"It’s crazy to think that poetry literally saved my life"
Multiple British Asian poets are finally being recognised across the UK for their powerful poems and rightly so.
At one point, areas like spoken word were over-saturated with the same topics and stories that not everyone could relate to.
However, with more British Asian poets finally breaking through, there is a fairer representation of stories in the poetic world.
This is especially important when looking at South Asian communities in the UK.
Many second and third-generation individuals have grown up battling with their identity and have shared experiences of what it’s like to be British Asian.
So, retelling those memories in a hard-hitting, fresh and emotive way is compelling.
What’s also fascinating is that these poets bring those narratives to a world stage, allowing thousands of people to hear their creative work.
And, each person has their own individuality when it comes to their poetry. Fusing wordplay, lyricism and metaphors, these British Asian poets should be on your radar in 2023.
Yasmin Ali, better known by just her initials ‘YA’, is an international slam champion, writer and performance poet.
Hailing from South London, she’s one of the most sought-after poets on the scene due to her musically composed pieces.
YA is a mental health advocate, women’s rights activist, and youth campaigner. Her work often talks about these themes as well as other areas like gender-based violence against women.
Her uplifting energy and empowering style have captivated audiences across the UK.
Whilst her poems are thought-provoking and engaging, YA challenges the most common misconceptions of poets whilst representing female South Asian creatives.
Her work led her to be featured on the BAFTA award-winning show, Life and Rhymes, and she is working towards her debut novel, Novel In Verse.
Asim The Poet
Perhaps one of the most gifted and versatile poets in the UK is Asim The Poet.
His tremendous wordplay and intricate metaphors are just two of the many characteristics his poems have.
Asim’s masterful storytelling and narrative on faith and culture are not only inspiring, but it also makes the audience reconsider their perceptions of people and heritage.
Asim never hides from his beliefs and manages to convey his relationship with his faith in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the listener but makes them understand.
As a workshop facilitator and motivational speaker, Asim has a way to entice the audience as soon as he starts performing.
And, he can build that same bond via words on a page, as is seen in his debut book, Yours Sincerely, Asim.
The book highlighted just how dedicated Asim is to his craft. But also, the poems showed that there is no genre or avenue that is too daunting for him to explore.
British Indian poet and performer, Ankita Saxena, is a member of the Octavia poetry collective for women of colour.
A former Barbican Young Poet, Ankita has been making incredible strides within the industry due to her soft yet unapologetic pieces.
A great example of this is her poem ‘Partition’ which we would recommend reading as it hits home for a lot of people. Speaking on the work behind the piece, Ankita said:
“When you are seven and your best friend is Pakistani, it is difficult to comprehend the animosity between your countries.
“Even now, two decades later, I still struggle to understand.
“This poem is one of the oldest in my collection, and one of my dearest.”
The piece was so well-received that it won the Isis Magazine ‘Borders and Bodies’ competition.
However, Ankita’s accolades don’t stop there.
She’s been commended three times in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and was the Head of Events at the Oxford University Poetry Society.
In December 2021, to celebrate International Migrants Day, Ankita curated and co-hosted the ORIGINS Poetry Night in Brixton which raised over £500 for Migration Museum.
As one half of the poetry duo, ORIGINS, that put on this event, Ankita is a trailblazer within the scene.
Many poetry lovers are locking onto Ankita’s work, especially with her debut poetry collection Mother Line publishing in 2023.
The fluidity in her writing, expressive imagery and gorgeous rhyme schemes propel her as one of the British Asian poets to track in 2023.
One of the most successful British Asian poets is Aiz whose poem ‘Death’ went viral in 2018 and was subsequently featured by BBC World News.
Over 125,000 people witnessed his story on the BBC front page and since, Aiz has gone on to do amazing work.
One of his most precious achievements is facilitating his first workshop where he moulded 25 teenage students into spoken word artists.
Speaking on the inspiration behind this project, Aiz said:
“It was a safe space to share their truths since nearly all of them had never written about themselves, let alone performed in front of others!”
With such a motivation to help others through poetry, his pieces also ooze this same righteousness and uplifting nature.
Highlighting trauma, mental health and self-love, Aiz’s poems are all about reflection and becoming better. They are sometimes raw and gritty but also composed so artistically.
For those wanting to question the norm and get lost in deep thought, we would recommend reading ‘Seretonin’.
The poet has admitted this piece resonates with him the most, revealing:
“From a young age, I’ve always been taught to keep my mouth shut and accept all the negativity that life throws at me.
“I’ve experienced many friends of mine who have been stabbed, raped, and committed suicide, deteriorating my personal mental health…
“…to the point where I tried to take my own life a few times during Loughborough.
“Coming from both an Asian culture that disregards mental health as taboo and rough environments which expected me to bottle my emotions up as a boy, it’s crazy to think that poetry literally saved my life.
“Now as a man, I’m able to share a piece like ‘Serotonin’ exploring the side of mental illness and treatment affecting my generation the most yet is never highlighted in mainstream media.”
Just these words alone highlight the power in Aiz’s voice, words and poems.
Orin Begum is surprisingly a finance lawyer and works for an international firm in London.
Studying at the University of Oxford, Orin found poetry in her final year as a way to navigate her experiences of being a South Asian Muslim woman.
She noticed a pattern in her interactions and how there were difficulties in attending a predominately white middle-class university.
Her poems are inspired by the struggles, pressures and strengths of South Asian women.
Likewise, she also dives into her personal experiences with colourism and body shaming in her own community.
Orin isn’t afraid to call out the hypocrisy, confinement and taboo topics that exist in South Asian neighborhoods as well as highlighting issues like overcoming poverty that isn’t often discussed.
She’s also adamant to discuss political and social problems that exist, no matter the backlash.
For example, she wrote a poem called ‘Secrets’ after getting a negative reaction for sharing social media posts in support of the BLM movement.
In light of the retaliation, Orin said on her Instagram that she had to remove those people from her life, and she was blinded by their fake personas.
The poem reads:
“People don’t have secrets.
Our secrets have us.
People don’t keep secrets.
Our secrets keep us.”
Orin has a knack for getting across so many emotions with few little words and that is one of her major tools when writing.
There’s no surprise as to why so many people are now locking on to her work.
As well as featuring on BBC and BBC Asian Network, Orin was also shortlisted for the Merky Books New Writer’s Prize in 2021.
These British Asian poets are certainly raising the bar when it comes to new poetic stories and material.
The literary landscape is certainly excited to see what these writers get up to next and so are poetry lovers across the UK.
With more British Asian experiences coming to the forefront, further representation can be achieved on a grander scale. Be sure to check out what these poets have lined up in 2023.