Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar

Calling a Wolf a Wolf

"The struggle from late youth on, with and without God, agony, narcotics and love is a torment rarely recorded with such sustained eloquence and passion as you will find in this collection." —Fanny HoweThis highly-anticipated debut boldly confronts addiction and courses the strenuous path of recovery, beginning in the wilds of the mind. Poems confront craving, control, the...

Title:Calling a Wolf a Wolf
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Edition Language:English

Calling a Wolf a Wolf Reviews

  • Alejandra Oliva

    This book filled my heart all the way up. God and bodies and becoming better.

  • Samantha

    Y'all, I had to live with this book for a minute. I kept rereading poems and starting over, because I didn't want it to end, and it doesn't even matter now that I am finished because I can go back to these and find something living and new in them each time.

    Kaveh Akbar makes really messy, beautiful poems about addiction and love and the body. Each one is this dizzying spiral of meandering passion (Is that a thing? I'm calling it a thing) that pans from small, quiet moments to philosophizing, wor

    Y'all, I had to live with this book for a minute. I kept rereading poems and starting over, because I didn't want it to end, and it doesn't even matter now that I am finished because I can go back to these and find something living and new in them each time.

    Kaveh Akbar makes really messy, beautiful poems about addiction and love and the body. Each one is this dizzying spiral of meandering passion (Is that a thing? I'm calling it a thing) that pans from small, quiet moments to philosophizing, worldly big ones and back again. What's that candy that has a flavor explosion in the middle? That's what these poems are. They're soft and big, vulnerable and confident, and together they make up this *voice* that's more powerful and cohesive across a collection than any debut poet in recent memory has achieved. Kaveh Akbar has freaking arrived, and poetry is better for it.

  • Marne Wilson

    "I am sealing all my faults with platinum// so they'll gleam like the barrel of a laser gun," the poet writes, and that seems like a very fitting description of what is going on in this book. This is raw, visceral poetry dealing with some heavy subjects (most notably alcoholism and other addictions), yet it is often beautiful and always powerful. Some of the imagery in the poems is complex and difficult to unpack, but just when you feel you're getting too tangled up, the poet will drop in a simp

    "I am sealing all my faults with platinum// so they'll gleam like the barrel of a laser gun," the poet writes, and that seems like a very fitting description of what is going on in this book. This is raw, visceral poetry dealing with some heavy subjects (most notably alcoholism and other addictions), yet it is often beautiful and always powerful. Some of the imagery in the poems is complex and difficult to unpack, but just when you feel you're getting too tangled up, the poet will drop in a simple declarative sentence that clears the air. Here's one: "I like it fine, this daily struggle// to not die, to not drink or smoke or snort anything/ that might return me to combustibility." Or how about this? "Most days I try hard to act human, to breathe/ like a human and speak with the same flat language, but often// my kindness is clumsy." I feel like I'm not doing this book justice at all, but it's one of those books that is almost impossible to review. Just get a copy and find out for yourself.

    (Note: I received my copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway.)

  • Margaryta

    **This review first appeared in Alternating Current's review column The Coil**

    We are living in a time of witnesses, beginning with ourselves. With Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf, we are not only witnessing the rise of a prominent contemporary poet, but we are also challenged to relook at the way we respond to the emotional obstacles faced by ourselves and others. Challenges are the central force of the collection, but they are not necessarily presented as such. Rather than focusing on the d

    **This review first appeared in Alternating Current's review column The Coil**

    We are living in a time of witnesses, beginning with ourselves. With Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf, we are not only witnessing the rise of a prominent contemporary poet, but we are also challenged to relook at the way we respond to the emotional obstacles faced by ourselves and others. Challenges are the central force of the collection, but they are not necessarily presented as such. Rather than focusing on the difficulties in the common understanding of the term, Akbar facilitates an atmosphere of observation with a child-like fascination that comes with wanting to figure something out. He carefully leads the reader through an array of verbal tableaux in which the line between happiness and suffering is constantly being pushed and redrawn. These complex composites are pulsing with life as they reflect on it, noting the way

    a month ago they dragged up a drowned

    tourist his bloatwhite belly filled with radishes and lamb shank his

    entire digestive system was a tiny museum of pleasure compared to him I

    am healthy and unremarkable here I am reading a pharmaceutical brochure

    here I am dying at an average pace

    (“Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Inpatient),” p 14).

