Feb 16 01 by Published in: Reviews 1 comment

The poet Agha Shahid Ali sees himself as a multiple exile. Between countries, between cultures, between languages, he is able to move at once in the midst of these worlds and at the same time remain a keen observer of them.

Born and New Delhi, he grew up Muslim in Kashmir, but has spent more than half of his life in America, earning his doctorate in English from Penn State and teaching at a number of universities around the country.

His poetry, consequently, is rich with classical literary allusions, visceral Kashmiri culture, and Americanisms, weaving history, myth and politics together in a tapestry that spans continents.

In one he writes “A language must measure up to one’s native dust./ Divided between two cultures, I spoke a language foreign even to my ears.”

Although his earlier work was mostly free-verse, the turmoil in his homeland of Kashmir and his experiences visiting there each summer compelled him to write in more strict forms as a way to better contain the rush of emotions and to take on the “big subject matter” of the conflict.

His most-recently book of poetry, “The Country Without a Post Office,” bears witness to the violence and desolation, but at the same time celebrates life and beauty amidst chaos and guerilla warfare. The title refers to the fact that for about seven months in 1990, no mail was delivered within Kashmir because of the political turmoil between Muslim Indian militants and the Indian government.

In the book’s final stanza, he writes “The century is ending. It is pain/from which love departs into all new pain:/Freedom’s terrible thirst, flooding Kashmir,/is bringing love to its tormented glass./Stranger, who will inherit the last night/of the past? Of what shall I not sing, and sing?”

In this book, he experiments with prose poems, sonnets, villanelle, and a 1300-year-old Persian poetic form called a ghazal.

This lyrical, song form reads as almost an incantation, the repetition of the internal rhyme structure coupled with the repetition of the last word in each stanza creates an heartbeat-like pulse. Reading them requires engaging the entire body in this rhythmic movement

The author of six books of poetry, as well as the editor of an anthology, the prolific Ali will be reading from his work at Franklin and Marshall College Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Stahr Auditorium. The reading is free and open to the public.


  1. jcg
    Sun 03rd Oct 2010 at 4:26 am

    r.i.p. Shahid.


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