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Reviews

  • If poetry is prayer, here are scriptures. Kaveh Akbar's brave, encompassing map of spiritual hunger shows us that longing belongs to all of us, whatever the languages we speak or the geographies we inhabit.

    Jeet Thayil
  • An amazing collection of spiritual verse from many cultures and periods, from ancient Sumer in the third millennium BCE up to the present. There cannot be any other anthology that ranges so widely, and anyone concerned with either poetry or spirituality will want to own a copy

    John Barton, author of A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths
  • Wonderfully rich, this beautiful anthology of verse uniquely displays how humans over centuries and across continents have wrestled with the concept of the divine and, in turn, humanity's relationship with that divinity. From exaltation to lament, from reflections on beauty to explorations of science, these words draw the reader's eyes towards the wonder of the numinous. A delightful celebration of human creativity, with new insights from a trusted guide: Kaveh Akbar.

    Chine McDonald, director of Theos and author of God Is Not a White Man: And Other Revelations
  • What an amazing compilation: beautifully edited, translated, introduced, this book is far more than a typical poetry anthology. What is it, then? It is our chance to overhear the splendid poet Kaveh Akbar whisper to himself words which he lives by, as he embarks on his own journey of spirit, loss, astonishment, bewilderment, and, perhaps, understanding. The chorus of voices gathered offer a balm, a consolation, a tune, in our desolate world.

    Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
  • How can language approach the spiritual - that which remains unlanguaged - and trace the limen between the self and what it falls silent before? In The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse, Kaveh Akbar takes up this timeless inquiry with expansive curatorial shaping and heady joy, threading together Li Po and Adelia Prado, Hafez with Jabès, reverent with ludic, divine with corporeal, and everything that gets charged through, and between, them. Vibrating across this thick bundle of verse is the animation of the spirit enmeshed with the body, astounding in its ever-shifting forms, its irrepressible music. These poems "thin the partition between a person and a divine," and they do so sublimely: making porous the border between the self and all that beckons beyond understanding.

    Jenny Xie
  • The choices Kaveh Akbar has made for this anthology of spiritual verse are spectacularly excellent. They are from regions of poetry at once accessible and exalted, representing the most intense of human experiences, the experiences of the divine, the yearning for the holy. Multiple cultures are represented: texts of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Arabic speaking world, the Farsi speaking world, poets of Hindi and Urdu, poets from everywhere in Asia, Africa, Europe, as well as England and the USA. Here is a page of Lucretius, there a page of Dante (splendidly translated by Mary Jo Bang), and over there, Nazim Hikmet. There are several astonishing women, including Enheduanna, Mirabai, Gabriela Mistral. The book holds an embarrassment of riches, yet is light on its feet. You can easily carry it with you in an outside pocket of your knapsack. You too will be smitten by the yearning that animates and drives these poems. Akbar's Introduction, and his notes on individual poems, are extra added value: the words of a poet.

    Alicia Ostriker, New York State Poet Laureate 2018-2021, author of the volcano and after:Selected and New Poems, 2002-2019
  • When it comes to writing, freedom is often assumed to mean the freedom to write on political themes without fear of state reprisal. In the formerly Communist countries of Europe, however, the freedom not to write on political themes can be just as meaningful. These fifteen authors bring us stirring reflections on nature, hilarious morning-after surprises, touching spiritual insights, rich family histories, computers and snowy mountains and gay bars and slag heaps.

    Alex Zucker

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