    Reading Calling a Wolf a Wolf was ritualistic — each time I sat down with the book I could never bring myself to read more than half a dozen pages, afraid that even one more would result in a lesser amount of appreciation than each individual poem deserves. Akbar’s voice has the power of a prophet returning to childhood, to a state of sharp awareness that is concerned with capturing the unadulterated fleeting moment and prolonging it into a miniature eternity, a sentiment shared by the collection’s speaker when proclaiming:

    I am not a slow learner I am a quick forgetter

    such erasing makes one voracious if you teach me something

    beautiful I will name it quickly before it floats away

    (“Desunt Nonnulla,” p 23).

    It is a voice one will want to listen to both out of personal volition and out of the simple inability to stop doing so. Empathy, one of the greatest gifts a poet can give his reader, is found in abundance within the collection’s pages. Akbar doesn’t simply make the reader connect and slip into the situation of the speaker. He elicits a willingness to be present, always requesting and offering in an ongoing dialogue between speaker and reader. There is no feeling of obligation as much as there is a quiet request to remain and listen to how

    mecca is a moth

    chewing holes in a shirt I left

    at a lover’s house

    (“A Boy Steps into the Water,” p 30).

    If the greater, overarching tone of the collection is not convincing enough to make one pick up these poems, then there is an equally convincing case to be made by picking through their minute bones. One will not find anything far-reaching or purposefully convoluted — there are no lines laden with esoteric references, no traces of artifice or exaggeration. Take, for instance, the following passage from the first poem in the first section:

    I stacked the pears on the mantel

    until I ran out of room and began filling them into

    the bathtub one evening I slid in as if into a mound

    of jewels now ghost finches leave footprints

    on our snowy windowsills

    (“Wild Pear Tree,” p 5).

    Akbar not only proves that simplicity can be startling, but that it can also be made to feel, and truly be, new. It is once again an echo of the authenticity Calling a Wolf a Wolf brings to the genre, which it carries over into the poems dealing with spiritual contemplation, poems like the astounding opener “Soot.” These are poems that are, poems that are present and always aware. It isn’t necessary for them to stand on a street corner and loudly scream their intentions as the screaming happens naturally for anyone reading them, filled with a sense of urgency and calm realization.

    Many more things can be said about these poems, which offer both colorful and emotional lines that link together to form a tapestry of the battleground between creator and destroyer in the context of the self and the spiritual; I will leave this for future readers to discover for themselves. Instead, it is worth adding how much Akbar has also added to the poetry community as a poet to look up to. I will forever remain amazed by “Orchids Are Sprouting from the Floorboards,” simple, cyclical, and moving in its progressive build-up, which has already begun shaping my own writing. Calling a Wolf a Wolf is a humble offering to readers and poets alike, baring its scars and vocal cords as libations to the hungry reader not in defeat, but as a sign of pure, endless courage.

  • Book Riot Community

    Earlier this year, I urged Book Riot readers to follow Kaveh Akbar (and a few other poets) on Twitter, in part on the power of his chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, which was published in January. Beating everyone on this list for turnaround time, Akbar is about to publish another book, this one full length, not even 9 months later. This book continues Portrait‘s examination of addiction and recovery (“everyone wants to know / what I saw on the long walk / away from you”) but expands that foc

    Earlier this year, I urged Book Riot readers to follow Kaveh Akbar (and a few other poets) on Twitter, in part on the power of his chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, which was published in January. Beating everyone on this list for turnaround time, Akbar is about to publish another book, this one full length, not even 9 months later. This book continues Portrait‘s examination of addiction and recovery (“everyone wants to know / what I saw on the long walk / away from you”) but expands that focus to even more encompass the whole ragged, lovely space where one’s self meets one’s world (“the geese are curving around the horizon drawing maps / a curve is a straight line broken at all its points so much / of being alive is breaking”). Akbar’s poems are somehow and always striking, sensual, abstract, and exploratory. And Calling a Wolf a Wolf has one big advantage over Portrait: it simply has more of those gorgeous poems for you to dive headfirst into.

