed through the filter of the narrator. I wanted to respond to that work, and provide a counterpoint to the male voice and the male gaze. My poems are in the voices of the courtesans mentioned and glimpsed briefly in the original plays. My intention was to give them a voice, and although I began by staying loyal to Ghosh's translation, I found that the courtesans wanted to say 'No, it was not like that, it was like this.'"
The concern with seeing and the seen object, with the boundaries of the real and of experience, is explored elsewhere in Quraishi's 'Found Poems' – concerns that apply equally to the poem itself, its origins and its physical form:
The most important element
in a picture
is its frame.
She is working on her first collection.
I Am Twenty People, Enitharmon, London, 2007 (contributor)
Images of Women, Arrowhead Press in association with Second Light, Darlington, 2006 (contributor)
Ten, Bloodaxe, Tarset, 2010 (contributor)
The Courtesan's Reply (pamphlet), flipped eye, London, forthcoming in September 2012
Modern Poetry in Translation
Shazea Quraishi's website