The Relativity of Living Well by Ashna Ali



The Relativity of Living Well by Ashna Ali traces the dynamic between personal and collective struggle and grief. Chronicling the mitigation years of pandemic through an increasingly hostile geopolitical present, Ali’s poems document their journey as they grow increasingly disabled and untethered from the American Dream that brought them to the United States, offering a generous intimacy in the fog of ongoing crisis.

By turns playful and deadly serious, the poems’ emotional and political landscapes interweave to hold space for joy among dissociation, medical struggle, as well as the tensions of complicity and resistance inherent to life as a queer postcolonial subject in America.

Ashna Ali is a queer, disabled, and diasporic Bangladeshi poet raised in Italy and based in Brooklyn. A Best-of-the-Net nominee, they are a 2024 Periplus Fellow, a 2023-2024 Fellow for In Surreal Life, and serve as the Poetry Editor and Director of Educational Programming at Epiphany Magazine. They publish a weekly queer brown feminist Substack called Pain Baby, and their poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Split This Rock’s Poem-of-the-Week, Brooklyn Poets Poet-of-the-Week, The Margins, Nat Brut, Zoeglossia, and beyond. They are also the founder and co-host of the monthly poetry and music open mic and showcase, Priyo@Parlay.

Ashna Ali’s debut sings the body as it rises from the siege of ableist paradigms to bring it closer to being loved and farther away from its imprisonment. These poems document how we lived by the meagre metronome of the pandemic and in the frayed seams of the social contract— at the workplace, in the classroom, in bed with new lovers, in the kitchen with old friends, at the protest with comrades, in the Zoom room— and sustained a choral outrage against the betrayals of the racial capitalocene. These poems are arias that soar above the grating roar of “NYPD copters” as they “julienne the sky”; they offer us shelter in the “temples / of our many.” “Our destruction does not require imagination,” Ashna observes. But our survival does. And their book is a twinned movement — of both imagination and survival. This is a work of luminescent, concupiscent, dissenting intelligence.
-Divya Victor, author of KITH and CURB

The Relativity of Living Well is unflinching in its honesty, in how it exposes the decaying bones of empire, late stage capitalism, and the cognitive dissonance of persisting through a deadly pandemic that our “reptile puppeteers” hope we will forget about. Ali invites us to feel our rage deeply, to move through stages of grief, through denial and distraction, and allow ourselves to be transformed by it. Ali gives the reader permission to be “here in the full flesh/of your body in all of its brokenness and beautiful mess,” and wishes on us a “plenitude of time.” And isn’t that what we want for ourselves, for our loved ones? Time on this earth over generations to build something more beautiful and more just together, so that when “someone asks who has felt cared for lately,” we can all answer with certainty: yes, I have.
-Christian Aldana, author of THE WATER WE SWIM IN

In Ashna Ali’s gorgeous debut collection, The Relatively of Living Well, they traverse the world of chronic illness, intrapersonal resilience, and the profound grit of the collective, with tenderness and astounding language. “I am witness,” they write in “Arrival,” a beautiful poem on reclamation, “I am full up.” The lyrical, stirring imagery and descriptions recall the intimacy—and despair—of lockdown, the collective heartache of a global pandemic, the human necessity for solace: “After, we say. / But there is no ‘after’ for months. There still isn’t.” In yet another piece: “Love remembers me,” Ali writes. These poems pulse with their own heartbeats.

ISBN: 978-1-955992-06-0
Cover art & design: Katia Engell
Author photo: Sean Devare