On April 24th, Kazim Ali and I did a reading at Trinity Commons in Cleveland, sponsored by Cleveland State Poetry Center. It was my first time meeting Kazim, though I'd already seen him read via his online presence of youtube'd mini-readings. These intimate readings are disarming, even more disarming than seeing him read live, because of the way he regards the camera. He has a way of looking so directly into the camera that it is as if he has gulfed that strange digital abyss between you and him, and he is there in the room with you.
At the reading, by contrast, Ali read many of poems with eyes shut, feeling his way through each line, rocking slightly into the words. He read almost entirely from his just published The Fortieth Day, whose title articulates that desert of temporal space just before something is utterly changed.
Ironically, one of the poems from that collection is a kind of lost title poem to his previous collection, "The Far Mosque." Here it is:
"The Far Mosque"
Where is the place to which the prophet flew?
The mosque Sulayman built is not made of minarets or stone--
The muezzin and his voice both live there like lovers.
A person is only a metaphor for the place he wants to go.
Such poems, in their beauty, reminded me how my mother recently went on a retreat in which the shared texts were Mary Oliver's poetry. Kazim Ali is the kind of poet who writes the kind of work around which one could have a spiritual retreat. The love child of Rumi and Ashbery, Ali is a revelation in our post-ironic age.
It was a hard performance to follow, a kind of contemporary sacred, so I did so by reciting two profane poems: Ammons' sad sex poem: "one failure/on top of another," and my abecedarian, "Parental Guidance," before launching into poems from To See the Earth.
We are lucky in Cleveland to have, suddenly, Ali at Oberlin, Sarah Gridley at Case, Michael Dumanis at Cleveland State.