Introductions: Kaveh Akbar
October 18, 2021
By Rebecca Hoogs, Interim Executive Director
A couple of years ago, Lena Khalaf Tuffaha and I were talking about dream poets to bring to the Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Poetry Series, and Kaveh Akbar was one of those dreams. His first book, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, had just been published to great acclaim. Steph Burt praised the book and the poet, saying, “Akbar has what every poet needs: the power to make, from emotions that others have felt, memorable language that nobody has assembled before.”
In his latest collection, Pilgrim Bell, Kaveh Akbar does it again, proffering assemblages of language that suffer and desire, that rupture and repair. He writes: “It’s delicious / being so governed / by the primacy / of my tongue.”
Six poems in the book bear the title “Pilgrim Bell,” and each of these six poems consists of short lines that are stopped by a period. The thought then is like a bottle, both broken across the line and stoppered as if by a cork. The thought is a container, and utterly un-contained, spilled, spilling. These tensions, these contradictions, ride each other like brothers—one moment, “playing love” and the next, “playing harm.”
One of my favorite writers, Hanif Abdurraquib, is a fan of Kaveh’s and described this new volume as “a book that chooses honesty over beauty, which makes it a breathtaking text.” Akbar shows us language about language, about spirituality, about sobriety, about the stoppered and broken and joyous self, about the pilgrimage the self is on or in, about how we can’t help but make beauty, about how we can’t help but make cruel.
Tonight is the first night of our new Poetry Series, and the first poetry event we’ve hosted in-person in the last year and a half. What a person to begin again with—what a dream to be here with you, with Kaveh Akbar. Please join me in welcoming the incandescent poet, the dream come true, Kaveh Akbar.
Rebecca Hoogs gave this introduction to open our 2021/22 Poetry Series with Kaveh Akbar on October 15, 2021.