Poems by Rakhshan Rizwan

With an introduction by Leila Aboulela


Rakhshan Rizwan’s debut collection simmers with a poised, driving anger. Drawing on the rich visual and material culture of her home region, Rizwan unpacks and offers critical comment on the vexed issues of class, linguistic and cultural identity – particularly for women – in the context of Pakistan and South Asia.

She writes about the hypocrisy of the men who claim to worship women, the nuances of using Urdu or Hindi, and the many contradictions of the city of her birth, Lahore. As well as startling free verse, Rizwan’s many accomplished ghazals both explore and demonstrate her fascination with multilingualism, code-switching, displacement and belonging.

The poems in Paisley are an unflinchingly feminist assault on received ideas about womanhood which present the reader with often-uncomfortable truths.

Paperback ISBN 978-1-910139-78-3
Publication date: 28th September 2017
Page count: 36
Price: £6.50 (paperback) / £4.25 (ebook)

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Praise for Paisley

‘For a poet, language comes first. But which language: the old or the new, the mother tongue or the one learnt at school? In Partition, language is learnt while still in the womb. While reading a letter from her mother, the ‘unborn child kicks the quaint figures of speech and sucks the cloying Urdu with its small, webbed hands’.’ Leila Aboulela in her introduction

‘Rakhshan Rizwan exposes the fragmented, fragile heart of Pakistani/South Asian culture in unflinching poems that are alive with the beauty and power of language. I feel as if I’ve been waiting for these poems.’ Moniza Alvi



‘A striking debut collection which evokes the rich culture and history of Rizwan’s native Lahore. Themes of belonging, migration and displacement abound, as Rizwan examines the split linguistic self of the migrant: “My voice is the mirror that breaks in Urdu”. The patterns of her homeland are ever-present: “in a new country, let us dream of different paisleys”. Combining free verse and complex ghazals, this is a powerful exploration of the role of women in Pakistan and beyond.’ – PBS Bulletin

‘The collection as a whole, however, is a serious instigator of thought. It will certainly appeal to a Western audience so that they can see what integration means to those that that they want to integrate and what kinds of things their ethnic minority brothers and sisters from the Sub-Continent are experiencing and thinking about.’ –  Suneel Mehmi, Contemporary Small Press

‘In her title poem, she uses a ghazal form in which every couplet rhymes ‘paisley’ with ‘paisley’. The word is repeated so many times that all shreds of former association disappear in a furious blizzard of repetition. There is fierce energy here, and uncompromising intensity. I see the paisley symbol for the first time in my life.’ – Helena Nelson, Sphinx OPOI reviews

‘The physical shape (and taste) of language, as well as its abstract resonances, takes on a new significance. This is seen perhaps most clearly in Rizwan’s assured use of the ghazal in poems such as ‘Urdu/ Hindi’ and ‘Speech Therapy’, where the form lends itself particularly well to Paisley’s overarching dialectic.’ – Phoebe Walker, Sabotage Reviews


About the poet

Rakhshan Rizwan was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and then moved to Germany to study Literature and New Media. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Comparative Literature at Utrecht University and a Witteveen Memorial Research Fellow at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. In 2015 she won the Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize.
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