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Review: The Punjabi Weddings, by Tariq Latif

The North Spring (Feb) 2008

T.F.Griffin The Leveller Flux Gallery Press £5.95
Tariq Latif The Punjabi Weddings Arc Publications £7.99
Chris Woods Dangerous Driving Comma Press £7.95

Two trained empiricists and one trained romantic. Of the empiricists, Woods trained as a doctor, and is now practising as a GP in Lancashire, Latif trained as a physicist and now roams Scotland. Griffin was one of the Hull poets aligned with Douglas Dunn, Peter Didsbury and Tony Flynn, who migrated to Hull University because Larkin was there.

Tariq Latif is one of a generation of Pakistani poets who are having a major influence on contemporary British Poetry; they include Moniza Ali and Shamshad Khan. Latif's long, loping lines explore not only the lives of that diaspora in the UK, but also what he has experienced on his own travels outside the UK. Thus place and human existence and interaction embedded in that place, are fundamental to Latif's poetics. That sense of place and interaction inspires a tenderness in these poems, and at the centre of them is a real sense of optimistic love.

If there is a weakness in this book, it is in his control of distance. Some poems are narrated by an all-seeing 'he', and this 'he' is 'I'. Thus, the perspective of the reader can be muddied by a self-conscious layer of intervention that comes too obviously from the poet himself as in:

He is amazed to see the boy and girl
sledging down an oblong field
on the mountain opposite; they seem
so far away and yet he feels
he could press them into the snow
like toys ...


That wonderfully risk taking image of pushing the children into the snow, is undermined by the overtly expressed 'amazement' of the voice of the poem.

But the central pleasure of the book is in the second section where Latif abandons the narrative perspective and dissects his Punjabi community with a scalpel-like wit. In poems such as the mordent sestina, 'Iqbal's Halal Shop, Manchester' and the astonishing 'Two-Bob', Latif gives us a portrait of his community that is rare outside British Asian prose. Latif is a very fine formalist and his sonnet 'Cabbage Soup' paints a picture of the effects of poverty on family dynamics and ends with these wonderful lines:

...taking a desperate bet

on the Lotto, hoping for that lucky win.
Between us we have lost the concept of sin.