In May this year, Imtiaz Dharker was being considered for the post of Poet Laureate of Britain, the highest honour in British poetry. However, in an interview to The Guardian, Imtiaz said that she turned down the offer to be the first Asian laureate because she wanted to focus on her poetry. She said, “It was a huge honour to be considered for the role of poet laureate and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of support and encouragement from all over the world. I had to weigh the privacy I need to write poems against the demands of a public role. The poems won.”
Born in 1954, Imtiaz describes herself as someone who “grew up a Muslim Calvinist in a Lahori household in Glasgow and was adopted by India and married into Wales.” Originally from Pakistan, Imtiaz grew up in Glasgow when her family moved there. Throughout her career, Imtiaz has published six books of poetry: Purdah (1989), Postcards from God (1997), I speak for the Devil (2001), The Terrorist at my Table (2006), Leaving Fingerprints (2009), Over the Moon (2014), and Luck is a Hook (2018).
In 2008, Imtiaz was on the panel for the 2008 Manchester Poetry Prize along with Carol Ann Duffy (whose 10-year tenure as the Poet Laureate of Britain ended in April 2019) and Gillian Clarke. For her work, Imtiaz was honoured with the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014. She’s also the recipient of other awards like the 2011 Cholmondeley awards and a Royal Society of Literature fellowship.
Imtiaz’s poems are a reflection of her life as a Muslim woman living in a foreign country. The main themes often revolve around subjects of freedom, cultural displacement, communal conflict, and gender biases and politics. Her poems are a part of the British GCSE and A Level English Syllabus. What’s more, she has also been Poet in Residence at Cambridge University Library, for Thresholds.
Apart from writing poems, Imtiaz is also a critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker. She has written and directed over a hundred films and audio-visuals for NGOs and documentary filmmakers.
Watch this video of Imtiaz reciting a poem called Honour Killing, taken from her collection I Speak For The Devil.