Contemporary, genuine and emotionally charged

Seher Hashmi’s poetry is a powerful wake-up call

Contemporary, genuine and emotionally charged


Othered, the first collection of Seher Hashmi’s poetry, makes for a startling reading - or should one say viewing, considering how akin the experience of reading it is to watching a film or a drama performance. Here, one is glued to a page – rather than a screen - so intently that turning the pages becomes an involuntary activity. Perhaps inadvertently, the opening lines of the collection’s first poem, Virtual Life, best summarise the experience: “I exist in 2D forms/ Days rush by/ Like images on 35mm reel.”

Poem after poem, the collection treats the reader to a series of vivid and profound images that serve to lay threadbare the meaninglessness, bitterness, ugliness, vulgarity and hypocrisy of modern life, as well as of all that lies beyond, in a brutally honest manner with nothing left to the imagination on account of being politically incorrect or taboo.

The journey Hashmi nudges the readers to undertake is neither unusual nor extraordinary. However, it still evokes strong emotions. The primary reason for this bonding is the contemporariness of the poet’s themes and the genuineness of her concerns, whether she is ruing the artificiality of gym dates, grieving at the fate of a Kashmiri child victim of gang rape and murder, or poking fun at those seeking companionship on Tinder.

Hashmi’s verses oscillate from one extreme to another in terms of both form and content. The transition is so swift at times as to escape the attention of even some discerning readers, much like TS Eliot’s masterpiece The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, written more than a century ago. The poet also seems to follow in Eliot’s footsteps while expressing existential anguish, be it accepting the futility of life or resigning to fate in the face of adversity.

Many of the 59 poems in the collection remind the reader of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken because of the sombre tone Hashmi employs to rue missed opportunities or express remorse over wrong choices made in life. These poems include, among others, No Direction, Downstream and particularly I Have Miles to Go Before I Sleep. The title for the latter is borrowed from another of Frost’s poems, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Interestingly, Hashmi does not acknowledge Eliot or Frost as her literary influences or sources of inspiration. Instead, she reserves the credit for Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Arundhati Roy, Langston Hughes, Sia Furler, Kate Tempest and Suli Breaks, in line with her poetic philosophy that celebrates dreamers who defied the boundaries of time and space without too much regard for the repercussions.

Despite their brutally honest and inherently pessimistic tone, Hashmi’s poems are involuntarily melodic. Besides employing vivid imagery that knits all the poems in the collection as if they were scenes of a full-length feature film, Hashmi uses literary techniques like alliteration in a ‘spontaneous’ manner to achieve this effect.

Her reliance on alliteration, and in a positive way, is manifest in the titles of several poems, such as Fistful of Fireflies, Last Laugh, Stateless Sparrow and Pitter Patter. The poet’s experience with using alliteration as the chief weapon in her arsenal also leads to the coinage of phrases such as “presidential plight”, “sandy shroud”, “sliver-sized seagull”, “humming hedges”, “cherry cheeks”, and so on.

Hashmi’s first collection of poems can be called bold and modern for a Pakistani poet in view of titles like Musings of a Brown Girl on Tinder or the use of sensual imagery such as “lewd whiff of insides/ Juicy peek into armpits” (What Does it Take to Quench Your Thirst). However, this is where its beauty lies, and that is what makes it so much easier for the reader to relate to her poetic concerns.

On another note, the printing quality could have been better. The poems included in the collection definitely deserved that. The reading experience is also somewhat marred by a lack of uniformity in formatting and rather frequent typos that, with careful proofreading, could have done away with. On the other hand, the book is modestly priced, so most readers might be inclined to overlook the irritants.


Author: Seher Hashmi

Publisher: Saanjh

Publications; 2021

Price: Rs 300

Despite their brutally

honest and inherently

pessimistic tone, Hashmi’s poems are involuntarily melodic.

The reviewer is a freelance development and communications consultant. He can be reached at

Contemporary, genuine and emotionally charged