Against Heaven: Poems
Winner of the Academy of American Poets First Book Award, selected by Claudia Rankine.
Kemi Alabi’s transcendent debut reimagines the poetic and cultural traditions from which it is born, troubling the waters of some of our country’s central and ordained fictions—those mythic politics of respectability, resilience, and redemption. Instead of turning to a salvation that has been forced upon them, Alabi turns to the body and the earth as sites of paradise defined by the pleasure and possibility of Black, queer fugitivity. Through tender love poems, righteous prayers, and vital provocations, we see the colonizers we carry within ourselves being laid to rest.
Against Heaven is a praise song made for the flames of a burning empire—a freedom dream that shapeshifts into boundless multiplicities for the wounds made in the name of White supremacy and its gods. Alabi has written an astonishing collection of magnificent range, commanding the full spectrum of the Black, queer spirit’s capacity for magic, love, and ferocity in service of healing—the highest power there is.
Praise for Against Heaven: Poems
"Alabi’s ecstatic debut pulses with the language of Black queer joy. Simultaneously a celebration of the body and a story of resisting the oppression that polices it, these poems offer a condemnation of the racist, classist, and sexist foundations of what Alabi calls 'empire,' epitomized in religious belief. . . . Powerfully polemical, this impressive collection exclaims a message of liberation from body to the body politic."—Publishers Weekly
“Once in a while, a book comes along that makes me shout, that makes me viscerally giddy with poetry’s good news. This is one of those books. Here, language crashes against purity’s regimes and reverberates in thick, feral chords. With abundant sonics, formal virtuosity, and a rigorous queer erotic, Alabi proves that every inheritance can be both wound and portal. Against Heaven is a stunning debut from one of our most talented emerging voices; the wildest part of you has been waiting for it.”—Franny Choi
“A sacrament to the underworld, Against Heaven ushers us into a vast network of ritual and erotic apertures. Just as the title signals, these poems oppose and live skin-to-skin with the afterlife. With an antlered and unruly vernacular, Alabi radicalizes lyric, making it their accomplice. ‘The blackest jade,’ ‘half butane, half lemon juice,’ a ‘misalphaed wolf carcass to climb through,’ this thrilling portal of disobedience and rapture builds altars of sound for the dead and dispossessed. Against Heaven is an ecstatic, immersive debut, a place to reside, and an extraordinary feat in language and experimentation.”—Xan Phillips
“[Against Heaven] answers generations of spiritual violence and threatened damnation with reclamation, repopulation, and a redefinition of heaven. . . . Flamboyance, blooming, polyamory, worthy of Audre Lorde’s idea of the erotic, worthy of Tourmaline’s abolition, in the lineage of Marsha P. Johnson’s million uses for flowing. This collection is a space of flowering.”—Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Boston Review
“Against Heaven is a book of delightful confrontations—poems that rearrange and reshape a willing reader's relationship to language, and the many universes that language can hold within.”—Hanif Abdurraqib
“Against Heaven activates multiple lexicons, seeking to construct the immensity of black queer subjectivity with guile and formal virtuosity. At once sonic and disruptive, these poems pull together everything in a world where nothing is sacred.”—Claudia Rankine, judge’s statement for the Academy of American Poets First Book Award