Kaveh Akbar

Portrait Kaveh Akbar
©Ali Ghandtschi

Kaveh Akbar was born in 1989 in Tehran. He received his Master of Fine Arts from Butler University and his doctorate in creative writing from Florida State University. Akbar’s first experiences with poetic language go back to his childhood; the first poems he heard were in Arabic, which he never spoke, which is why he experienced them primarily in terms of sound, like an incantation. He always first writes his poems without punctuation, which he occasionally adds later. This procedure helps him to follow the impulses of the language and allow the text to flow.

After a period of addiction, he addressed the struggle between intoxication and sobriety in his award-winning poetry debut »Calling a Wolf a Wolf« (2007). The title suggests that a problem can only be solved when it is recognized as such: »Thinking if it had a name it would have a solution / thinking if I called a wolf a wolf I might dull its fangs.« However, the collection is not simply the confessional poetry of one’s own subjective experiences, but points to addiction as a thing of power that isolates the individual from reality. The lyric I splits into different identities – the immigrant, the alcoholic, the son, the artist – who speculate on how identities are created by language and vice versa. Here, the language itself appears as the ideal form of existence: »Mostly I want to be letters – not / their sounds, but their shapes / on a page. It must be exhilarating / to be a symbol for everything at once: / the bone caught in a child’s windpipe, / the venom hiding in a snake’s jaw.« The poems in the collection »Portrait of the Alcoholic« were written over two years after his withdrawal from alcohol in 2013. These texts also primarily deal with three obsessions: sex, God, and alcohol addiction.

Together with Ocean Vuong, he wrote poems for the film »The Kindergarten Teacher« (2018). His poetry also appears in numerous newspapers and magazines such as »The New Yorker«, »The New York Times«, »Poetry Magazine«, and others. In 2014, Akbar founded the poetry website »Divedapper«, which also features interviews with the most important figures of contemporary American poetry. He has been honored with the Pushcart Prize, the Levis Reading Prize, and the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America. Today he teaches at Purdue University, the MFA program at Randolph College, and Warren Wilson College.