High Desert is an ode to the American Southwest, exploring such key events as the First Red Scare, the Tulsa Race Massacre and the West Coast’s wildfire epidemic.
Naffis-Sahely’s reflections on class, race, and nationalism chart the region’s hidden histories from the Spanish Colonial Era to the current pandemic. The poems in High Desert also revel in their rootlessness, as the author shifts his gaze outside of the US, traveling from Venice and Florence to Chittagong and St Petersburg, tackling our turbulent times and the depths of its problems in searing, extraordinary poems of witness and vision.
This is Naffis-Sahely’s second collection, following his debut, The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin, 2017), a gathering of portraits of promised lands and those who go in search of them: travelers, laborers, dreamers; the hopeful and the dispossessed. It includes poems from his recent pamphlet The Other Side of Nowhere (Rough Trade Books, 2019). All his collections present poetry as reportage, as much an act of memory as of sinuous, clear-eyed vision
"André Naffis-Sahely’s High Desert radically presents an intensive record of capitalism’s complex forms of local and global enslavements, each poem skillfully and precisely formed, emotionally charged, and morally infused with an acute sense of justice. High Desert places Naffis-Sahely among our most indispensable poets, those who, throughout history, testify to the truths of poetry against the lies of violent, destructive, corrupt, oligarchic power."—Lawrence Joseph, author of A Certain Clarity: Selected Poems (FSG, 2020)
"Naffis-Sahely’s desert is a space for reckoning. Not many poets have the courage to begin a book with a poem titled ‘The Last Communist’, in praise of a wounded and much-needed, though endangered species of thinker and doer in these acquisitive times. He reminds us of the work that poetry can do when properly deployed."—Fred D'Aguiar, leading British poet
‘André Naffis-Sahely’s second collection from Bloodaxe is really fantastic, a collection called High Desert. It’s really deeply engaged with history, class, race, nationalism, particularly focused on the American Southwest, where he’s spent some time living. He’s quite an itinerant poet, who’s travelled around, and I think that can often add a different dimension to a poet’s writing.’ – Ben Wilkinson, speaking on The Seren Poetry Podcast
'As landscapes go, deserts are more interchangeable than most, and Naffis-Sahely’s visions of dereliction are eerily arid and universal at once. Identities are layered one on top of another as the poet moves from continent to continent... This is fierce writing too: litanies of the lost, dispatches from desperate outposts and borders... in an inert and supine world, these are impeccably upright poems.' - David Wheatley, The Guardian (best recent poetry round-up)
‘It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a collection of poetry as much as André Naffis-Sahely’s new offering, High Desert. That said, ‘enjoy’ isn’t quite the mot juste, for while there is at times dark humour here, these are unapologetically serious poems about serious subjects. Perhaps it’s better to say I was affected and struck by their moral backbone and searing honesty, than merely entertained… these are poems of remarkable moral heft and power, that demand to be given their place in our imaginations.’ - Richie McCaffery, Wild Court
‘The precision of the writing in André Naffis-Sahely’s new collection of poems gives a laser focus to a vision it’s tempting to call global… History writing, travel writing, journalism – High Desert braids together strands of all these genres without ceding its status as poetic utterance… Naffis-Sahely joins an international cohort of poets – Marilyn Hacker, Adrianne Kalfopoulou, Lawrence Joseph and Ilya Kaminsky among them – who are courageously facing ruin without succumbing to silence or despair. Their work isn’t easy to read. But it is well worth reading.’ – Rachel Hadas, Times Literary Supplement
'The second collection from Naffis-Sahely (The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life) celebrates the desert landscapes of the Southwest while highlighting devastating and complex historical moments, among them the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Divided into five sections, the poems establish their concerns and motifs across shifting cities, while blending personal and political history... Naffis-Sahely offers a fresh approach to weaving reportage and confession in this absorbing travelogue.' - Publishers Weekly
'André Naffis-Sahely’s compelling and deeply researched second collection begins in California but blossoms into a globally engaged meditation on history, migration, inclusion, and justice. Drawing on found text from diaries to academic manuscripts and traversing across North America, Europe, and Asia, High Desert is at once humble and unafraid.' - Maggie Wong, Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Summer 2022