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Poet Kazim explores ‘lostness’ in reading

By Clayre Benzadon

Section: Arts, Top Stories

November 13, 2014

On Nov. 11, poet, essayist and translator Kazim Ali performed a poetry reading in Mandel. He first read through “Bright Felon” and “Sky Ward.” These two poems, typical of most of his poems, contain messages of philosophy, religion and his personal experiences.

His first poem encompasses everything he has felt for most of his life: “Lostness.” He was born in the U.K. to Muslim parents but has been a nomad for most of his life, lost, traveling the world until he finally settled down in Ohio, where he has been for the past five years. He considers his book as something that was written in crisis, as he constantly tries to find himself in a fragmented world, saying that his biggest struggle was attempting to gain the strength to come out as gay to his parents. This isn’t the only topic that comes through Kazim’s poems, however, as his philosophical statements extend out to more universal ideas of isolation, which is especially demonstrated in “Lostness”: “dear God of blankness I pray to dear unerasable/ how could I live without You if I were ever given answers/ the summer thickens with lostness.”

The ethereal, prose quality of this poem reflects the time that crosses through life, moving forward and backward in memories, with the fragmented form illustrating the difficult truths. “Lostness” is personified in many different ways, with the “summer thickening with lostness,” with “God of blankness” a symbol that gives the speaker a sense of this “lostness,” since this God does not give him the answers to life’s questions, and with his pleading of: “dear afternoon God dear evening God my lonely world,” desperately looking for the answers.

With most of his poems consisting of philosophical statements, he aims to delve into his personal archeology to find what the root of human emotion is. Emulating Gertrude Stein’s style, most of these life questions do not end in question marks but rather are punctuated with periods as a way to create statements that seem hypothetical, powerful and demanding, while interrogations are demonstrated as weak before the answer.

A lot of his poems also contain recurring themes, with spiritual and Biblical references, mysterious qualities and blanks left to for readers to fill out. The motifs serve to create a cyclical symbolism that reflects the spiraling forward of our lives. Hunger, water, truth and the feeling of isolation are all major themes he touches upon as the basic needs that humans desire. In addition, these are representations that are not only put forth in the setting of desert land and Egypt, but also intertwine his life and the conflicts his faces.

Additionally, in “Cairo,” Kazim writes of the active gay community in the titular city. He chronicles the police’s history of raiding parties and arresting many of his friends who do not have the money to bribe the police to release them.

Again there is the speaker’s feeling of isolation in the piece: “In the one place everyone looks like me—has my name—I am the most foreign…I am without language. Even in a place where Kazim should feel at home, he does not. He feels as though everyone looks at him suspiciously, as though he were a “thread lost in a labyrinth.”

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