New and selected poems from celebrated poet Kazim Ali
Kazim Ali is a poet, novelist, and essayist whose work explores themes of identity, migration, and the intersections of cultural and spiritual traditions. His poetry is known for its lyrical and expressive language, as well as its exploration of themes such as love, loss, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world. "Sukun" means serenity or calm, and a sukun is also a form of punctuation in Arabic orthography that denotes a pause over a consonant. This Sukun draws a generous selection from Kazim's six previous full-length collections, and includes 35 new poems. It allows us to trace Ali's passions and concerns, and take the measure of his art: the close attention to the spiritual and the visceral, and the deep language play that is both musical and plain spoken.
The Fifth Planet
Come, early summer in the mountains, and come, strawberry moon,
and carry me softly in the silver canoe on wires to the summit,
where in that way of late night useless talk, the bright dark asks me,
"What is the thing you are most afraid of?" and I already know
which lie I will tell.
There were six of us huddled there in the cold, leaning on the rocks
lingering in the dark where I do not like to linger, looking up at the
sharp round pinnacle of light discussing what shapes we saw—rabbit,
man, goddess—but that brightness for me was haunted by no thing,
no shadow at all in the lumens.
What am I, what am I, I kept throwing out to the hustling silence.
No light comes from the moon, he's just got good positioning
and I suppose that's the answer, that's what I'm most afraid of,
that I'm a mirror, that I have no light of my own, that I hang in empty space
in faithful orbit around a god or father
neither of Whom will ever see me whole. I keep squinting to try to see Jupiter
which the newspaper said would be found near the moon but
it's nowhere, they must have lied. Or like god, there is too much
reflection, headsplitting and profane, scraping up every shadow,
too much light for anyone to see.
From The Far Mosque (21 poems) • Gallery • Renunciation • In the Agnes Martin Room, Source, Speech • Agnes Martin • Travel • The Studio • Departure • Train Ride • The Year of Summer • Night Boat • Rain • Thicket • The Return of Music • Dear Rumi • Said: In the Rain • Maya or Mayaar • Rhyme • Sleep Bowl • July • From The Fortieth Day (23 poems) • Lostness • Morning Prayer • Dear Sunset, Dear Avalanche • Mouth • The Art of Breathing • Rope • Cave • Vase • Afternoon Prayer • Ornithography • Sleep Door • Garland • Ramadan • Ursa Major • The Ninth Planet • Dear Lantern, Dear Cup • Naval Missive • Night Prayer • August • Perish • Pip • Autobiography • Waiting for the Train • From Bright Felon (5 pieces) • Marble Hill • Carlisle • Cairo • Paris • Home • From Sky Ward (20 poems) • Follower • Divination • Fairy Tale • Frozen • Prayer Request Cards • Autobiography • The Escape • Sinking • Prayer • Rapture • Epiphany • Ocean Street • Adrift • Promisekeeper • Hofmann's New York • The Wrestler • Dear Shams • Confession • The Promise of Blue • Hymn • From Silver Road (10 poems) • Drunk Text • All Ways to Know • Star Sailor • Newport Journal • Baggage Claim • Dome of the Rock • A Cartography • Laramie Journal • Theft • My Chewed Book • From Inquisition (18 poems) • Earthquake Days • Abu Nuwas • Light House • John • His Mosaic Prayer • Origin Story • The Failure of Navigation in the Valley • Letter to Zephyr • Labors of Psyche • Drone • Chopping the Birch • The Dress-maker of Galilee • Amerika the Beautiful • Inquisition • Yannis Ritsos • Text Cloud Anthology • Son of History • Legislature • From Strays (9 poems) • Museum of Flight • Visit Home • Dispersal • Fox Week • In-flight Movie • Falcon • The Year of Autumn • Slipknot • Lighthouse • From The Voice of Sheila Chandra (23 poems) • Hesperine for David Berger from "The Voice of Sheila Chandra" • Phosphorine (from "Phosphorus") • From Crib and Cage (10 poems) • Sonne et • Good Boy • Glome • Sonner • Major • Minor • Drom • Chord • Calm • Pelt • New Poems (22 poems) • Golden Boy • Crumpled Up • Pulse • Peter • The Dark Brother • The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing • Junipero Serra Arrives • Exit Strategy Quiz • The Fifth Planet • Mulberry • Agha Shahid Ali Recites • Icarus Turns Fifty • Afternoon Lecture • Saudade • Cathedral • Solace • Syrinx, or The Kiss • Petrichor Lecture • Citizenship • Yield • Soukoun • Notes/Acknowledgments
"Ali's prolific, lyrical output is defined by the author's queer and Arab identities, and consistent themes surface, such as orchestral corporeality, inscrutable divinity, and linguistic uncertainty. Equal parts obliquely profound and candidly straightforward, this mid-career compilation captures an accomplished poet's already astonishing body of work."~Diego Báez, Booklist
"[T]his 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.Contemplative yet grounded, these poems form surprising and impactful connections."~Publishers Weekly
"In his 2010 essay 'Faith and Silence,' Kazim Ali writes: 'If there are a hundred unmentioned books in the world, it stands to reason, my father thought, that all peoples of the world, in all various times, must have had revelatory texts—why would anyone be left out of salvation, he wondered?' That essay serves as the coda to Sukun, Ali's collection of new and selected poems. Article 1.3 of the UNESCO declaration proclaims that tolerance 'involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism.' If readers were to truly appreciate the poetry that undergirds the 'revelatory texts' of every faith tradition, the light of tolerance and understanding might prevail over the poisonous absolutisms of 2023."~Daniel Simon, World Literature Today
"A comprehensive and stunningly beautiful collection of poems that explore the self in the world often through some form of remove, such as travel or being in a new place. The poems offer to lift us out of the mundane and into a sacred space or heightened brightness."~Judy Halebsky, author of Spring and a Thousand Years (Unabridged)
"Exquisitely paced, Sukun is testament to Kazim Ali's distinctive accomplishment as our wandering, ever-questing poet. As one word, one sound, gives birth to another, so these poems trace the path from son to a finally accepting family, from body to spirit, from earth to cosmos."~Gillian Conoley, author of Notes from the Passenger
"A compilation from the heart and hand of an intense lyricist explores questions of queer love, spirituality, and the idea of home. Celebratory and poignant, vulnerable and wise, Ali works to honor a transnational lineage while also redrawing a genderless line of pilgrim prophet seekers."~Soham Patel, author of all one in the end—/water