Forthcoming Publications

The Book of Clouds by Oludamini Ogunnaike

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FORTHCOMING TITLE. COMING APRIL 1ST 2024.

The Book of Clouds is a collection of English-language Sufi poetry. This compilation of ghazals, quatrains, and qasidas praises and describes Divine love, loss, insight, gratitude, and mystery, bringing the forms, themes, and images of classical Islamicate poetry into English verse. Seeking to demonstrate the unique power of this tradition of thinking and speaking lyrically: to sing what can not be said but must be expressed, these poems attempt to express many of the insights and teachings of the Sufi tradition in one of the main forms of its expression: moving lyrical poetry. Sufism is concerned with forms of knowledge and realization that exceed prosaic description, and thus its main linguistic expressions have been and continue to be literary and poetic.

While there are many books about Sufism and translations of classical Sufi poets such as Rumi in English, few of these works carry over the distinct marriage of form and meaning, the characteristic poetic form, that animate much of the tradition of Sufi literature in its original languages. This volume allows for the appreciation of this central aspect of the tradition of Sufism, with reviewer writing that it “open[s] up the treasure chest of Sufi poetry for Western readers.”

Product Description

Oludamini Ogunnaike is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and the author of “Deep Knowledge: Ways of Knowing in Tijani Sufism and Ifa”, and “Poetry in Praise of Prophetic Perfection: West African Madih Poetry and its Precedents”. This is his first published book of original poetry.

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“If Amir Khusrau wrote poetry in English, it might look something like The Book of Clouds. For this book brings to English the formal beauty, spiritual power, and longing for the divine that characterizes Sufi poetry in Persian and Urdu. Our language is richer for it.”
Anand Vivek Taneja, Professor of Religious Studies, Vanderbilt University author of The Gabriel of Madness: Urdu Poetry and Muslim Ethics in the Age of Hindu Nationalism
“These poems come from the inspired heart of a fresh and adept voice. Oludamini offers us blue notes, passionate psalms, and sage prayers from the heart of God’s heart. His words are not only beautiful, but memorable as well. In these lines one finds the divine impressions of great Sufi poets like Hafiz, crossed by cultural inflections from throughout the African diaspora. His poems are the delight of beloved dreamers.” N. Kameron Akheru, Assistant Research Professor, Department of African American Studies, University of Maryland
“Ogunnaike’s profoundly inspired Book of Clouds is a work of firmly transcendent beauty in which the metaphor of the cloud stands for the hidden nature of the divine and the secrecy of supernature. The rhythms and thoroughly implicit sonority of these lines take the Reader toward a vision of how the unspeakable and unseen can be represented through fine diction and perfect picturing. These are words of great devotion and mastery in which the poet delivers his apprehension of a unique Godhead as depicted through the medium of written and at times melodic speech. Working from and within the tradition of West African and Persian Sufism, Ogunnaike advances those systems of poetics and faithful zeal with the force of his own terrific genius and experience: this poetry is truly active, it is not hypothetical….

These poems of true intoxication represent a direct and immediate transmission of complete life: formed of inspiration, tradition, and experience. Their sharply passionate and finely rendered well-tempered metaphors will transport the Reader with their extraordinary vitality and beauty to a place that is both changeless and always stable…. This book is a perfect mirror of that one most transparent and weightless universe and to hold it in one’s hands is to receive a perfect gift.” – Kevin McGrath, Associate of the Department of South Asian Studies and poet-in-residence at Lowell House, Harvard University.

“Authentic poetry surges from ‘a kind of inner necessity,’ as Oludamini Ogunnaike reminds us: it needs to vibrate from the soul of the poet to touch and move our own. No doubt that many beautiful verses from this inspiring Book of Clouds will move in the sky of a grateful reader’s soul as felicitous signs of grace.”

Patrick Laude, Professor of Theology, Georgetown University Qatar, author of Singing the Way: Insights in Poetry and Spiritual Transformation
“Ogunnaike’s latest anthology takes readers on a deeply personal journey through words, worlds, and wisdom, and ultimately beyond them. At a time in which so many artists are preoccupied with self-expression, it is a pleasure to find one who has somehow managed to express selflessness so elegantly. Each poem is a confluence of different voices, cultures, dimensions, emotions, and epochs all flowing into one shoreless floorless ocean of Love. Read this
book if you wish to swim in that ocean, but know that the most delightful drowning is inevitable.”

