Ashes in the Air
by Ali Alizadeh
University of Queensland Press
$24.95 pb, 94 pp, 9780702238727
Poet and novelist Ali Alizadeh’s third book of poetry, Ashes in the Air, reclaims some themes from his earlier poetry collection, Eyes in Times of War (2006). Autobiographical sequences once again interweave with accounts of recent wars and oppression. Alizadeh also explores some conflicting oppositions: neutrality versus partisanship, faith versus scepticism, individualism versus community. Alizadeh travels to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and China, and recalls his native Iran, but travel here is both actual and metaphysical. Ashes in the Air commences with ‘Marco Polo’, which hails the birth of his son, and closes with ‘Staph’, an elegy. Poet Louis Armand describes Alizadeh’s work as ‘a poetry ... of what it means for a language to speak truthfully, to witness or to fabricate’, and many poems further illustrate how language shapes and transforms identity. As with other Australian poets such as Ouyang Yu who write in their second language, sameness and difference are presiding concerns in Alizadeh’s work, even humorously so when the carnivorous poet marries a vegetarian. Critically alert to ideas of otherness and its adjoining preconceptions – ‘Speak English! / Say something, camel fucker!’ (‘Sky Burial’) – he questions what identity without language might mean.