Smoking the Bible is an arresting collection of poems thick with feeling, shaped by Chris Abani’s astounding command of form and metaphor. These poems reveal the personal story of two brothers—one elegizing the other—and the larger story of a man in exile: exile of geography, culture, and memory. What we experience in this emotionally generous collection is a deep spiritual reckoning that draws on ancient African traditions of belief, and an intellectual vivacity drawing on various wisdom literatures and traditions. Abani illustrates the connective geography between harm, regret, and release, as poems move through landscapes of Nigeria, the Midwestern United States, adulthood, and childhood. One has the sense of entering a whole and complex world of the imagination in reading this collection. There is no artifice here, no affectation; and these poems are a study in the very grace of image.
Wafer-thin pages brittle with words
and two brothers, one elder. The biblical,
unavoidable here. And there is the rub.
To come to self, to skin, is to rip away another, separate,
tear. Train snaking track, snaking thoughts – window as page, margin as
frame, what is kept within, what slips
away. From beyond the willow’s lazy bow into river,
beyond the crane stabbing for minnows in the
shallows, beyond the reflected sunlight, in a Cathedral
the tint of stained glass,
that addendum to light
that tempers it to grace.
“Abani’s radiant seventh poetry collection emanates grit and beauty, while the senses are called to attention.” ―Booklist, starred review
“Its energy, the audacity of Abani’s imagination, and most of all the breadth of vision . . . supplies its moral context . . . a feeling of thematic unity.” —New York Times Book Review
“Pliant and uncompromising, intellectual and organic, these brilliant poems are made of fire. I was enlightened by the flame and consumed by it.” —Terrance Hayes
“Abani amplifies his personal sorrows to universal dimensions of compassion as he reflects on his experiences as a Nigerian whose bloodlines carry both the colonizer and the colonized and who grew up during the Nigerian-Biafran war, was imprisoned for his writing, and still carries ‘the weight of exile.’” —Donna Seaman
“These poems follow the story of two brothers and a man in exile; but reader beware: this award-winning poet’s
Chris Abani’s words can move anyone to their core.” —Shereads
“Smoking the Bible is a powerful, elegiac collection, eloquent with grief and forgiveness.” —North of Oxford
“This new collection by Nigerian American Chris Abani—the celebrated, award-winning novelist, poet and professor—mines individual, cultural and geographic losses, creating a collection that is emotional and linguistically expansive. He explores “the personal story of two brothers—one elegizing the other—and the larger story of a man in exile” through poems that are spiritual, philosophical, personal and deeply affecting. Especially for those of us with more than one culture, the more we move through life, the more we must wonder: what do we belong to, and what belongs to us?” —Chicago Review of Books