Poetry Unbound

Imtiaz Dharker

Don’t Miss Out! Book Right Now for the Journey of a Lifetime!

Last Updated

October 18, 2021


Original Air Date

October 18, 2021

A love poem with a playful title that sounds like an ad from a travel agent unfolds into a poem about choosing to stay at home. Imtiaz Dharker’s husband died in the years between this poem’s setting and its publishing. The poem, too, moves from long lines across the page into shorter and shorter lines. In sensuality, locality, intimacy, and simplicity, this poem is all about the man she loved, and moves from noise to focus: “You Are / Here” its final lines assert.

Guest

Image of Imtiaz Dharker

Imtiaz Dharker is a poet, artist and video film-maker. She was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014. Her poems are on the British GCSE and A Level English syllabus, and she reads with other poets at Poetry Live! events all over the country to more than 25,000 students a year. She has been Poet in Residence at Cambridge University Library, worked on a series of poems based on the Archives of St Paul’s Cathedral as well as projects across art forms in Leeds, Newcastle and Hull. She has had eleven solo exhibitions of drawings in India, London, New York and Hong Kong. She scripts and directs films, many of them for non-government organisations in India, working in the area of shelter, education and health for women and children.

Transcript

Pádraig Ó Tuama: My name is Pádraig Ó Tuama, and one of the things I love about poetry is that it has a very particular relationship with time. Sometimes we can feel so rushed. And poetry, even in the midst of speaking about important things or rushed things, seeks to create a curious corner that can explore something, without the pressure of time upon it.

[music: “Praise the Rain” by Gautam Srikishan]

“Don’t Miss Out! Book Right Now for the Journey of a Lifetime!” by Imtiaz Dharker:

“We plan a holiday, a mini-break, a long weekend, a stolen week.
We trawl the options, seek out the perfect combination of hotel
and flight, the distant beach, the extra night, consider packing
suitcases, examine the travel clothes and lotions, get as far as
tying on our baggage tags. Then I look at you standing here
in this pale grey light and think that I have miles and miles
to go before I know you, and as in any unknown country
I may wish to travel to your sites, and make repeated
visits to become familiar with you. We look out of
the bedroom window at the usual view and think
we may prefer to linger on here, where we have
each other’s endless landscapes to explore,
where I seek out your shore, you stalk my
tigers and the world will say it lost us.
This will be our stolen week, your
kiss my break, my eyes your lake
your mouth will be my Paris.
And as for Machu Picchu,
there are other routes
than dizzy altitude
to render us light-
headed, other
ways than
thin blue
air to

leave us breathless, and we are here,
not away not far but where
we want to be, still where
we were, this red arrow
pointing straight at
who we are, and

You Are
Here

[music: “Outstretched Hand” by Gautam Srikishan]

The title of this poem is so clever, because it’s kind of two short sentences, the likes of which you’d find on an advertisement from a travel agency asking you, urging you, to book a holiday quickly. “Don’t Miss Out! Book Right Now for the Journey of a Lifetime!” And there’s exclamation marks after each of these sentences. It’s a very strange kind of title to have for a poem, and there’s an urgency and almost a frenzy to it. And certainly, you see that at the beginning, too. So much time is spent on planning the holiday, thinking about where it’s going to be, the stolen week and the options, and the combination of flights and hotels, and the beach and the extra night and packing and buying the things you want to pack, and all the lotions and the luggage tags.

And then it changes. “Then I look at you standing here / in this pale grey light and think that I have miles and miles / to go before I know you” — reminiscent of Robert Frost in that “miles and miles to go.” And the way that the poem turns, inasmuch as the gaze of the poet turns, she’s not looking, anymore, to that imagined holiday far away. She’s looking to the person who is standing right by her, where instead of going far away to explore distant landscapes, they’re turning towards each other right where they are, to explore the landscapes of each other.

[music: “The House You Wake In” by Gautam Srikishan]

The poem, on its technicality, does something very clever in terms of the introduction of a very particular kind of rhyme and pace towards the end, when the concept of the stolen week comes back up after they’ve decided not to go away. She says, “This will be our stolen week, your / kiss my break, my eyes your lake / your mouth will be my Paris.” Just that beautiful introduction of rhyme, kiss / break, eyes / lake, “your mouth will be my Paris” — there’s something exuberant tumbling out that is so powerful here.

