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Muslim poet wins two international competitions

29th Nov 2019
Muslim poet wins two international competitions

Fathima Zahra recites her winning poem at the prestigious Bridport Prize
(Credit: Rachel Brown/Bridport Prize)

Elham Asaad Buaras

A young Muslim poet has won two international writing competitions, topping almost 4,000 other entries in one of them. Fathima Zahra from Essex scooped first prize in the prestigious Bridport Prize in August and the Wells Festival of Literature which ran from October 18 – 26.

Zahra won the festival’s Young Poets title for her poem ‘Thirteen’ she came in first place out of 65 entries; she followed the win with The Bridport Poetry Prize with the poem ‘Things I wish I could trade my headscarf for.’

Speaking to The Muslim News Zahra said, “Alhamdulillah, it’s been an amazing weekend. When I first found out I won the Bridport Prize in August, I could not believe it for a long time. I had only ended up sending my poem last minute to the competition when I found out Hollie McNish was judging because I was a fan of her authenticity in her work.”

“I thought if there was ever a chance my poem made it to the longlist and she gets to read it, that would make me very happy. Winning this and the Young Poets Prize at the Wells Festival of Literature was beyond my expectations.”
Kate Wilson, Programme Manager for The Bridport Prize, told The Muslim News,

“We had 3,911 submissions to the poetry award this year. For the overall competition (which includes short stories, flash fiction and first novel categories) we had over 10,000 submissions from 86 countries.”

Explaining why she selected Zahra’s poem ‘Thirteen’ to win the festival’s Young Poet’s prize, renowned Scottish poet and performer Miriam Nash said she was drawn to the poem’s “short lines, explosive images and energy.”

In a statement to The Muslim News Nash said, “I was there, feeling thirteen with lighter fluid and electric-blue eyeliner. These images are widely relatable, but the poem is also highly specific (‘an all-girls’ school in Jeddah). This root the poem in a very real world so that when the turn comes, it’s all the more devastating. Suddenly we’re in a syntax of negatives: ‘I wasn’t/back in India’, ‘Didn’t know/what octave to raise my/voice to.’”

“This is a brilliant storytelling device. The thirteen-year-old is still thirteen, still living in the negative, before the knowing, but the speaker isn’t allowed to stay there and nor are we. We know how her innocence ends, how it keeps ending, how it has ended for centuries.”The science student was born in India and raised in the Middle East before she moved to the UK. Her poems span her “lived experiences across these countries and the different ways I am perceived in each.”

Zahra’s work has been featured across BBC World News, The New Indian Express and Young Poets Network. She is also a Roundhouse Poetry Collective alumnus and was a runner up in the Roundhouse Poetry Slam final last year.

In her writing, she explores the lives of the diaspora, identity and belonging. She has been short-listed for the Outspoken Poetry Prize 2019 and the Women Poet’s Prize 2018 (Rebecca Swift Foundation). Her debut pamphlet Datepalm Ghazals comes out with Burning Eye Books in 2020.

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