Faiz Ahmad Faiz: A People’s Poet

Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911–1984) has an international reputation, but I only became aware of him through the PinC preparations for an event, celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth, on Monday 17 Jan at Kings Place. Of course, we all tend to know better the poets in our own cultural tradition, those we studied at school and university or those our parents loved. But one of the delights of being involved with Poet in the City is the exposure we get to those beloved of other traditions and the realisation that they too have stirred the hearts of millions. As Soonu, one of the Event Managers, mused,

‘New audiences’, as Poet in the City defines them, would be those who don’t usually read poetry or who don’t go to poetry events. But that would rule out the young workers (now nearing retirement) I used to know in Slough, Watford, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Bradford, Preston, Blackburn—in fact in every town and city in Britain, in the ‘60s, ’70s and ’80s, that had a furnace or factory.

That’s because Pakistani and Indian immigrant workers were not new to poetry. No suitcase was ever packed for that long journey to ‘baylaat’ (Blighty) without a couple of books from one’s poetry collection. It wasn’t possible to have a discussion, without someone quoting a verse to make a point and everyone joining in to complete it. Poetry pulsates in the veins of our people like the throbbing memory of home.

There were regular ‘mushairas’ in people’s houses—usually bedsits—where the works of well-known poets were recited; and people read their own poetry. Everyone present was expected to contribute something original, even if it was just a couplet. University students and foundry workers shared the same enthusiasm for poetry: there were no class distinctions in the mushairas between those who had come to England because they could afford to and those who had come because they could not afford not to.

It was taken for granted that our monthly workers’ newsletter would have at least one poem in it. The problem was what to do with the poems that arrived unsolicited.

Occasionally, an established poet would arrive on these shores and public halls up and down the country became overfull with eager audiences. Poet in the City, where were you then?

Well, it’s because Poet in the City is here now that I have been introduced to Faiz Ahmad Faiz. LiveJournal has a small collection of his poems in English translation, prefaced by a brief introduction to his poetic and political life: Advanced Poetry. The few poems quoted here are full of wrenching sorrow and precious hope. I found this stanza from ‘Speak’, translated by Azfar Hussain, particularly affirming:

Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.

… and this is made even more poignant by the news I heard yesterday that Faiz’s nephew, Salman Taseer, was murdered on 4th January for his outspoken support for a secular Pakistan. In the spirit of this stanza, his daughter, Shehrbano Taseer, said:

To honour his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. … (The assassin and his supporters) may have felled a great oak that day, but they are sadly mistaken if they think they have succeeded in silencing my father’s voice or the voices of millions like him who believe in the secular vision of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Sify News

Has any of Faiz’s poetry touched or challenged you? Please leave a comment here to tell us about it.

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About Tia

I am a writer and a web project manager, with a passion for poetry and the creative arts, and interests in many other topics. I have experience in writing, editing, coaching, HTML and CSS programming, sales, and management. Together with my husband, Eyal Azulay, an experienced software developer, we work from our UK-based company, Get It Write International Limited (get-it-write.com) to develop the online presence of companies and individuals via websites, blogs and social media. We have a global perspective, having lived or worked in many countries, and in several different industries. I indulge my poetic passions at Poet in the City (UK) and post my own poems on TiaTalk.wordpress.com.
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3 Responses to Faiz Ahmad Faiz: A People’s Poet

  1. Graham says:

    Sometimes their is a weird topicality about the timing of these Poet in the City events. Famously there was an event called ‘Conflict and Instability’ at Lloyd’s of London, the insurance market, in the very week of the credit crunch in 2008, and the event about the marvels of Sufi poetry followed hard on the heels of the 7/7 bombings, providing an important reminder of the great riches of islamic poetry. Sadly it has now happened again with the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the liberal Pakistani politician, a few days before the ‘Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ event on 17 Jan. Taseer was the nephew of this great Urdu poet, who no doubt have shared his concerns about extremism and intolerance. Sometimes it is possible to be a bit too topical I guess. But probably a very good time for us to hear a different and powerful voice from the sub-continent. I understand that Faiz was very much an all-India figure as well, his work known and loved in Bangladesh, and many of his poems set to Bollywood style songs in post-independence India. We are going to have plenty of poems on Monday (in English translation too, for those who don’t speak Urdu), and some great songs from the brilliant singer Swati Naketar.

  2. Sulthana says:

    I wasn’t aware of Faiz before and I’m grateful that due to Poet in the City I have been exposed to him. Just read up on some of his translated work in the links provided in this blog, some powerful stuff that really takes you back to the contexts/era in which they were written.

    • Tia Azulay says:

      Hi Sulthana, yes, some of these poems are deeply affecting in the now, and some made even more interesting when one understands the context. A great discovery for me too.

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