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Williamsville native Ali selected for NPR Poetry Games

In conjunction with the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, National Public Radio is reviving one aspect of the ancient Greek  games that failed to gain much traction when reintroduced into the modern version of the Olympiad.  From the Stockholm games of 1912 to the post-war London games of 1948, the International Olympic Committee sponsored a so-called "Pentathlon of the Muses"--a medals competition in such artistic categories as literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture and two types of poetry, epic and lyric--in imitation of the ancient games, which featured intellectual pursuits such as the recitation of victory odes by the likes of classical poets like Pindar alongside the physical competitions.

As Renee Montagne reported on last Friday's Morning Edition, this coming week the program will undertake its own attempt to revive that tradition by inviting five poets representing five continents--Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America (Australia and Antarctica appear to be casualties of the five day work week)--to "compose original works celebrating athletes and athletics." 

Morning Edition listeners will determine the winners in virtual "poetry slam" fashion, based on the popular vote for each of the five contestants whose poems you can read and listen to at

One of the poets is former Buffalo area resident and Williamsville East High School graduate Kazim Ali, who has been selected to represent North America in the competition.

 Ali was born in the U.K. to Muslim parents of Indian descent, but raised in Canada and the Buffalo area suburb of Williamsville, where he spent a considerable portion of his teen years and returned briefly following his college years at SUNY-Albany and New York University to serve as a writer-in-residence for Just Buffalo Literary Center.  He is currently an assistant professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. 

Ali is the author of  two collections of poetry, "The Far Mosque" (Alice James Books, 2005), winner of  the Alice James Books New England/New York Award, and "The Fortieth Day" (BOA Editions, 2008).  He has also published two novels, "Quinn's Passage" (BlazeVOX Books, 2004) and "The Disappearance of Seth" (Etruscan Press, 2009), and a much-praised non-fiction travel memoir collection "Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities" (Wesleyan University Press, 2009).  His essays and other critical writings, including many of the features he has written as a regular contributor to American Poetry Review, are collected in "Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence" (University of Michigan Press, 2010).  Last year, Tupelo Press published Ali's "Fasting for Ramadan," a collection of meditations in the form of prose poems that explored the ritual traditions of his Islamic faith through the filter of his longstanding practice of yoga. 

Ali will return to the Buffalo area on Sunday, October 21st, when he is scheduled to read from his forthcoming collection of poems "Sky Ward" (to be published in the Spring of 2013 by Wesleyan University Press) as a guest of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center's Poets and Writers Series.

NPR's Poetry Games are unrelated to the 2012 London Games' own "Poetry Parnassus," which brought hundreds of international poets to read and perform their work in over fifty languages at a variety of London venues earlier this month, culminating with the aerial drop of over 100,000 poetry broadsides via helicopter onto various Olympic sites along the Thames River. 

--R.D. Pohl 


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