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Poetry – Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

[Poem] Say a word often enough and it can lose its meaning

Say a word often enough and it can lose its meaning

The bricklayer is dead.
The doctor is dead.
The journalist is dead.
The mother is dead.
The artist is dead.
The neighbour is dead.
The daughter is dead.
The garbage collector is dead.
The architect is dead.
The writer is dead.
The grandfather is dead.
The baker is dead.
The nurse is dead.
The teacher is dead.
The grandmother is dead.
The dentist is dead.
The psychologist is dead.
The son is dead.
The manicurist is dead.
The brother is dead.
The painter is dead.
The handyman is dead.
The shopkeeper is dead.
The baby is dead.
The nanny is dead.
The engineer is dead.
The farmer is dead.
The fruit-picker is dead.
The politician is dead.
The secretary is dead.
The taxi driver is dead.
The student is dead.
The IT technician is dead.
The cousin is dead.
The hairdresser is dead.
The aunt is dead.
The electrician is dead.
The sister is dead.
The plumber is dead.
The uncle is dead.
The poet is dead.
The father is dead.
The photographer is dead.
The undertaker is dead.
The priest is dead.
The chef is dead.
The professor is dead.
The influencer is dead.
The economist is dead.
The lawyer is dead.
The imam is dead.
The historian is dead.

Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

[Poem] Life Lesson

Life Lesson

Now, I am too much of a coward
to try for at least one child.
It will mean having to develop a lesson plan
for the valuation of human life.
I will have to teach that not all weigh the same
and this assessment is no constant measure,
that on a Monday, they may be priceless
and by Friday, their blood may as well be
the stuff left in a bucket after a chicken is cleaned.
I, myself, fail this course, again and again.

Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

{Poem} We Have Lost

I started writing this at the peak of the third wave in 2021, when everyday brought with it the name of someone no longer with us.

We have lost

My mother writes the names
of everyone who’s passed
on since last year

These times are the strangest
to now; lists to aid mourning
more deaths than grocery trips

Our friends are losing their parents
our parents are losing their friends
we are losing our friends

What to say to make it less?
soundless nothing words
sepulchre for a throat

There is no getting used to grief
in compound form loss
upon loss without pause

But here we are. What to pray for?
Can you still? Breathe in a time of fettered air
enough to write out our lists of love

ZIKR wins 2020 Ingrid Jonker Prize

Press Release
Ingrid Jonker Prize 2020 goes to a poignant collection of poems distinguished by a
photographer’s instinct

The winner of the Ingrid Jonker Prize for a debut volume of poetry in English published in
2018 and 2019 has been announced. The winner is Saaleha Idrees Bamjee for her
collection, Zikr.

‘Bamjee writes poignantly of longing and loss. She figures the female body—her own and
that of others–and explores the difficulties of being Muslim while also celebrating her
reverence for her religion and the Arabic language.’ (2020 Ingrid Jonker Prize judge)

“I’m very proud of Saaleha. Her collection came to me during uHlanga’s open submissions
period in 2017, and I was immediately impressed by the texture of her poems, her
photographer’s instinct for image, and her composure in writing about heart-wrenching
experiences. Zikr is a testament to poetic restraint, steady hands, and gentle eyes – three
rare and powerful things in these times.” (Nick Mulgrew, founder of uHlanga Press and
publisher of Zikr)

Eleven entries were received by the committee for this year’s award, and the competition
was stiff. Zikr made it to the shortlist along with All the Places by Musawenkosi Khanyile,
Everything is a Deathly Flower by Maneo Mohale, and Skeptical Erections by Mxolisi Dolla

Bamjee will receive a prize of R10 000, donated by the Pirogue Collective.

According to the rules of the prize the judges have to be published poets, since it is a prize
from poets to poets. This year the judges were Vonani Bila, Wendy Woodward and Sindiswa

Ronel de Goede convenes the Ingrid Jonker Committee. Finuala Dowling is the convenor of
the English prize. The other committee members are Vincent Oliphant, Kobus Moolman and
Marius Crous. A former chairperson Danie Marais acts as advisor to the committee.

The prize is alternately awarded on an annual basis to a first volume of poetry in Afrikaans
or English – the two languages in which Ingrid Jonker herself wrote.

Publishing News: ZIKR is here

ZIKR is my debut poetry collection, published by uHlanga Press.

This work has had a long gestation and incorporates poems founded during my Masters in Creative Writing programme at Rhodes, as well as more recent work.

It should be out in bookstores soon. Copies can also be ordered via

There will be two launches in Johannesburg. Details below. We are still working out the logistics for Durban and Cape Town.