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This review is taken from PN Review 158, Volume 30 Number 6, July - August 2004.

MULTIPLE CHOICE ALAMGIR HASHMI, The Ramazan Libation: Selected Poems, introduced by John Kinsella (Arc) £8.95

Like a cubist face, Pakistan can clearly be seen looking in several directions at once - back on itself and its traditions, to America and the `new world', to England and its Literature, to the more privileged aspects of the British education system. These are just some of the ways it points. Many countries increasingly have something of this `cubist face', so Hashmi's poetry with its slippages, its fragmented, multifaceted quality is of particular international significance. He is well-placed for belonging to what John Kinsella in his vigorous introduction refers to as `the community of poetry'. Born in 1951 in Lahore and brought up in that city, then a professor of English and Comparative Literature in the USA, living also in Switzerland and currently resident in Islamabad, Hashmi has been beset by cultural choices. Some of these `choices' were not exactly choices; he describes his early position as regards language: `Growing up in a home where several languages were spoken, often interchangeably, offered a multiple choice from which a definite answer was expected. Thus English has remained my first language, the only one in which I live while counting my blessings with the others.'

That he makes his home in language rather than elsewhere is indeed central to Hashmi's poetry. `Place' in his poems is tantalisingly there and not there. Hence the aptly titled long poem `America is a Punjabi Word' which provides a memorable starting point for the uninitiated. Dated 1979, its deft cultural exchange would ...


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