... true songs about pain and fear ... Yes, I mutter, feeling the deep relief of lines that voice something my flesh mostly knows in silence: both the curse of disease and the tattered edges like grace. The poems, by turns beautiful and brutal, name something of my experience of faith as well ... Pilgrim Bell welcomes me with songs of collective personhood—the way our hearts could fit in each other’s chests—even as it calls me to question my false innocence. At points, it goes so far as to shock with images so apt you can almost miss their violence ... in the book’s wide range of allusion and reference, Akbar has curated an expansive poetic and spiritual conversation, one that unfolds not in generalizations but in concrete points of reference ... Within this richly populated spiritual conversation, I feel at points like Akbar is whispering directly into my ear, filling up a cup inside me that I didn’t realize was empty.
Pilgrim Bell...is emphatic and honest as it ekes a journey not an ounce less embodied for its emergent spiritual and political edge. Sitting still through Akbar’s poems can be nearly impossible. Better to pace with the more restless verses, where Akbar’s speakers carry the aura of exquisitely shambled tall tales, performing minor miracles of bodily audacity across an unfettered page ... Pillar-like, forcefully end-stopped and majusculated in a style elsewhere alien to Akbar, [the title poems] clobber trails of thought and scatter the scansion, painstakingly reorienting these new poems into spiritual reflections on paradoxes of literacy and tonguelessness, holiness and sacrilege, emptiness and being, knowledge and innocence ... Pilgrim Bell plays with form, association, and recursiveness in bold, vivid patterns, and the threads hold together. Akbar achieves the unique position of being the one poet I never read aloud. Perfect on the page, the voice and personality of each poem are thoroughly, itchingly alive, with an intimacy that, for all its naked self-revelation, feels bound to be engaged in the work of nations.
... a ringing re-examination of everything we call holy ... Akbar uses sharp punctuation throughout this collection in order to consistently raise the stakes, making you feel as if you’re running out of time ... The way Akbar uses punctuation and certainty makes the reader have to keep stopping almost in a frustrating way. It made me crave movement. I wanted to run. It’s incredibly exciting when a poem has a physical impact like that, and not an experience that happens with every collection ... Akbar is particularly good at transforming the reality of the poem. You start the poem in whatever mindset you came to it in, and line after line, the poem takes you somewhere ... Each poem twisted my reality in such a way that it didn’t fully twist back. A new flexibility. Soon this will be a coveted favorite. It will be by my bed or in a spot on my crowded bookshelf that can be easily reached. This collection is truly special.
A divine journey within the framework of the Iranian-born poet's own reality, the book takes a lyrical plunge into his Muslim family's American life, their immigrant experience, and his own quest to stay sober. For all of this, the book's probing of language feels almost imperative ... As Akbar pierces the reader's perception of language in this way, he also dives into the perception of faith ... Like a bell, Akbar breaks reality with sound, swinging like a pendulum between what we think we know and what we actually know ... Akbar's sacred journey points to what is right in front of us.
The title poems have periods like bulletholes—like a driveby that got flirty. These punctuate the text and make reading interesting connecting through disconnection. With each little phrase, there's a choice as to whether to attach the previous one or the proceeding one. Here the author seems to allow the reader the option of deciding how to read the poem, not forcing a concrete idea, a concrete interpretation ... He takes the minute and deconstructs and reconstructs and allows a new perspective to arise from that task ... This collection is not better than his last one, but it goes in a different direction, explores language and form and the spirit. Though at times the collection seems slightly hollow (in what way I cannot completely ascertain or assert), the amount of 'self' exposed and given over to the reader is startling. Perhaps said hollowness is the lack of maternal involvement ... He gives us enough to see where his opinions and ideas are coming from but not enough to fully dissect and behold a body of flesh and veins and blood and bones. He allows us to see him as much as he wants to.
Akbar is exquisitely sensitive to how language can function as both presence and absence. In his most recent collection ... words assume physical, palpable form—as reverberations in the mouth and ear—but can just as easily take on a spectral aura, reminding us of worlds and selves no longer within reach ... these poems ask what meaning can be found—or made—through partial revelation, in a world so often defined by misunderstandings: with others, with God, with ourselves. Sometimes the lack of clarity is literal. Flip through this book and you’ll notice formal and stylistic strategies that play at the edges of decipherability ... Akbar’s writing, like his halting translation, depends on resourcefulness, a surrender to a given set of materials, even those which elude understanding. The words he assembles are like so many puzzle pieces, and meaning is created even when they don’t fit ... What he hammers and builds—this book—is beautiful, but it isn’t always durable, or endurable ... Beneath the hyperbole of politics, Akbar uncovers a simpler, awkward humanity
This incandescent second collection of poetry from Akbar...illuminates questions of divinity and language in swift, surprising lyrics. An Iranian-born writer of unmatched imagery and searing critique, Akbar uses plainspoken language...and otherworldly imagining...to collide our world and the next ... his obvious skill and subtle flirtation with self-deprecation will surely endear readers to this volume’s exceptional speakers.
In this rich and moving collection, Akbar...writes poems of contradiction and ambivalence centered on religious belief and ethnic and national identity. Evocative and polyphonic, surprising but never artificially shocking, Akbar’s poems flit from the divine to the corporeal in the same breath ... This impressive, thoughtful work shimmers with inventive syntax and spiritual profundity.