While putting together a manuscript of work written between 1975-1990, Alcalay became dissatisfied with the notion of a "selected poems." As a response, he began to comb through photographs, correspondence, memorabilia, journal entries, and newspaper clippings from the era, and incorporated them into his book; the result is a personal investigation into the relationships of context to text, memory to nostalgia, and present attention to the multiple traces of the past. "Ammiel Alcalay is that rare thing — a gifted prose writer and poet, an accomplished intellectual and a true, as well as inventive, comparatist" — Edward Said.
Ammiel Alcalay grew up in Boston and, as a child, spent time in Gloucester where family friends included Charles Olson and Vincent Ferrini. As a teenager, through the Grolier and Temple Bar Bookshops in Cambridge, he befriended many poets, including John Wieners. Poet, translator, critic, scholar and activist, he teaches at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His books include SCRAPMETAL (Factory School, 2007); FROM THE WARRING FACTIONS (Beyond Baroque Press, 2002), a book-length poem dedicated to the Bosnian town of Srebrenica; MEMORIES OF OUR FUTURE: SELECTED ESSAYS (City Lights Publishers, 1999); After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1993); and THE CAIRO NOTEBOOKS (Singing Horse Press, 1993). His translations include SARAJEVO BLUES (City Lights Publishers, 1998) and NINE ALEXANDRIAS (City Lights Publishers, 2003) by the Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic, KEYS TO THE GARDEN: NEW ISRAELI WRITING (City Lights Publishers, 11996), and a co-translation (with Oz Shelach), of OUTCAST by Shimon Ballas (City Lights Publishers, 2007). A new book of essays, A Little History, and a collective translation of the Syrian poet Faraj Bayraqdar are forthcoming with Fred Dewey as editor. ISLANDERS, a novel, came out in 2010 (City Lights Publishers). His new selection of poetry, NEITHER WIT NOR GOLD, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2011. Along with Anne Waldman and others, he was one of the initiators of the Poetry Is News Coalition, and organized, with Mike Kelleher and Fred Dewey, the OlsonNow project. Most recently, through the PhD Program in English and the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, he initiated Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, a series of student and guest edited archival texts emerging from the New American Poetry.