Moniza Alvi was
born in Lahore in Pakistan, the daughter of a
Pakistani father and an English mother. She moved to Hatfield in England when
she was a few months old. She didn't revisit Pakistan until after the
publication of her first book of poems - 'The Country at my Shoulder' – in 1993. Alvi's sense of uncertainty about her personal identity as
a westerner conscious of a non-western heritage that she can only partially
connect with is a feeling that many people in international schools can understand.
Like many students, Alvi is almost childishly
preoccupied with the question: Who am I? The word "my" is one of the
potent ones in her poetry: it reflects the poet’s assertion of her identity while
at the same suggesting a desire to know her past and her heritage more fully so
that she can come to a better understanding of herself.
She says: ‘There is a sense of otherness in my work that is
influenced by my experience. I always have a country in my background that is
more or less unknown to me that I’m fantasizing about; something about me that is
a bit different from my friends at school that perhaps I couldn’t put my finger
on as I was growing up. So there’s a sense of being exotic, being a little
different to everyone else, that comes up in my poetry.’
She says: "I found it was important to write the Pakistan
poems because I was getting in touch with my background. And maybe there's a
bit of a message behind the poems about something I went through, that I want
to maybe open a few doors if possible."