And then just the continued references, which is so good, to imagine sex in midlife: “And as for Machu Picchu, / there are other routes / than dizzy altitude / to render us light- / headed, other / ways than / thin blue / air to // leave us breathless, and we are here.” You feel like you are being brought into the privacy and intimacy of their love and life and bodies with each other. And that is offering a promise to us, to think about what intimacy in the body seems like at various stages of life.

[music: “Ashed to Air” by Gautam Srikishan]

This is a love poem written by Imtiaz Dharker to her late husband, Simon Powell, who had died by the time this poem is published. And I wonder if she, thinking back with gratitude toward that holiday that didn’t happen, toward a time when they just spent time with each other right in the ordinariness of the gray light and found strange places in each other to explore and to get to know, found the different people that each one of them were, to explore in life with each other, and that she has turned back to that memory and that that makes him alive to her. And she’s saying, You are here. And she’s thinking that “you” are here — him — in the memory that she has of their relationship, of the holidays that they didn’t take and maybe the ones they did take, and of their life in the body and life of love together.

[music: “Ashed to Air” by Gautam Srikishan]

For so long, I spent such a long time hearing that relationship would never be possible for me. I always had this fantasy about what a relationship would be or wouldn’t be, so much so that when I was safe enough in my life to get into a relationship without the threat of being fired or being kicked out of all the networks that I was in, I built up so much expectation, but also so much anxiety about the question about what it meant to be present in a relationship. And it was so important to learn how to calm myself into that; that it didn’t have to be postcard perfect, but also, it didn’t have to be difficult; that there could simply be a way of doing life by myself in a relationship with somebody else, and that you continue to be yourself while you’re with someone else.

Toward the end the poem says, “and we are here, / not away not far but where / we want to be, still where / we were, this red arrow / pointing straight at / who we are.” It’s looking at these words, “we are,” “where we want to be,” “where we were,” “who we are,” and the poem is remembering something so powerful. It tells you about location and identity. And there’s a powerful way within which we find identity, sometimes, maybe not all of it but some of it, in the context of the relationships with people we love — with a lover, with a friend — and finding this sense of who we are in shared experience, in shared love, in love given and love received.

[music: “Ashed to Air” by Gautam Srikishan]

“Don’t Miss Out! Book Right Now for the Journey of a Lifetime!” by Imtiaz Dharker:

“We plan a holiday, a mini-break, a long weekend, a stolen week.
We trawl the options, seek out the perfect combination of hotel
and flight, the distant beach, the extra night, consider packing
suitcases, examine the travel clothes and lotions, get as far as
tying on our baggage tags. Then I look at you standing here
in this pale grey light and think that I have miles and miles
to go before I know you, and as in any unknown country
I may wish to travel to your sites, and make repeated
visits to become familiar with you. We look out of
the bedroom window at the usual view and think
we may prefer to linger on here, where we have
each other’s endless landscapes to explore,
where I seek out your shore, you stalk my
tigers and the world will say it lost us.
This will be our stolen week, your
kiss my break, my eyes your lake
your mouth will be my Paris.
And as for Machu Picchu,
there are other routes
than dizzy altitude
to render us light-
headed, other
ways than
thin blue
air to

leave us breathless, and we are here,
not away not far but where
we want to be, still where
we were, this red arrow
pointing straight at
who we are, and

You Are
Here

[music: “Praise the Rain” by Gautam Srikishan]

Chris Heagle: “Don’t Miss Out! Book Right Now for the Journey of a Lifetime!” comes from Imtiaz Dharker’s book Over the Moon. Thank you to Bloodaxe Books, who gave us permission to use Imtiaz’s poem. Read it on our website, at onbeing.org.

[music: “Praise the Rain” by Gautam Srikishan]

Poetry Unbound is: Gautam Srikishan, Erin Colasacco, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, and me, Chris Heagle.

Our music is composed and provided by Gautam Srikishan and Blue Dot Sessions.

This podcast is produced by On Being Studios, which is located on Dakota land. We also produce other podcasts you might enjoy, like On Being with Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, and This Movie Changed Me. Find those wherever you like to listen, or visit us at onbeing.org to find out more.

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