There is a wonderful group of young poets these days. One of the best is Iranian American poet Kaveh Akbar, who is coming through town with his first book, Calling a Wolf a Wolf.
Issues of nationality and language inform much of the best work of the young poets, and these issues shape some of Akbar’s poems. In one he writes, “I’ve spent my whole adult life / in a country where only my parents can pronounce my name.” But in Akbar nothing is simple; later he writes that he can no longer speak the language of his birth: “I don’t understand the words / I babble in home movies from Tehran but I assume they were lovely.”
Akbar also fights more than his share of personal demons. Several of these poems have titles that begin with “Portrait of the Alcoholic” and end with everything from “with Withdrawal” to “Stranded alone on a Desert Island.” Between are poems of recovery or craving. As one might imagine, these are not straightforward stories of the struggle. Rather the poems often take leaps from summary to image or from one image to another. Here are some lines from “Portrait of the Alcoholic with Moths and River:”
what you lack and the punishment for your
lacking are the same paling tulips gray-
ing fingernails a body nearly stops
then doesn’t I have seen it a man slips
beneath a blanket emerges clutching
himself saying this is mine I found it
I knew only that I wanted
to be like him,
that twilit stripe of father
mesmerizing as the bluewhite Iznik tile
hanging in our kitchen, worshipped
as the long faultless tongue of God.
Kaveh Akbar reads from Calling a Wolf a Wolf at the Neutral Zone November 20.