Kaveh Akbar’s “Pilgrim Bell”

September 3, 2021

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Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher are joined by poet Kaveh Akbar to talk about his latest collection, Pilgrim Bell. Whereas Akbar’s previous collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, meditated on addiction and the challenges of recovery, Pilgrim Bell figures a turn to the spiritual and the possibility of repair, focusing on the damaged self, the abuses of empire, penitence, the failures of the faithful, and untamable efforts at submission and devotion.

Because the work of faith and thus the work of the faithful, is never complete — indeed, as Akbar’s best lines suggest to us, is always inchoate, compromised, confused — the spiritual is an experience of cycling, of makings, unmakings, and remakings. The poems leave the reader suspended between action and futility, the generosity of love and the pain of loss. Like the pilgrim of the collection’s title, we listen for the words that will ring out to us and we wait, in the interim between the bell’s tolls, to determine how we will respond to its call. Akbar opens the interview with a reading from the collection.

Also, Matthew Specktor, author of Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California, returns to recommend Emily Segal’s novel Mercury Retrograde.