Small Hands by Mona Arshi, A Graph Review

Small Hands.                      A Graph Review:   55 with high points 65


Mona Arshi


small-hands-coverPublished 2015. Liverpool University Press.

978178138181 6.    Paper      £9.99

A small format paperback but packed full with 45 poems that travel across a spectrum of tones and reflections on the human experience

A first collection containing an assortment of new and previously published in journals and an anthology of new ‘voices’.   Hummingbird winning a first from the first Magma poetry competition in 2011 and Bad Day in the Office a second in the Troubadour International Poetry prize 2013.  Followed by being a joint winner of the Manchester Poetry Prize, 2014.  The title of the collection is one of the many poignant poems

Mona began writing poetry in 2008 and went on the receive an MA in creative writing from UEA.

Her style is contemporary, forms are varied using length and shape of lines to combine with the careful choice of words and pace of reading.   Mostly gentle pictures that give a series of flowing images but beware for often you are nudged out of your expectations and you have to follow a word or line that leaps away.

Mona  Arshi was born in West London to Punjabi Sikh parents and her heritage frequently fills the narrative.  She works within quite a small world with a poetic clarity and magnificent handling of observation and language that often glides from reality to dreaming imagery without demur from the reader.

Included are ‘simpler’ poems covering the period of her brother’s death, many others harking specifically to family and home and Sikh heritage. There are four ‘prose poems’ I should call them I suppose, or very short stories, that catch you out with their final words.  The shape of the poetry is considered and varied. The subjects differing but still within an overall theme of observing humanity and relationships.  There is only one poem that has any specific rhyme scheme, ‘Ballad of the Small-boned Daughter‘ which is a sad tale and is the last in the book.  As with all her work there is a beautiful contact with language and story, the objective detail would seem to lessen the emotional impact, however the subtle (at times) changes of direction actually concentrate the mind on the poem.

Selecting favourites from a collection is my norm and though it is probably best to read many of the 43 here in their sequence (as with those around the title piece Small Hands) I am happy to highlight the following:        The Lion,         This Morning,         Gloves,      Ode to a Pomegranate,      Hummingbird,       Ballad of the Small-boned Daughter.

I have suggested more than usual but they are quite short.

Mona’s voice is  essentially poignant, for me, calming and contemplative.  I am quite surprised by this as the numerous stories through the collection are not particularly peaceful, there is much sadness others at times disconcerting.   For me a collection needs to have a style, language and at least in a proportion of poems, a ‘spikey’ quality.  You might call it ‘hard edges’ that may appear in complete poems or just a line or two.  Mona Arshi has style and ‘spikes’ aplenty and has the skill of using words so the spikes sink in and fix in the brain. but eventually with a seeming acceptance.

As mentioned above there are four very short stories, sorry, prose poems.  As well as wishing to read more poetry by Mona Arshi I would be interested in her setting her mind to short stories if not already the case.


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