Drunk on the sun and the sea, Kazim Ali's new poems swoop linguistically but ground themselves vividly in the daily and real. Both imprisoned by endlessness and dependent on it for nurturing and care, in Sky Ward Ali goes further than ever before in sounding out the spaces between music and silence, between sky and ocean, between human and eternal. "Daily I wish stitched here to live," moans his Prometheus, wondering what release from familiar bondage might actually portend. "So long liberation," his Icarus sings...
Drunk on the sun and the sea, Kazim Ali's new poems swoop linguistically but ground themselves vividly in the daily and real. Both imprisoned by endlessness and dependent on it for nurturing and care, in Sky Ward Ali goes further than ever before in sounding out the spaces between music and silence, between sky and ocean, between human and eternal. "Daily I wish stitched here to live," moans his Prometheus, wondering what release from familiar bondage might actually portend. "So long liberation," his Icarus sings as he plummets from the sky with desperation and grace, ready to unfeather and plunge into the everything-new. Whether in the extended poem-prayer to Alice Coltrane or in the "deleted scenes" and "alternate endings" to his critically acclaimed volume Bright Felon, or in the spirit-infused and multi-faceted lyrics he has become known for, Ali once again reinvents possibilities for the personal lyric and narrative.
The title of Ali’s fourth collection signals two of the volume’s most salient tasks. First is wordplay: Ali moves far beyond wit, operating to reveal and make use of the latent meanings embedded within words and sounds. In passages such as “Body a window is thrown, is throne/ sewn along the seam of I// courage an empty bowl drained or teeming/ drowned or sown along what seems like sky,” rhyme and homophone attempt to bridge gaps in meaning. Ali’s forceful use of musicality is incantatory, pushing his lyrics from the realm of the everyday into the unknown or even the sublime. The title also signals expansiveness and confinement as twin conditions, an idea that reverberates throughout the book. Culling from autobiography, mythology, and poetic inheritance, Ali manipulates extremes of space and their implications, revealing “a fearsome range in a single body,” “a missing word where continents rub together,” and sky that is “not I/ sent down and endless/ nowhere emerging.” Ali also finds tension between the pulls of prayer and silence, void and profusion, the hidden and the overt. The result is a charged space in which a very contemporary voice takes on an elemental and numinous sheen. (May)
"Fairy Tale," a poem in this gorgeous if finally perplexing work from Ali (The Far Mosque), says of the amnesiac prince wandering through its lines, "But he doesn't understand words, only sound, the shape of words, the tune to which they are sung." The same could be said of Ali's own work, which is fable-like, immediate, and sensuous, and characterized by a tilted syntax and abandoned punctuation that's intriguing but that can leave the reader groping for some grounding ("Little by little I strife come by/ holding dark felt aloft"). Occasionally, the lines go completely opaque ("Now done under woven to spill/ Blue night lake foal"). From the first poem, though, readers know that they are on a journey with the speaker (the poem is in fact titled "Journey to Providence"), and it's an affecting experience, a melancholy search for the soul that ends as it started, with the speaker saying, "Mine the rain-filled sandals, the road out of town. Like a wind/ unbound this shining river mine." In between, we get scraps of character and event but mostly a carefully managed tumble of incisive language limning a painful conversation with oneself. VERDICT The word-hungry will delight and logicians faint; for adventurous readers.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
KAZIM ALI is a poet, essayist, fiction writer, and translator. His books of poetry include The Far Mosque, The Fortieth Day, and Bright Felon. Ali is an associate professor of creative writing and comparative literature at Oberlin College and teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.
Journey to Providence
High Stakes Game
The Nowhere House
Prayer Request Cards
The Good Brother
Bright Felon Deleted Scene 3
The Fortieth Day
The Plaint of Marah, Woman of Sodom
Handwritten Notes on the Screenplay for Bright Felon: The Movie
Bright Felon Alternate Ending
The Mountain Comes to Mohammad
Lake Animal You
Goya's New York
Hofmann's New York
The Promise of Blue