    –Derek Attig

    from Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Second Book Edition:

  • Roxane

    An outstanding book of poetry. I was particularly impressed by the imagery and deftness with language. The title poem is by far my favorite but every poem offers something compelling or strange or unknowable and always beautiful.

  • Kathleen

    "Like the belled cat's // frustrated hunt, my offer to improve myself / was ruined by the sound it made."

  • Ace Boggess

    This is as close to a perfect collection of poems as I can imagine. I normally consume a book of poetry in a day or two, stopping every now and then to reread a piece if I connect with it in some way, but with Calling a Wolf a Wolf, it took me more than a week because I kept going back to reread every piece. Akbar fills his poems so densely with image and idea that each line contains both suffering and joy. The themes include addiction, hunger, cultural disconnection, family, and ultimately or s

    This is as close to a perfect collection of poems as I can imagine. I normally consume a book of poetry in a day or two, stopping every now and then to reread a piece if I connect with it in some way, but with Calling a Wolf a Wolf, it took me more than a week because I kept going back to reread every piece. Akbar fills his poems so densely with image and idea that each line contains both suffering and joy. The themes include addiction, hunger, cultural disconnection, family, and ultimately or sort of hard-fought hope. I found these poems compelling, insightful, inspiring. There is something to be savored in all of them. Just for a taste, here are a few lines from "Neither Now Nor Never":

    I remain a hungry child

    and the idea of a land flowing with milk

    and honey makes me excited,

    but I do wonder what gets left out--

    least favorite songs on favorite albums,

    an uncle's conquered metastasis,

    or the girl whose climaxes gave way to panic,

    whose sobs awakened the feeling of prayer in me.

    I must have read those lines half a dozen times, overcome by the beauty of them, and also the narrator's interesting way of questioning the Grand by delving into the Small. That's the way this book is: filled with the extremes, guiding a meditated search of self, others, the universe. Magic. Definitely makes my top-5 list for the year.

  • Ellie

    It took me awhile to really grab hold of these poems: I was reading too tentatively. When I finally dove in, I was amazed by what I found. Beauty amidst addiction, pain, loss. Craving not only alcohol but life itself. There were lines that took my breath away (it slowed my reading, all those lines that demanded deeper attention).

    There is also a struggle with faith, a craving for a God who often seems absent from His creation.

    This is a book that anyone who cares about poetry should read.

  • Liz Janet

    I'm very careful with the poetry I read, as I'm used to classics instead of new collections, but the clever title caught my attention, it is straight to the point even if seen as hidden in metaphor, and for that I had to give it a chance.

    The book is mostly based on him and his alcoholic addiction, represented as the wolf. Calling it what it is, he is able to express how he, and his family members and friends feel about this problem, and his constant struggle between drowning his sorrows and sob

    I'm very careful with the poetry I read, as I'm used to classics instead of new collections, but the clever title caught my attention, it is straight to the point even if seen as hidden in metaphor, and for that I had to give it a chance.

    The book is mostly based on him and his alcoholic addiction, represented as the wolf. Calling it what it is, he is able to express how he, and his family members and friends feel about this problem, and his constant struggle between drowning his sorrows and sobriety.

    -Soot

    Yet the poems I prefer in this collection had nothing to do with his addiction, but rather with his identity, of being spiritual or irreligious, of being Iranian, or becoming too American, even forgetting how to speak his mother tongue. 

    - Do You Speak Persian?

    An entertaining read, but much like the previously mentioned book, perhaps read first from the library before buying. 

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