Update: This post has been updated to include the names of two finalists in addition to the poetry prize winner.
Rakhshan Rizwan has won the 1st annual Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize, which is awarded to writers of poetry in English who self-identify as Pakistani.
The $250 prize, funded by Pakistani poet Noorulain Noor and her husband Usman Saeed, was managed by DWL. Noor and Usman set up the award in January 2015 to honor the legacy of Noor’s teacher Mrs. Judith Khan, who died in 2014. Mrs. Khan was an educator and taught English at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, Pakistan.
Rakhshan Rizwan, currently a PhD candidate at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands, is an emerging Pakistani poet. Her poems have appeared in DWL’s Papercuts magazine, Cerebration, Muse India, The Missing Slate and Postcolonial Text among other publications.
Rakhshan was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and then moved to Germany where she studied Literature and New Media. She completed her M.A in British, American and Postcolonial Studies from the University of Münster before starting her PhD at Utrecht.
We would like to acknowledge the efforts of two finalists in addition to Rakhshan. These are: Jai Hamid Bashir, a Pakistani-American poet and environmentalist who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the US and works at the University of Utah, and Zain Saeed, a poet from Karachi who is currently studying linguistics in Freiburg, Germany.
When DWL contacted Rakhshan on Thursday to inform her of the announcement, we were in for a pleasant surprise. Fortuitously for us, Rakhshan happens to be a student of the late Mrs. Judith Khan.
“This motivated me to send an entry for this contest,” she wrote in her email reply. “Like many others, I was inspired by Mrs Khan to love the English language and to make it my own.”
However, this love for language is a smaller debt compared to another debt she said she owes her teacher.
“Mrs Khan was such a compassionate person with such deep insight into the precarious and often fragile reality of a young adolescent girl, and with love, insight and humour (she was a riot!), she helped so many of us (including myself) navigate its testy waters,” she said. “In her eyes, we were all equal: the star student in the first row and the quiet bookworm in the last. Mrs K, thank you for seeing value and worth in all of us. Thank you, for teaching us to be kinder to one another.”
DWL would take this opportunity to thank all the Pakistani poets and poets of Pakistani origin from around the world, including some other former students of Mrs. Judith Khan as well, who sent in their entries and made this a successful first poetry contest for us.
The jury for the prize noted that Rakhshan’s poetry showed more maturity in dealing with a political and cultural theme than the other entries received for the prize. Jury members appreciated the form and structure of her submitted entry. They also acknowledged the dexterity with which she shifted the tone in her poem and the aesthetics of the references and descriptions she used. They indicated that her poem resonates both with the Pakistani association with Islamic heritage in Spain and the larger issues of cultural conflict and colonialism and their effects on the recent debate and crisis concerning migration in Europe.
Rakhshan’s poem, as the title suggests, is inspired by a visit to the historical city of Cordoba, in the south of Spain.
“When I attempted to remove my shoes before entering the Great Mosque of Cordoba (as one does before entering any masjid) I was issued a warning by the guards that removing footwear would result in a denial of entry into its sacred premises,” Rakhshan wrote in her email. ” That moment between us, the aggression in his tone and his body language seemed to emanate out of a certain history and made me realize that history is not always something palpable and/or visible (a building, a book, an object) but something deep within all of us, invisibly guiding our actions and choices. This poem is a product of that moment.”
Note: The format for judging the entries received for the prize was devised by DWL in consultation with Noorulain Noor. It involved a jury that would shortlist the best entries. The shortlist was to be read by the founders for a final selection of the winner. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, the founders did not choose the winner and the decision to award the prize was delegated to the five-member shortlisting jury that included poetry editors and established and amateur Pakistani poets.