Book Review | The Country Without a Post Office

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Author: Agha Shahid Ali

The Country without a Post Office” was originally published as “Kashmir without a Post Office” in the Graham House Review. Agha Shahid Ali revised it, doubling its length and changing its name when he included it in the collection The Country Without a Post Office in 1997. The title of the poem derives from an incident that occurred in 1990, when Kashmir rebelled against Indian rule, resulting in hundreds of gruesome and violent deaths, fires, and mass rapes.

For seven months, there was no mail delivered in Kashmir, because of political turmoil gripping the land. A friend of the poet’s father watched the post office from his house, as mountains of letters piled up. One day, he walked over to the piles and picked a letter from the top of one, discovering that it was from Shahid’s father and addressed to him. The poem, dedicated to Ali’s friend and fellow poet James Merrill, is long, often complicated, with a rhyme scheme that doubles back on itself and a structure that works through accumulation and association rather than narrative logic. The poem is filled with recurring phrases and words and with haunting images of longing and desire, which evoke the pain of one who struggles to understand what is happening in his own land and heart.

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