Featured Publication – Besharam by Nafeesa Hamid

Our featured publication for November is Besharam by Nafeesa Hamid, published by Verve Poetry Press.

Learning that your mind and body have been taken hostage is one thing. Learning how to take them back is another. What if those that are returned are different to the ones that were lost?

Besharam – Nafeesa Hamid’s glorious debut collection – asks this and many other questions. When does a girl become a woman? When does her world allow her to become a woman? And what kind of woman should she be? The answers aren’t readily forthcoming.

As she treads the shifting line between woman and daughter, between Pakistan and the West, between conservative Islam and liberal, Nafeesa has almost had to find a new language to try to communicate the difficulties of her situation. And what a language! At times hard and pointed, at other times wonderfully and colourfully evocative, erupting with femininity, empowerment and rebellion. It is this language that makes Besharam such a pleasure to read in spite of the pain it contains – Besharam really is a magical first book of poetry.

A necessary and potent meditation on the meaning of Womanhood‘ Joelle Taylor

Besharam is an outstanding collection from Nafeesa… I think her poems are very special.’ Imtiaz Dharker

Love this collection and finding it deeply affecting. The fearlessness is astonishing. Bravo!’ –Roz Goddard





My father walks from door to door,
hands held together like he is doing dua(1).
They are covered in blood.
He splutters
‘beti(2) ’ to anyone who will listen,
blood spraying from his grieving mouth.
He is covered in blood,
Jummah(3) salwaar kameez
bleached white before.
(I wonder how my mother got out the stains.)
A blood vessel has erupted
and my father thinks he is beyond repair.

I wonder if my mother bothered scrubbing the stains out
or if she buried the whole thing instead.

My mother is a suburban English village;
quiet and collected,
she has not made a sound yet,
Tasbeeh(4) against her chest.

I think me and my mother found Womanhood that day.

In her absence
and in mine
I felt like she was praying to me.
I heard her words as clear as the call to prayer on a Friday afternoon,
yet the congregation sat at home and wept.
The muazzin(5) answers questions from police.

Later I find out she was praying
for me.
She rebirthed me that night
as part jawan(6) , part still child, still nine.
The string of her tasbeeh beads is fraying

with the dampness of her hands.
Her blooming chest has lost count of the
and SubhanAllah(8)
and Allahu Akbar’s(9)

but here she is,
still praying for my return.

(1) Prayer
(2) Daughter
(3) Friday; religious day for Muslims
(4) Rosary beads
(5) Muslim official who announces the call to prayer
(6) Of age, mature
(Three phrases that make up Tasbih of Fatima)
(7) All praise is due to God
(8) God is perfect
(9) Allah is greatest


Upon finding your daughter

Pulled up from
the pavement on
Cotterills Lane crying,
by strange women
with kind faces.
They tell Girl
it’ll be okay.
Inside their home,
her mother tumbles
through door, falls
at feet – pink
scarf throttling around
her neck – unashamed.
Eyes bloodshot sockets,
noosed hair hitting
against her face.
Father follows slow
and soft like
he has seen
and known death.
He tries to
smile, but cries
over head of
Girl instead. He
fathers. They Speak
with strange voices.
Girl does not
listen, but hears.


Giving her away

From daughter to dhulan,
You are someone else’s problem now.


In this one no one notices

In this one no one notices
how time has ground itself into dust,
how a lost brown girl
was just that –
a lost brown girl.
No one will notice
that the Weeping Fig
and Madagascan Dragon Tree
and Purple Hearts
had dried out weeks ago,
how the glasses with vodka mixers
had gathered dead flies and dust,
how ripped out hairs and split ends became carpet,
how the lamp was never switched off,
how the curtains had not moved in months,
their lips as tightly bound as her limbs to bed,
how the bin overflowed with diabetes,
how the blue glow from the laptop
had tinged her skin.
No one notices how
the mirror had cracked,
the flowers in her vase dried out to a crisp,
because in this one
we are representing fragility,
how vulnerability is ugly,
how cows do come home,
how chickens do come home to roost.
How we all just want
something or someone or somewhere
to call home.
In this one no one notices
that the brown girl
does not return home.


Nafeesa Hamid is a British Pakistani poet and playwright based in Birmingham. Her work covers taboo themes such as sex, domestic violence and mental health, using personal experience as a basis for her writing. She has been writing and performing for 6 years at nights around the UK. She has featured at Outspoken (London), Poetry is Dead Good (Nottingham), Find the Right Words (Leicester) and Hit The Ode (Birmingham). She was invited to perform at TedxBrum 2016 (Power of Us).
Nafeesa has also performed at Cheltenham and Manchester Literature Festivals as part of The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, a recent (2017) anthology publication by Saqi Books, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. She is an alumni of Mouthy Poets and Derby Theatre Graduate Associate Artists. She runs Twisted Tongues, an open-mic only poetry night at The Station in Kings Heath.

Besharam is available to purchase from the Verve Poetry Press website.

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