Mona Arshi’s debut collection, 'Small Hands', introduces a brilliant and compelling new voice. At the centre of the book is the slow detonation of grief after her brother’s death but her work focuses on the whole variety of human experience: pleasure, hardship, tradition, energised by language which is in turn both tender and risky. Often startling as well as lyrical, Arshi’s poems resist fixity; there is a gentle poignancy at work here which haunt many of the poems. This is humane poetry. Arshi’s is a daring, moving and original voice.
Mona Arshi worked as a Human rights lawyer at Liberty before she started writing poetry. Her debut collection Small Hands won the Forward Prize for best first collection in 2015. Mona’s second collection ‘Dear Big Gods’ was published in 2019 (both books published by Liverpool University Press’s Pavilion Poetry list). She has taught and mentored extensively including the Arvon/Jerwood mentorship Programme and the Rebecca Swift Women’s Poetry Prize. Mona has judged both the Forward and TS Eliot prizes as well as the National Poetry Competition . She makes regular appearances on radio and has been commissioned to write both poems and short stories. Her poems and interviews have been published in The Times, The Guardian, Granta and The Times of India as well as on the London Underground. She is currently writer in Residence at Cley Marshes with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Her debut novel Somebody Loves You will be published with And Other Stories in Autumn 2021. She has recently been appointed Honorary Professor at the University of Liverpool. Mona is currently editing a book of black and Asian poetry ‘Nature Matters’ with Karen McCarthy Woolf which will be published in Spring 2023 by Faber books.
really Very good my first Mona and I think her shorter, minimal-er poems are really so special and accessible and ought to be found everywhere More I have my favourites I'm on board with The Bird, April, the title poem. The collection transforms into an elegy for her brother why is everyone dead now
Mona Arshi's Small Hands was the winner of the 2015 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection, and it is first rate in every sense of the word. Small Hands contains a ample variety of poems, the best of which are the witty love poems (like "Practicing Your Skills," "What Every Girl Should Know Before Marriage," and "Bad Day at the Office," which are grouped in the front of the collection) and the sequence of poems dedicated to her brother's death (which form the heart of the collection). There are also exquisite cameo portraits, such as "My Mother's Hair" and "Woman at Window"; but Ms. Arshi really excels at drilling down to the emotional core where all poets show their mettle (as in "Entomological Specimens," "Notes Towards an Elegy," "The Found Thing," and "Hummingbird," to name only a few). I'm sure I will enjoy rereading this volume in the next few years. Perhaps it is churlish thing for me to say, but I don't know how the judges decided between Arshi's work and the other two short-listed collections I have read, Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe and Physical by Andrew McMillan, both of which are equally brilliant books of poetry. Perhaps there should be a shared prize when you get to this level of excellence.
Mona Arshi's first collection is stunning. Her ability to evoke the absolute depth of heartbreak or joy with one image or a few lines is rare to find and reads like a reawakening of language. Her writing has the ability to make each of us human again, reminding us why participating in life is so important, even if it's often painful. Her work asks her readers to be human first, and then something more.