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Rooms Are Never Finished: Poems Hardcover – November, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
The direct inspiration for Ali's new volume was his mother's death and the subsequent journey back to his homeland of Kashmir with her body. In his prose introduction, mother and motherland are strangely, strongly linked, and Ali, who has made a career of lyric ponderings of the permutations of exile and expatriate life, is left to negotiate the landscape of loss, its contours altered by the intrusion of the intensely personal. Ali has always been the one "with laments found lost on my lips," the post-colonial poet mourning dead aspects of his native culture while championing the complexity of his tripartite heritage. In The Country Without a Post Office, these themes were galvanized by the eruption of internecine war in Indian-held Kashmir, and by Ali's adoption of the tightly repetitive, traditional Arabic form of the ghazal. This latest volume balances formal elegy with a deliberate refusal to "finish rooms," figured perhaps most poignantly by the refusal to complete the well-known religious truism "There is no God but" and with more intellectualized musings on homecoming, heritage and the ravages of civil war. In this context, the repetitive ghazal replicates the keening of a mourning relative and the structure offered by tradition, while its line-by-line changes mark a way out of the repetitive cycles of historical violence. "Exiled by exiles" gives way to "two destinies at last reconciled by exiles." Ali's attempts to reconcile his Muslim, Hindu and Western heritage (which draws on James Merrill's mysticism) andn to quiet his cries of anguish, work to assuage grief without denying that "the loved one always leaves." The book has been nominated as a National Book Award finalist.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
This is a series of odes to Ali's mother and her native Kashmir, now torn apart by war. Ali uses religious imagery from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, the three great religions that have passed through the embattled Indian province, but he finds in Islam the book's most powerful metaphor. The battle of Karbala, a defining moment in Islamic history that is particularly important to Shi'a Muslims, becomes for Ali a symbol of his mother's life and of Kashmir. In his synthesis of Kashmiri religious thought, Karbala, the last stand of martyrs, represents the simultaneous salvation and damnation of his mother, in particular, and the Kashmiri people, in general. The poems owe a great deal to classical Islamic poetry, but Ali embraces Western tradition as well, at one point paying homage to e. e. cummings. It is the role of the exiled poet to bring worlds together, and in that role Ali fervently hopes that exiles alone can save the homeland that has scorned them. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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And we miss him already.
His language is so eerie and unbelievable because he really did bring the cadences, literariness (and penchant for grief and drama) of Urdu into English. In this sense, every one of his poems is an expert translation--across continents, physical and otherwise.
The book is dominated by two intense long sequences, one in which the poet accompanies his mother's body to back to Kashmir, and the closing sequence--dynamic!--in which, paralyzed by grief over his mother's death (and his own illness) Shahid communes with the departed spirit of James Merrill.
Shahid was a magnificent poet, and a magnificent man. Often reviews focus on his romance with bringing the Ghazal into English, or assign him a role as a "new formalist,"--which (I understand) he hated to be called--however, his true (and secret) gift is only the "multiply exiled" (to borrow Shahid's phrase) could have: a deep understanding of the "words behind the words."
We miss you, Shahid.
From his last book: "Dear Shahid...we are waiting for the almond blossoms. And, if God wills, O! those days of peace when we all were in love and the rain was in our hands whenever we met."