- Imam Adeyinka Muhammad Mendes, author of The Spirits of Black Folk: Sages Through the Ages
“The Book of Clouds veils the intellect, the deep reading of Sufi poetry, and the inner state of its author in words, yet precisely by veiling allows us to gaze and contemplate. Ogunnaike’s verse allows the Islamic ghazal tradition to flow into English through rivulets, whirlpools and torrents of love, in image upon image, each producing the aesthetic of wonder that poets in any number of Islamic languages have sought to evoke for centuries. There is magic in these words.” Nicholas Boylston, Assistant Professor of Persian Literature, Harvard University
“Oludamini Ogunnaike has penned an exquisite banquet of poetry that points to the inner landscape of a contemporary seeker in pursuit of Divine Nearness and immersion in love of the Beloved ?. In this rich and enriching collection of poetry, Ogunnaike observes traditional Arabic poetic forms, yet the voice of this seeker is expressed in English, opening up the treasure chest of Sufi poetry for Western readers. This collection is an important testimony to the continuation of the living spirit of Sufi tradition in the contemporary era; although its roots lie in Eastern lands, the soul of Sufism is clearly flourishing in the West.” –  Sukina Noor, author of Love and Longing: Yearning for the Face of God.
“According to the sages, poetry is primarily a way of perceiving and only secondarily a mode of expression. The word for poet in the Arabic language comes from the root meaning, ‘to be aware.’ The words of an inspired poet are the result of inner vision and thus offer a threshold to deeper awareness. As one steeped in the living tradition of Sufi poetry across time and space, Oludamini offers us, through these poems, and entry point into the eternal spring of Divine Unity that is also called love.” Baraka Blue, author of The Art of Remembrance
“For more than a millennium, poetic hymns celebrating the endless facets of divine and human love—often set to local musical traditions—have become central to a host of Islamic languages, cultures and ritual observances, from West Africa across to Indonesia. Throughout that period, those poems of praise and longing often grew out of a common set of originally Arabic themes, imagery, and a shared set of poetic genres, meters and rhymes. In his The Book of Clouds, Oludamini Ogunnaike’s remarkable, wide-ranging collection of original poems, he has creatively adapted his own contemporary insights and inspirations into deeply moving English verse drawing on all of those earlier genres. His always personally revealing poems here range from more familiar religious and devotional subjects to elegies inspired by heartbreaking current events.” James Morris, author of The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn Arabi’s Meccan Illuminations.
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Contents
Foreword ….. ix
Preface …… xix
Prologue ….. 1
Rindiyyat ….. 20
Ars Poetica ….. 45
Wine Odes ….. 62
Ghazals ….. 69
Elegies ….. 100
Index of First Lines …. 119
Endorsements …. 123
About the Author ….. 126

Reviews

Oludamini Ogunnaike’s remarkable volume of English Sufi poetry is aptly entitled The Book of Clouds. These poems are a gift to their author and are likewise a gift to his audience, just as rain is a boon to its recipients. These poems revive the barren land of our hearts which have become dried up by scholasticism, selfishness, social media, and secularism. They distinctively draw on the rich traditions of Arabic and Persian Sufi poetry, while also articulating a Sufi vision that speaks to contemporary audiences whose language is English, and whose worldview is shaped by English. Ogunnaike brings his connection to the lived tradition of tasawwuf and distinctive accomplishments as a leading scholar and Muslim thinker to bear on each of this volume’s poems, demonstrating not only the vitality of Sufism in English but also a profound relationship to and continuation of the entire tradition of Sufi poetry found in every major Islamic language, past and present. The poems enshrined in The Book of Clouds…in many ways form a veritable commentary upon the Islamic tradition in riveting English verses of great sophistication, rhythmic beauty, and even humor, written in our time and for our time, but which transcend all time.
Mohamed Rustom, Professor of Islamic Thought, Carleton University, author of Inrushes of the Heart: The Sufi Philosophy of ‘Ayn al-Qudat.
This collection of poems…represents a bold pathway for the appreciation of Sufi literary aesthetics in the English language. These original poems draw inspiration from a number of cultures and literary traditions, but most prominent to me are the love lyrics known as ghazals…. If we, for the duration of a poem, or perhaps even longer, enjoy the privilege of sharing in God’s admiration of Himself, then we should be grateful. Poetry such as Ogunnaike’s—when read in the state of rapture and imagination in which it was written—can open the doors to a hall in which glances and longing translate to the deepest yearning in every human soul to be known, to be seen, and to discover the reality of existence.
Cyrus Ali Zargar, Al-Ghazali Distinguished Professor, University of Central Florida, author of Religion of Love: Farid al-Din Attar (d. 1221) and the Sufi Tradition and The Polished Mirror: Storytelling and the Pursuit of Virtue in Islamic Philosophy and Sufism
The noblest and cruelest of worldly and celestial meanings are at times intoxicatingly diffused, and at others numinously seized and bravely resisted by Oludamini Ogunnaike’s multilingual musings, multicultural wizardry, and multidimensional scoping.
Nizar Hermes, Associate Professor, Dept. of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia, author of The City in Arabic Literature: Classical and Modern Perspectives
For more than a millennium, poetic hymns celebrating the endless facets of divine and human love—often set to local musical traditions—have become central to a host of Islamic languages, cultures and ritual observances, from West Africa across to Indonesia. Throughout that period, those poems of praise and longing often grew out of a common set of originally Arabic themes, imagery, and a shared set of poetic genres, meters and rhymes. In his The Book of Clouds, Oludamini Ogunnaike’s remarkable, wide-ranging collection of original poems, he has creatively adapted his own contemporary insights and inspirations into deeply moving English verse drawing on all of those earlier genres. His always personally revealing poems here range from more familiar religious and devotional subjects to elegies inspired by heartbreaking current events.
James Morris, author of The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn Arabi's Meccan Illuminations.