The author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf returns with a new collection that interrogates the swinging soul as it crashes into its limits, against the atrocities of the American empire, and through a profoundly human capacity for cruelty and grace.
... 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 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.