Feature written for Assorted magazine (a magazine concept created for Phoenix magazine)
Fatimah Asghar – the woman who changed poetry history
Fatimah Asghar, writer of award-winning series, Brown Girls, comes to London for her first reading of debut poetry book, If They Come for Us.
Fatimah Asghar, the twenty-eight-year-old who wrote and co-created the Emmy nominated series, Brown Girls, released her debut poetry book, If They Come for Us, last year in 2018. But she has now come to London, Kings Place to be exact, for a reading for the first time outside of the US.
I had heard about the reading from my Brother, who had sent me a photo of the poster of the event being advertised on social media. From there, my interest in her work sparked and I began to look further into her poetry and inspiration. I found a deep connection between myself and her, having Pakistani parents allowed me to understand her words more than others.
The dim lights set the mood and allows for Asghar to create an atmosphere for her first reading in London. The event has brought many individuals together, people of different race, cultures, gender and size. It was through Asghar that we had all found a connection, a bond that was poetry.
Asghar was born in Kashmir, Pakistan, but soon moved to the United States after her parent’s death, to live with her Grandmother. She grew up without the guidance of her parents and pursued poetry as her escape and guide to help others.
Muslims have been living in America for more than four hundred years and have been portrayed differently under multiple narratives. Asghar speaks of this in many of her poems, speaking to the roughly four million Muslims who are living in the U.S.
Her voice is strong as she reads the first line of the single stanza poem, Partition. The room is silent and her voice echoes through the speakers with pain. It may be the lowly lit lights or the echo in the room, but hearing Asghar recite a poem, with her voice full of raw emotion brings tears to my eyes. Along with many others.
“It’s hard to describe being an immigrant,” Says Asghar to the audience after the first poem. “The US doesn’t feel like home, but my home country is not my home either, I don’t live there anymore but I don’t belong here in the US either.”
These words from Asghar made me think about how she struggled with her identity, like many others, including me. It is clear that she found her identity through poetry, through the expression of words.
Her poems talk about traditions, “Kheer at graduation” (For Peshawar) and her poems talk about politics, “They shipped us to the sanctuary camps” (When the Orders Came). Asghar writes about present day topics and global issues affecting many girls, Pakistanis, queer individuals and immigrants all around the world.
The book has been named one of the top ten books of the year by The New York Public Library and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. While, The New Yorker described it as, “Illuminating the forces by which identity is fixed or flexible.”
Identity is a common theme in Asghar’s poetry, it is something she has struggled with. Something we have all struggled with. I have found myself losing my identity in difficult times, when I could not recognise myself. Peer pressure, racism, being sexist, social media, all of these things can make us lose our true identities.
But reading and hearing Asghar’s poetry made me realise that I am not the only one who struggles with such things.
“My poems are a part of me,” Asghar tells me after the reading, who has been on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. “They are written from emotions, experience and research. I had essentially started writing the poems for this book in 2014.”
The twenty-eight-year-old creates a safe and beautiful sanctuary inside Kings Place, filling the air with words as she speaks about the sensitive, yet relatable topics.
And the audience certainly relates with her. Empathise with her. There is a mutual understanding between everyone, and it is that, that makes the evening so special.
As the reading comes to an end, the ambience around the room is sombre yet light, filled with sadness but joy. Looking around the room, I can see different stories, different journeys and different people. Including my own.
She sticks around after the reading, many people rushing to congratulate her. To thank her for helping them through life and continuing to do so.
“Poetry helps me to understand my thoughts and feelings,” Fatimah tells me. “It helps me to communicate with others and relate with them.”. What Asghar wanted to achieve through her poetry, was achieved. Asghar managed to unite people.
To come together and be one.
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