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About this poet

Born in the UK to parents of Indian descent, Kazim Ali emigrated with his family to Canada and then the United States, where he was raised in an Islamic household. He attended SUNY Albany, receiving a BA in 1993 and an MA in 1995. He received an MFA from New York University in 2001. After graduating, Ali worked as an organizer for a statewide organization advocating greater access to public higher education, funding for the SUNY system, and increased need-based grant aid for students.

His first collection of poetry, The Far Mosque (Alice James Books, 2005), won the Alice James Books New England/New York Award. He is also the author of The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008), Bright Felon (Wesleyan, 2009) and two novels, Quinn's Passage (Blazevox Books, 2004), and The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009). His critical writings have been collected Orange Alert (University of Michigan Press, 2010) and Fasting for Ramadan (Tupelo Press, 2011).

Ali was a writer-in-residence at the Just Buffalo Literary Center and is co-founder and publisher of the small press Nightboat Books. He has taught in the English Department of Monroe Community College and was an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.

Currently, he is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

Sleep Door

Kazim Ali, 1971
a light knocking on the sleep door
like the sound of a rope striking the side of a boat

heard underwater
boats pulling up alongside each other

beneath the surface we rub up against each other
will we capsize in

the surge and silence
of waking from sleep

you are a lost canoe, navigating by me
I am the star map tonight

all the failed echoes
don't matter

the painted-over murals
don't matter

you can find your way to me 
by the faint star-lamp

we are a fleet now
our prows zeroing in

praying in the wind
to spin like haywire compasses

toward whichever direction
will have us

From The Fortieth Day by Kazim Ali. Copyright © 2008 by Kazim Ali. Reprinted by permission of B.O.A. Editions. All rights reserved.

From The Fortieth Day by Kazim Ali. Copyright © 2008 by Kazim Ali. Reprinted by permission of B.O.A. Editions. All rights reserved.

Kazim Ali

Kazim Ali

His first collection of poetry, The Far Mosque (Alice James Books, 2005), won the Alice James Books New England/New York Award

by this poet

poem

It should be a letter
To the man inside
I could not become

Dressed in yellow
And green, the colors of spring
So I could leave death

In its chamber veined
With deep ore
I’ve no more to tell you

Last winter I climbed
The mountains of Musoorie
To

poem
In the convicted evening I am a victor struck loose and restless,
creeping for the unlocked window.

The family inside at the dinner table is mine.

Listening to the escape story on the radio, my mother's hand freezes
in the air halfway to her mouth.

She realizes it's me they're talking about.

Lightning by
poem

My father's silence I cannot brook. By now he must know I live and well.

My heart is nickel, unearthed and sent. We are a manmade catastrophe.

Unable to forgive, deeply mine this earthly light that swells sickly inside.

Like wind I drift westward and profane when the doors of ice slide open.