God breathes life into us, it is said, only once. But this case was an exception. God drew back in a giant gust and blew life into the boy and like a stranded fish, he shuddered, oceanless. Dilruba Ahmed from "Snake Oil, Snake Bite" / Poetry Foundation
I heard Dilruba Ahmed’s work before I ever encountered it on the page, which seems fitting, given the masterful way she attends to sound and music in her work. She was reading poems that would become part of her debut collection, Dhaka Dust (Graywolf 2011), at a summer multi-genre reading at the low-residency program I was attending at the time as a (poet-disguised-as) fiction candidate. She leaned towards the microphone and, a stanza in, I felt the room lean forward.
A few months later, I would take leave from the program and I wouldn’t write anything for almost a decade, but I kept my memory of that reading as a bright spot and continued to seek out Ahmed’s work. In 2020, when the state of the world revealed/re-revealed poetry as an essential coping strategy, I picked up her second collection, Bring Now the Angels (Pitt Poetry Series, 2020).
Whether she’s writing about the personal, the environmental, or the political (and their various intersections), Ahmed’s work embodies a deeply sensory presence that echoes timelessly. Her attention towards the world is clear-eyed and piercing and (still, somehow) open-hearted. The range of her subjects and formal approaches diffuses texture, imagination, and surprise throughout her collections.
I’ve also been lucky enough to experienced Ruba as a teacher (at Hugo House’s and Murphy Writing of Stockton University’s online classes) and I can confirm both her sharp insight and generosity. My work has been enriched by the time I’ve spent with hers.