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Bright Felon
Kazim Ali
Wesleyan UP, 2009

What crime Kazim Ali has committed to explicate his title Bright Felon remains a mystery. But the conviction is certain. A gay Muslim in the West, he is doubly dubious—his self-questioning, intense.

Looking for “untranslatable icons,” he reports from “the wilderness.” Nestling between religion and revelation, lies a reverence for silence. Ali shows as much as he tells. Each poem (chapter) takes place in a different city. Within this construct, however, geography and time become fluid. The past runs alongside the present. Significant events surface and are cauterized. Daily walks are mulled. As Ali strips away layers to reach a core he embroiders the surface with “gates of yarn.”

Spiritual, autobiographical, political, and highly poetic, this exotic travelogue finds the author in Marble Hill, Paris, Beacon, Corsica, etc. In “Cairo” we learn that Osiris “is torn apart by his brother.” Isis “travels the world in search of the fragments to reassemble him.” Ali pursues a similar process whereby one can “assemble oneself into oneself.”

The author’s solitude is palpable and invades us, clearing the way for a dedicated dialogue. Each entry in this treasure box of shuffled diary entries is crafted of sentences separated by white space. He makes room for you to move in.

Part visionary, part code-breaker, Ali shares his secrets of condensed desire. He may feel damned but his writing is damned redemptive.


Whose Place
Lydia Cortés
Straw Gate, 2009

Cortés—the name means courtesy or court and there is royalty in these autobiographical poems. Cortés combs meaning out of her memories with epic style. By turns vulnerable and brash, she plumbs the labyrinth and finds her way back out.

Mami, Papi, brother, and sister frame a Puerto Rican/Brooklyn lineage. Cortes often recounts her vignettes in rich, bubbling prose where everyday surroundings are magnified to reveal deep symbolism. Yellow kitchen walls from the past are parsed to impart notions of class, family, community, and spirituality as well as ambition, mystery, and independence.

The little girl who believed in the “magic power of language” grows up. Her multi-lingual abilities flower, juxtaposing matte with sheen in a quest “parched for aqua.” A few experimental poems may prove to be transitional. They lack the subjectivity that gives Cortes her signature punch.

Sexual exploits make for juicy reading and they are penned with masterful wordplay. “I lay with Joe… and though he was thorough I thought only about Theo.” Cortés was close to the late, great poète maudit Pedro Pietri. Two poems for “the Reverend” faithfully capture him in all his outsized glory. For those of us lucky enough to have known Pietri, her breath rekindles his spirit. “Help me, I can see.”

Honesty and imagination grapple as Sandy Cisneros meets Charles Bukowski. Lydia Cortés should be on a stamp already.

Globetrotter & Hitler’s Children
Amatoritsero Ede
Black Goat, 2009

A lightning-etched “cyclone frenzy,” Amatoritsero Ede’s poems condemn hate and exalt humanity. A former Hindu monk, this Nigerian/Canadian exile/immigrant lives up to the title “Globetrotter” in a Whitmanesque romp full of rage and awe. The seasons flash and writhe in arresting bursts of priapic animal fever. “Prick” relishes its triple connotations: stiff, itchy, and moral.

Our collective conscious is pricked as Ede addresses the “prickled assembly.” This poetry celebrates the body, the mind, and the community while attacking “monsters” like Nazi skinheads (“forget the neo”).

Raw energy crackles as Ede harnesses vitality into a structure arcing from fall around through summer. “Summer is a demented jinni,” a “dragon,” a “brushfire,” and a “sword.” It “scampers down escarpments / gambols with glee.”

World history and personal history circle each other like wrestlers in meaningful, sophisticated rhymes, and alliterative, near anagrammatic progressions. Infancy is described as “first forms flashed / fleshed / and flourished // all festering womb.”

There is always the point of caricature becoming cliché and Ede slips with his slap at a “sick southern politician” accepting bribes. And I don’t buy “rape is amerieuropean.” Caveats aside, Ede’s innovative and lyric technique seamlessly blends indictment and incantation. His urgency is tangible and contagious.

It’s rare to find poetry of unyielding ethical commitment that captures the dizzying bedazzlement of life. Ede knows “in what direction to strike.”


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2009

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