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13 Ways of Looking: Kaveh Akbar

The award-winning poet presents 13 visual representations of poems included in his second collection, Pilgrim Bell, just out from Graywolf Press.
The cover of Kaveh Akbar's "Pilgrim Bell."Hannah Bagshaw.

Usually, after I’ve spent a good deal of time with a poem, it begins to become impenetrable to me—less a “small machine made of words” and more a symbol that enters my eye all at once like an ideogram or hieroglyph. A glance at a poem will visually summon all its experiential or psychospiritual data without requiring any actual engagement with its syntax (which also makes the poems obnoxious to revise, and often requires either another set of eyes or a great deal of time to turn the poem back into words).

Here, I’ve tried to intuitively—read: without overthinking myself into preciousness—paint visual representations of some poems from Pilgrim Bell, reflecting not their narrative or lexical data (Klee described his work being “not to reproduce the visible but to make visible”), but rather charting the ideogrammatic content that’s hardened into place for me over time with each piece. These painted haloes feel truer to me, or at least more interesting, than anything I might try to clumsily articulate about the poems. ♦

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Courtesy of the author.
Against Memory
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Courtesy of the author.
Escape to the Palace
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Courtesy of the author.
Forfeiting My Mystique
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Courtesy of the author.
Cotton Candy
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Courtesy of the author.
I Wouldn’t Even Know What to Do With a Third Chance
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Courtesy of the author.
My Empire
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Courtesy of the author.
Famous Americans and Why They Were Wrong
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Courtesy of the author.
How to Say the Impossible Thing
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Courtesy of the author.
Reading Farrokhzad in a Pandemic
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Courtesy of the author.
Seven Years Sober
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Courtesy of the author.
Pilgrim Bell (Dark on Both Sides...)
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Courtesy of the author.
Pilgrim Bell (The Stillness...)
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Courtesy of the author.
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