Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence

A volume in the Poets on Poetry series, which collects critical works by contemporary poets, gathering together the articles, interviews, and book reviews by which they have articulated the poetics of a new generation.

Kazim Ali shines a light on the intersections between cultures in these essays on the craft of poetry, offering a hand to poets either geographically or metaphorically outside the mainstream of Western culture.

In Orange Alert, Ali discusses poets including Agha Shahid Ali, Jane Cooper, Bhanu Kapil, Semezdin Mehmedinovic, and Samuel Beckett. Additionally, he looks at intersections between art forms, showing how areas of confluence enrich the literary arts. He considers painters Agnes Martin and Piet Mondrian, musicians Alice Coltrane and Yoko Ono, and philosophers Slavoj Žižek and Jean Baudrillard. In his interrogations of the way poetry means, Ali links the poetic endeavor to such diverse texts as Moby-Dick, Battlestar Galactica, and Marilyn Buck's prison journals.

Ali unpacks the mysteries of contemporary poetry by discussing it in relation to other art forms and to contemporary television; film; and electronic media, including the Internet, YouTube, and Facebook.

Whether he is discussing the way cell phones have altered the concept of physical intimacy and introduced new verb forms, or talking about the way Emily Dickinson's mysteries are more clearly revealed in French translation, Ali is at once clear and complex, rigorous and charming, accessible and demanding.

"With their delicacy of attention and bold range of subjects, Kazim Ali's essays hold many quiet surprises. His canon stretches from the North Atlantic to North Africa, and includes poems, paintings, prayers, and architecture. Yet he returns continually to the unifying theme of the presence of encounters, which may lead, in his account, to violence, speech, or silence. In each art he searches for insight and craft—the virtues of his own patient writing.” —Susan Stewart

Kazim Ali's essays, like his poems, are alive with curiosity and humanity. His wide-ranging critical intelligence moves with ease from Agha Shahid Ali to Yoko Ono, from the poetry of Emily Dickinson to the poetics of Twitter, from Baudrillard to Paris Hilton. These writings are a record of Ali's impassioned struggle "to live in the world, to be actual." Poetry becomes the meeting place of body and spirit, and these essays themselves brilliantly illustrate Ali's claim that "the text itself becomes a human body, breathing in and out, living in space." Orange Alert makes a compelling case for the necessity of poetry on a planet racked by war and devastation, calling on us to recognize that "we may find our best spiritual, intellectual and emotional the conflicted, confused, and vexed spaces of the oral and ecstatic, the profound and the difficult." —Timothy Yu

Orange Alert is a poetic and yogic salvo—to appropriate the discourse of war—across the bows of our defensive imperial posturing. Kazim Ali’s essays leap deftly from homages to avant-garde artists to awestruck meditations on ancient architecture. Orange Alert is a revelation, a salve, an invitation to breathe again, in an epoch which recklessly endangers our common body, our shared human being. Here we have a grand poetics that makes its reach toward the ineffable, which all great poetry marks by its limits. —Philip Metres



Orange Alert by Kazim Ali