Sky Ward by Kazim Ali
Middletown, Connecticut. Wesleyan University Press. 2013. ISBN 9780819573575
There is a kind of fragmentation in contemporary poetry that fails to convince, that seems to have been born only in fragments, calculated to be partial with no authentic relation to a missing whole. And then there is the truer, more compelling form of fragmentation, the kind that hints at a fullness irrecoverable, poignant in its unsettling allusiveness. The poems of Kazim Ali fall into this second category. Sky Ward gives us hints of narrative—the story of Icarus, the life of the poet—but Ali skillfully prevents the narrative from ever coalescing. Storyline in Sky Ward is like the face of a friend you recognize from far away; you start walking in that direction, waving hello, until you are close enough to realize you do not know the person to whom you have been waving.
But perhaps rather than as fragmented it is better to think of these poems simply as open, even if it is an openness created by elision. This openness is exhibited in the use of white space on the page as well as in a syntax that resists closure: “gorgeous I miss / not salvation but bliss I adore / discs of green melting snow reveals,” the poet writes in “Journey to Providence.” These lines convey a sense of lyrical disruption, a stirring refusal to settle into definite meaning. This rejection of closure often produces in the reader a feeling akin to longing.
Sometimes Ali channels this longing in erotic directions, as in “Baptism,” in which the poet, imagining Eros, longs “to lie still, to be destroyed, wanting only / to kiss the hands of my winged assassin.” At other times, the longing is more generalized, as in the imaginative, elusive, and moving prose poem “Fairy Tale”: “It’s nearly a party trick the way he opens his mouth and butterflies pour out, closes it again and the clock chimes, reminding him of being a young boy, coming home to an empty house, sure that he had been forgotten, that everyone had gone to the beach without him.” The gentle surrealism in this poem might remind one of John Ashbery, but even more reminiscent of that predecessor is the elegant melancholy of this poem and many others in Sky Ward. Yet Ali’s accomplishment is entirely original and can perhaps only be described in near paradoxes: tenderly devastating, engagingly disorienting.
Oklahoma Baptist University