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City of Rivers (McSweeney's Poetry Series) Hardcover – December 11, 2012
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"This unusually compact and consistent debut from an unusually young poet might get noticed first for that poet’s unusual migratory life. Born in 1988 in Bangladesh, Ahmed came to the United States in his teens; he now studies engineering at Stanford, after some months among the white streets of Berlin.” Ahmed’s lines point to his tropical childhood, his native land’s difficult past (especially its 1971 war of independence), the troubles of his extended family, and his own curious, anxious relation to an America of prosperity and snow. After sending 'A Few Words to My Father,' the volume concludes plangently in a California where The moon lights the ocean on fire... My body is music./ I will never have a home.” Readers who seek clear poems about immigrants’ lives will find a few here. And yet the collection stands out most for the slim and backlit images, the stripped-down lines and shadows, that Ahmed prefers: 'Through the window I see/ The sky eating birds,/ And inside my shoulders I feel a dead horse.' Such work looks back productively to the American Deep Image style of the 1960s, to James Wright and the young Robert Bly. Even a poem that begins with a named location'I Close My Eyes and Find Myself in the Exact Center of Dhaka'gives itself over quickly to the biggest aspirations and the smallest words, asking 'why the sky is above/ And not under our bodies,' with 'the skin of men spread so thin.'"Publishers Weekly
"A startling first collection of poems."Shelf Awareness
" Writing as assured as Ahmed’s ought to be celebrated." The Rumpus
From a rich cultural swirl of history, heritage, and family, Zubair Ahmed’s poems have emerged, each one a dance in itself with memory and myth, a celebration of the author’s birthright in the age-old tradition of storytelling.”Combustus
"[Ahmed's] poems are packed with metaphor and feeling that make your heart fall into your stomach and your mind spin with creative delight.”Chico News & Review
"City of Rivers captures the reader’s heart from its first line to its last." ZYZZVA
"We cannot deny that [Ahmed] speaks on his own terms, without embellishment or pretense, and that alone makes for compelling poetry." 32poems
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I find his approach breathtaking at times. He'll begin with the minutia of experience, the surreally mundane, and somehow lead us into an open pasture of ideas, where we must think beyond what is said to find what is meant. He closes each poem on exactly the right line, and these lines are so beautiful and broad and unexpected that I was forced to immediately read the poem again to see how it could have led to such a startling conclusion. Upon that next read, I understood or felt something different, and each read provides another chance to interpret and redefine the things he leaves unsaid.
I'm glad I discovered his first chapbook, Ashulia, at Wordstock last year, because it provided the framework for City of Rivers, which is one of the best poetry collections I've read in years.