Kaveh Akbar’s exquisite, highly anticipated follow-up to Calling a Wolf a Wolf
With formal virtuosity and ruthless precision, Kaveh Akbar’s second collection takes its readers on a spiritual journey of disavowal, fiercely attendant to the presence of divinity where artifacts of self and belonging have been shed. How does one recover from addiction without destroying the self-as-addict? And if living justly in a nation that would see them erased is, too, a kind of self-destruction, what does one do with the body’s question, “what now shall I repair?” Here, Akbar responds with prayer as an act of devotion to dissonance—the infinite void of a loved one’s absence, the indulgence of austerity, making a life as a Muslim in an Islamophobic nation—teasing the sacred out of silence and stillness.
Richly crafted and generous, Pilgrim Bell’s linguistic rigor is tuned to the register of this moment and any moment. As the swinging soul crashes into its limits, against the atrocities of the American empire, and through a profoundly human capacity for cruelty and grace, these brilliant poems dare to exist in the empty space where song lives—resonant, revelatory, and holy.
“Kaveh Akbar shapes language into prayer, into body, into patchwork — clarifying only what can be known." —NPR.org
“[Pilgrim Bell] is bracing in its honesty and noteworthy in its steadfast adherence to finding the spiritual in even the most mundane settings. Akbar’s mesmerizing dexterity with language is at its most compelling when he is relentlessly pursuing the truth—a hunt that’s present in every poem in this volume.”—TIME
“[Kaveh] Akbar is exquisitely sensitive to how language can function as both presence and absence. . . . His practice of taking language apart, and harnessing the empty space around it, makes even the most familiar words seem eerie and unexpected.”—The New Yorker
“Very few living writers write so achingly toward God as Kaveh Akbar. Real faith, Akbar writes in Pilgrim Bell, “passes first through the body/ like an arrow”; each of the poems in this collection finds its target.”—Lauren Groff, The Guardian, Best Books of 2021
“Emphatic and honest. . . . 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.”—World Literature Today
“This is the invitation Pilgrim Bell extends: to join a conversation in which violence interrupts beauty and beauty interrupts violence, in which doubt interrupts faith and faith interrupts doubt, in which difference interrupts shared humanity and shared humanity interrupts difference, ad infinitum, as well they must.”—Ploughshares
“Lyrical, profound, and honest, the kind of collection to which a reader will return.”—Library Journal, starred review
“Rich and moving. . . . This impressive, thoughtful work shimmers with inventive syntax and spiritual profundity.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Incandescent. . . . [Pilgrim Bell] illuminates questions of divinity and language in swift, surprising lyrics.”—Booklist, starred review
“Pilgrim Bell is a book that chooses honesty over beauty, which makes it a breathtaking text.”—Hanif Abdurraqib
“Kaveh Akbar is truly a great writer, and his new collection Pilgrim Bell is a marvel. Like his previous work, it dazzles us. . . . He is incapable of setting down a line that’s less than luminous. Pilgrim Bell is destined to become a classic, another blazing torch added to the eternal flames.”—Mary Karr
“Kaveh Akbar is the sorcerer’s sorcerer, masterful in the way he wields language for us, for these poems, to sound his Pilgrim Bell. Profound and singular, smart and sad and funny, but most of all truth’s beauty and beauty’s truth sung. . . . We need Pilgrim Bell. We need Kaveh Akbar.”—Tommy Orange
“Working at and along the outer edges of language, Pilgrim Bell calls us to attention and to attend to that which poetry and prayer share, while simultaneously demanding that we tend to the political, the social, the erotic—all that is quotidian and human. Persimmons and empire; saffron and refugee camps; exile, oleander, and the Rolling Stones—all the stuff of poetry. And of prayer. In Pilgrim Bell, the poet Kaveh Akbar, ‘God’s incarnate spit in the mud,’ takes us down to the ground, to the prosaic, the dismissed and overlooked, the better to talk to the great Silence, bearer of many names including that of God.”—M. NourbeSe Philip