Friday, September 25, 2009

Poet Kazim Ali at John Carroll University: A Reading

Last night, I had the honor introducing poet Kazim Ali as part of John Carroll University's Visiting Writers Series. This is what I said:

Tonight we have a writer who transcends genre. Kazim Ali is the author of two celebrated books of mystical and enigmatic poetry, two novels, a memoir, and a forthcoming book of essays on poetry and art.... In short, he’s a dynamo, a phenom, a magnet for the envy of fellow writers (myself included)--for his dazzling abilities to span worlds with mere words, to bring words where nothing had been before.

To read and to hear Kazim Ali’s poetry is to enter into a space where the sacred meets the everyday. Using the rhetoric and forms of speech to the higher powers, prayers to God, Ali dips into various religious and mystical traditions-—most recognizably from his ancestral Islam of his family, and from Hinduism, and from yogic practices.

Though I sometimes sour on the rhetoric of mysticism, where I occasionally feel disconnected from the pungencies and vitalities of this world, Ali’s poems have a sensuousness and self-questioning that makes them feel real, makes them feel both ancient and modern. In a world where people often roll their eyes at religious earnestness, Ali risks in his poems to reach toward the ineffable--that which great poetry marks by its limits--toward our final end.

All week long, I’ve been mulling over his line, from "The Far Mosque," "a person is only metaphor for the place he wants to go." I have about five readings for this line, but the simplest is: we, in our physical selves, in this life, are most ourselves, are the souls we are meant to be, when we moving toward a destiny that we do not know, but to which we constantly lean. If this little line has you thinking, then you’re not alone. He’s the kind of poet whose lines resonate not as easy answers, but as questions to keep unfolding. To move into.

Kazim gave a wonderful reading, and gave the following advice to writers, roughly:

1) read voraciously (even outside your genre) especially what's being written now.
2) the body is a gift to us to experience the world, and get in touch with your breathing and pay attention to how your body feels in the world.
3) the world is a proving ground for compassion.

He also referred to Rumi as "like Ayatollah Khomeni, only warmer and fuzzier," and read his marvelous recent poem, "Dear Shams." I love Kazim's way of being in the world through words, where he cultivates both ecstasis and compassion. We'd all be a bit better off in such gardening.


Christopher Kempf said...

Sorry I missed this! It sounds like it was awesome. Let me know the upcoming schedule of readings; I'm trying to pick a good weekend to come to the CLE.

Philip Metres said...

Good times. A discussion of the connection between the erotic and the spiritual was one of highlights.

Ben said...

"...enter into a space where the sacred meets the everyday," a pleasure to read this...