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This review is taken from PN Review 243, Volume 45 Number 1, September - October 2018.

Cover of  Inquisition
Joe Carrick-VartyComing to Grips

Kazim Ali, Inquisition (Wesleyan University Press) £11.29;
Brenda Hillman, Extra Hidden Life, among the days (Wesleyan University Press) £23
Kazim Ali’s Inquisition is a fearless pursuit of thinking even to the point of disassembling the brain itself. The poems seek their own impossible origins; they find brave and surprising forms to map the journey.

‘John’, a poem typical of this quest, is structured with a series of coordinates; a trail for the speaker who is lost and looking for a way (all the way) back: ‘Who was I when I was writing this name’. Ali starts small (molecularly small), ‘Copper oxidizes to green’, then pans out, following with meticulous attention as oxygen becomes first a part of air, then breath, then life: ‘Air packs itself tight in the seed / Seed unspools in the ground writing the biography of dirt’ (Can I just say: the biography of dirt! Written by a seed!). A lovely image concludes the journey: ‘A little further down the road another tower is going up’. The subtle proximity of ‘down the road’ gives the line a compelling relatability, while the blasé ‘going up’ jars for all the right reasons: a thing as huge as a tower goes nowhere, really, but neither do pine trees or mountains. The trick is Ali shows us the going. Because everything was tiny once.

Many of my favourite poems in Inquisition deploy single­­-line stanzas in an attempt to manage this deft oscillation of perspective, each stanza representing a stage, a stepping stone, and each piece of white space representing the shift into a new context. The form is doing something clever here. While the poems are largely unpunctuated they are not without structure. As ...


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