With formally inventive poems drawing on multiple languages and literary traditions, Zaffar Kunial explores the complexities of hybrid cultural identities in an intimate and resonant lyric voice.
A native of Birmingham, England, Zaffar Kunial is the author of one full-length poetry collection, Us (2018), which was shortlisted for both the Costa Poetry Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize. In Us, Kunial, the son of an English mother and a Kashmiri father, takes his own identity as his central subject. The poet’s “unfixed” self becomes a lens through which to investigate—sometimes with pain, sometimes with joy, always with provocation—the unfixedness of the world. Taking us along on a ramble through an imaginary bookshop called The Wardrobe, looking with us at the rhododendron bushes in the country of his own birth, “that edgeland of central England,” Kunial’s deeply felt poems insist on the value of confusion and uncertainty, the rapture of being lost—and, perhaps fleetingly, found: “The whole field, meanwhile, waiting for me / some astronaut or lost explorer, to emerge with a wave / that brings the ball / like time itself to hand. A world restored.” Kunial’s poems offer us a world, if not restored, then re-visioned; cast under the glow of his luminous words, we see the formerly mundane—a DNA test, a spider tree, a cricket field, a butterfly—as if for the first time. Kunial is also the author of the chapbooks Six (2019) and Faber New Poets 11 (2014). The winner of the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize (2014) and the Northern Writers’ Award (2013), he has been a poet-in-residence for the Brontë Parsonage and the Wordsworth Trust and now lives in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His new collection of poetry, England’s Green, is forthcoming from Faber and Faber in September 2022.
I’m still rubbing my eyes at the news, and at the thought that my slim book made it through the judging process – one I didn't know was happening at all—my world feels wider and kinder. I’m the most pleasantly shocked I’ve ever been.ZAFFAR KUNIAL