Born in Pakistan and raised in Hertfordshire and now a tutor for the Open College of the Arts, the first of Moniza Alvi’s five poetry collections, The Country at My Shoulder, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award, and led to her being named as one of the 1994 Next Generation Poets. Her third collection, Carrying My Wife, received a Poetry Book Society recommendation, and in 2002 she was presented with a Cholmondeley Award for her poetry. Her latest collection, How the Stone Found its Voice – inspired by creation myths – was published by Bloodaxe in March.
Take a look at her exercise, ‘Close to the Skin’
Poetry has always been drawn to the subject of dress and undress. In the 17th century, for instance, Robert Herrick revelled in Julia’s attire in ‘Upon Julia’s Clothes’: “Whenas in silks my Julia goes,/ Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows/ the liquefaction of her clothes.” More recently, in his Selected Poems, Charles Simic wrote of his shoes (“Shoes, secret face of my inner life:/ Two gaping toothless mouths,/ Two partly decomposed animal skins/ smelling of mice nests”), and Carol Ann Duffy edited an anthology, Out of Fashion, on this rich theme.
Clothes, which simultaneously reveal and conceal, tell us much about ourselves and our cultures. They can provide a strong focus – or starting point – for a poem.