Books That Matter to Poet and Author Kazim Ali
Note: Books That Matter is Tracking Wonder’s interview series that showcases influential thinkers’ and authors’ relationships with books that matter to them.
With a deft ear for sacred sounds engraved in political moments, Kazim Ali is a rare poet, writer, teacher, and publisher. His character is at once tender and fierce as can be his poetry and prose.
In this Books That Matter feature, Kazim shares the dangerous book he would like to live inside, the two books he has stopped reading in the middle because he didn’t want them to end, and his forecast for the future of publishing.
Jeffrey: What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.
Kazim: Lucille Clifton’s poetry. And Fanny Howe’s. And Mahmoud Darwish’s. Darwish’s book Memory for Forgetfulness, in particular, was incredibly important for me in terms of a prose that could hold both the human and the political and not renounce an inch of either, prose soaked in poetry.
What one detail do you still recall from that book?
The vignette of Darwish crawling down the hallway of his apartment toward the kitchen, while bombs from an air strike hit the top floors of the building he’s in because all he wants is to make coffee before he dies.
The book you’ve imagined living inside of is what?
It would be fun to live inside Craig Thompson’s Habibi, though it would probably be dangerous.
What character do you still imagine being or being friends or seeking counsel from?
The narrator of Ursule Molinaro’s novel Autobiography of Cassandra because Cassandra can see the future and has really good ecofeminist gay-positive politics besides. And I would believe her.
What one book have you most often re-read? Why?
There are many books I’ve re-read but only two that I’ve stopped reading in the middle because they were so good I did not want to get to the end. These were Wuthering Heights and Crime and Punishment.
What kinds of books are you seeking these days?
Poems of savage language and startling outlook.
What kinds of books most irritate you?
Books which do not recognize the ecological, political, economic and humanitarian crises that are currently engulfing the planet like a conflagration.
You will read anything written by whom?
Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus in paper?
I do not read e-books.
In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of publishing?
In the coming post-technological age, we will once again as in ancient times be interested in orality and aurality. Publishing will include audio and video components. Performances will be more popular than books but people will still buy books so they can use them for read-aloud parties.
If you had five days off to read books next week, which books would you at last read?
The Year of Living Dangerously by Slavoj Zizek.
Which book would you want every woman or man to read? Why?
Every person in the world should see the film Earthlings. I know, that’s not a book. But that’s my answer.
What book are you most embarrassed or proud to say you have never read?
50 Shades of Grey. Neither embarrassed nor proud. But I’ve never read it. I have read both Delta of Venus and Little Birds by Anais Nin, which I suppose were the “50 Shades of Grey” of an earlier time.
If you had the time, talent, grit, and support, what book would you write ?
Whichever book I write next.
What is one thing that you hope readers of your book, Sky Ward, will come away with?
KAZIM ALI is a poet, essayist, fiction writer and translator.
His books include several volumes of poetry, including Sky Ward (Wesleyan University Press, 2013), winner of the Ohioana Book Award in Poetry, The Far Mosque, winner of Alice James Books’ New England/New York Award, The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008), and the cross-genre text Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). He has also published a translation of Water’s Footfall by Sohrab Sepehri (Omnidawn Press, 2011), Oasis of Now: Selected Poems by Sohrab Sepehri (BOA Editions, 2013) and (with Libby Murphy) L’amour by Marguerite Duras (Open Letter Books, 2013). His novels include Quinn’s Passage (blazeVox books), named one of “The Best Books of 2005” by Chronogram magazine and The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009), and his books of essays include Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence (University of Michigan Press, 2010), Fasting for Ramadan (Tupelo Press, 2011).
In addition to co-editing Jean Valentine: This-World Company (University of Michigan Press, 2012), he is a contributing editor for AWP Writers Chronicle and associate editor of the literary magazine FIELD and founding editor of the small press Nightboat Books. He is the series co-editor for both Poets on Poetry and Under Discussion, from the University of Michigan Press.
He is an associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College.