cover image Sukun


Kazim Ali. Wesleyan Univ., $35 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8195-0070-0

Gathering selections from eight previous books, including The Voice of Sheila Chandra, this dazzling retrospective showcases Ali’s multifaceted voice in poems of lyric daring. Ali’s linguistic interests are seemingly infinite—from the Vedas to the roots of English and Arabic—but common threads reach across the poems, including migration, prayer, and the creative act itself. The initial lines of “Travel”—“Soon to leave/ Soon across the water/ Prepare the white clothes”—give a glimpse into the poet’s preoccupation with movement through space, while the command to “prepare” adds to the mystery and spiritual register. Many poems explore the line between human and celestial spheres: “Speak in the language of myth and flowers if you must/ But translate it at least for the stone and dust.” History weaves its way thoughtfully throughout, as in this stanza from “Junipero Serra Arrives,” one of the 35 new poems that close out the collection: “In a Spain lost to inquisition/ Swept away that golden Jewish/ and Muslim age in wind and sun/ All its sea words blue and mispronounced/ From books that did not belong were miswritten/ The mosque roofs grow moss.” Contemplative yet grounded, these poems form surprising and impactful connections. (Sept.)