The city of crows
rises from the human city
like a tree above its shadow --
combs the air with spreading branches
full of raucous citizens...
Crows that worship on the wing; a comet that's "a snowball thrown by God;" stars that praise silence. These are part of Tiel Aisha Ansari's world, and through her poems, now they're part of mine, too.
Tiel -- who blogs at Knocking from inside, and is one of the co-creators of Totally optional prompts -- posts poems online often. But there's something powerful about holding a physical book in one's hands, even if some of the poems in it have appeared online. So when I saw that her collection of poems (which shares her blog's title) was in print, I dashed over to Lulu and picked up a copy. I'm glad I did.
The book was published by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore and Ecstatic Exchage. "One of the formidable challenges for poets with a spiritual bent," he writes in the introduction, "and specifically Muslim/Sufi but also Christian and religious Jewish or any other Spiritual Path poets, is a naturalness and heartfeltness, an openness, and particularly a lack of over-piousness." Ameen, brother. He's right about how rare and difficult that balance is -- and he's right that Tiel pulls it off.
Some of these poems run wordy, like Marge Piercy's poems (which I love, and which I still sometimes itch to pare down!) But others in this collection knock me flat with wonder. Like her "Sestina, inspired by Rumi" -- six tight and tiny stanzas. "Burn every straw. / Leave your roof. / Truth is emptiness,/ the illusion is existence./ Fly from your window/ to the top of the mountain." Holy wow.
Or take "Dead-letter office," which begins,
I am sorry to tell you that your prayer has been judged insincere
and has been sent to the dead-letter office of prayers
where the angel whose job it is will sort and file it
and close the drawer on its thin helpless squeaking.
This is what I want "religious poetry" to be.
Toward the end of the collection there's a series of haiku that remind me of Rumi or Hafiz. And "Fasting" -- oh, remind me to post "Fasting" next Yom Kippur, because it's gorgeous.
And on a personal note, I love that Ecstatic Exchange
published the book through Lulu. That's what we at Laupe House
Press did with chaplainbook,
and with Brilliant
Coroners, which makes me feel like in some
way our books are cousins. Maybe they are. And that makes me happy, too.
Buy Knocking From Inside here. Thanks, Tiel, for sharing your work with the world.