Five Muslim American poets to celebrate in National Poetry Month

Five Muslim American poets to celebrate in National Poetry Month

1. Agha Shahid Ali

Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) was an acclaimed innovator of English poetry who introduced many readers to the poetic form known as ghazal. His lyrical and technical style was an important part of New Formalism, a 21st-century movement in American poetry that promoted a return to metrical and rhymed verse, moving away from free verse. “The Country Without a Post Office” (1997) ruminates on life away from Ali’s native Kashmir. His final book, “Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals” (2003), was published posthumously and contained English ghazals composed during his final years battling cancer. Just as adept as quoting Begum Akhtar or Emily Dickenson, his poetry is both erudite and raw, with a visceral emotional quality. 

2. Mohja Kahf

Mohja Kahf is a Syrian-American poet, novelist and scholar. She was born in Damascus, Syria in 1967 and moved to the United States with her family in 1971. Kahf is the author of several books including the poetry collections “Hagar Poems” (2016) and “E-mails from Scheherazad” (2003). She has received several awards for her work including the Pushcart Prize, the Arkansas Arts Council Award, and the PEN Emerging Writers Award. Kahf is also a professor of comparative literature and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Arkansas. Her work is often extremely witty, doesn’t shy away from innuendos or even risque intersections of the sacred and the sexual. The Paris Review recently featured one of her poems, “Copulation in English” as a daily poem. 

3. Hanif Abdurraqib 

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, prolific essayist and cultural critic. His first collection of poems, “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much,” was published in 2016 and was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. His second collection, “A Fortune for Your Disaster,” was published in 2019 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. In addition to his poetry, Abdurraqib is also known for his cultural criticism and essays, which have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Fader, and Pitchfork. His 2019 book “Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest” is a memoir, cultural criticism, and biography of the legendary hip-hop group. A good introduction to his work is his reading of “At My First Punk Rock Show Ever.” 

4. Amir Sulaiman

Oakland-based Amir Sulaiman is best known for his performances on Def Jam Poetry Jam, which in 2004 earned his mother a visit from the FBI and caused his name to be added to a “no-fly” list that prevents certain citizens from boarding planes. Much of Sulaiman’s early work is written in response to the War on Terror, and verges on being a form of protest, albeit very lyrical protest. Recently, Sulaiman lent his writing talents to Season 2 of “Ramy.”

5. Kaveh Akbar

Kaveh Akbar is a poet who is well known for tackling themes of substance abuse and mental health. He’s authored several collections, including “Calling a Wolf a Wolf” and “Pilgrim Bell.”  Akbar’s poetry is known for its vulnerability and its exploration of themes such as survivor’s guilt, addiction, faith and identity. NPR called him “poetry’s biggest cheerleader” and The New Yorker’s Andrew Chan raved, “In Pilgrim Bell, the poet turns illegibility into a site of creativity, taking apart familiar language and reassembling unexpected truths.” Akbar is also the founding editor of Divedapper, a website dedicated to featuring interviews with poets.