Bright Felon by Kazim Ali
My used copy of Bright Felon by Kazim Ali arrived in a menacingly formal-seeming plastic library casing that seemed to crackle with such a vehement promise of drudgery and boredom that I distanced myself from opening it until now, my final hour of grad school. It was fortunate that I got over it because underneath its antiquated exterior was one of the finest books that I’ve read over the last two years.
Poetic fragments are at once phrases, rarely longer than three lines. The phrases are bordered and thus defined by white space on the page. This reinforces their identity as pieces of a whole, in turn becoming the armature of Ali’s experimental memoir. The content mimics the format’s incessant disassembly and redefinition of its story through often exquisitely written sentences that utilize place, identity, and religion to illustrate the simultaneous existence of the pieces and the entirety of everything. Ali begins the book by showing us the main characters, or context, that we’ll be joining with him in reacting to, examining, dismantling, reconstructing and relating to its surroundings. In the first line of the book Ali establishes his mother as a possible root of his splintered identity and heartbreak by writing, “Paradise lies beneath the feet of your mother. A verse I’ve recited so frequently I do not know if it is scripture or hadith” (1). In the succeeding sentence, which is easily one of the longest in the book, Ali continues to construct an eagle-eyed view of the emotional house that he originated from, and continues to live in, by adding religion to the equation when he writes, “Hadith meaning traditions of the prophet, are always accompanied by a careful oral lineage of who said what to whom, and who heard who say they heard what. Usually back to one of the prophet’s wives who heard the prophet say it” (1). This early reference to religion becomes another integral piece of the larger context from which Ali is always in relationship.
We’re then taken into what could be considered the first stanza that asks the questions that ascertain that pieces and wholes co-exist, and illustrates the exponential make-up of most sentences to come: “The veil also between