National Poetry Competition
Third Prize, Zaffar Kunial

Zaffar Kunial
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.

From the judges...

Colette Bryce:  "We were intrigued by the linguistic trail laid down by this poem, in the speaker’s search for his roots in language. Each time we read it, we noticed new connections, and the space created by the poem seemed to open up. We wanted to read it again, and again. In the strange business of competition adjudication, that counts for such a lot."

Read the other poems...

First Prize:  'To The Lighthouse' by Allison McVety
Second Prize:  'Ponting' by Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

Commended Poems:
'White Basin' by Lindy Barbour
'Birmingham Roller' by Liz Berry
'In Vitro' by Antony Dunn
'Photograph' by Rosalind Hudis
'How to Furnish an Amercian House' by Helen Klein Ross
'Springtime of the Nations' by S.J. Litherland
'Our Lady of the Pylons' by Ian McEwen
'Blue Poison Dart Frog' by Jon Stone