Tuesday Poem: 'Hill Speak' by Zaffar Kunial

The Poetry Society UK recently published the three winners of the National Poetry Competition.  Allison McVety won with a response to Virginia Woolf's novel 'To the Lighthouse', but it was the third prize winner that caught my eye.  Not a published poet (until now!) but a British born asian with a new take on things.   Check out his reading of the poem here. 

Hill Speak

There is no dictionary for my father’s language.
His dialect, for a start, is difficult to name.
Even this taxi driver, who talks it, lacks the knowledge.
Some say it’s Pahari – ‘hill speak’ –
others, Potwari, or Pahari-Potwari –
too earthy and scriptless to find a home in books.
This mountain speech is a low language. Ours. “No good.
You should learn speak Urdu.” I’m getting the runaround.
Whatever it is, this talk, going back, did once have a script:
Landa, in the reign of the Buddhists.
... So was Dad’s speech some kind of Dogri?
Is it Kashmiri? Mirpuri? The differences are lost on me.
I’m told it’s part way towards Punjabi,
but what that tongue would call tuvarda,
Dad would agree was tusaana
‘yours’ –
truly, though there are many dictionaries for the tongue I speak,
it’s the close-by things I’m lost to say;
things as pulsed and present as the back of this hand,
never mind stumbling towards some higher plane.
And, either way, even at the rare moment I get towards –
or, thank God, even getting to –
my point, I can’t put into words
where I’ve arrived.
Zaffar Kunial was born in Birmingham and lives in Shipley, Yorkshire. His mother was English and his father, who has since moved to Lahore, is from Kashmir. Zaffar studied at the London School of Economics and later attended Michael Donaghy’s classes at City University. He recently went on an Arvon course with Ian Duhig who then invited Zaffar to join his small writing group in Leeds. Until now, he’d held back from submitting his poetry for publication, but was writing toward a collection. He thought he’d start by entering the National Poetry Competition – “just in case”. He works as a writer for Hallmark.

Check out the Poetry Society web page for the other winners and more information.  

For more Tuesday Poems go to the website at http://www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com


  1. How incredible that this was his 'just in case' entry for the comp! The searching for a script and/or dialect seems to be embodied in the piecemeal patching together of others' suggestions - I was really struck by how this poem was put together. Thanks so much for sharing, Kathleen.

  2. intimate and written with great skill, i'm inspired


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