Semezdin Mehmedinovic, Author, Ammiel Alcalay, Translator , trans. from the Bosnian by Ammiel Alcalay. City Lights $9.95 (61p) ISBN 978-0-87286-423-8

In 1996, Mehmedinovic, then a Sarajevo-based poet and dissident originally from Bosnia, emigrated to the U.S. as a political refugee. His third book, Sarajevo Blues , was published in 1998 by City Lights, also with translations by Alcalay (From the Warring Factions ). Now in his early 40s, Mehmedinovic offers this fourth collection, completed in 2001. It consists of three sequences; two of them, while purposefully understated, are as good as anything published in English this year. The title series of short lyrics opens, imagining "at least nine cities in America called Alexandria" (his is the one outside of Washington D.C. in Virginia) and how one might "mov[e] from one/ American Alexandria to another,/ On the same Egyptian dock" as the poet and poems cross the country. The terrific "This Door Is Not an Exit," written in slowed-down, sometimes fragmentary couplets, reflects on exile in the aftermath of violence, death and continued political insolubility: "I am, in fact, where you are, to make/ your weariness inspire meaning." The final sequence, "8 Things About Cadillac," takes in everything from the ironies of a luxury car named for a destroyed people (and that now drives over their land), to the fact that "The longest lasting Cadillac in memory/ Is the one JFK is dying in." Alcalay's English never feels forced or rushed, and his very acute introduction articulates the book's underlying conceit perfectly: "Mehmedinovic's narrator holds the pulse to the real by protecting us from what he has seen and known in another life.... a very different kind of witness" that "transports us to an America we haven't yet known but must be prepared to recognize." Readers will find their various Alexandrias among the many geographical muses here. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
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