Series Reviews

Biographers & Brunch Series at the 92nd Street Y:
Graham Robb's Rimbaud
Shining Sounds
by Diana Manister

Lilith Magazine Celebrates its Twenty-Fifth at Makor
By Enid Dame

Peacock and Sapphire at the 14th St Y:
How Personal Does the Political Have to Be?
by Larissa Shmailo

Makor's "Poetry & Mentorship" Series
2/22: Richard Howard and Lucie Brock-Broido
3/15: Agha Shahid Ali, Amanda Schaffer and Daniel Paley Ellison

~ ~ ~

Series Review:
Biographers & Brunch Series at the 92nd Street Y:
Graham Robb's Rimbaud
(Norton, October 2000, 544 pp $28 hardcover)

Shining Sounds*
by Diana Manister

British biographer Graham Robb explored the life of French poet, visionary and adventurer Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) at the February 25th session of the "Biographers & Brunch" series presented by the 92nd Street Y. Robb, also the author of Victor Hugo (Norton, 1999) and Balzac (Norton, 1996), is a specialist in French literature and an impressive wordsmith in his own right.

According to Robb, Rimbaud's montage of images in "Le Bateau Ivre" ("The Drunken Boat", 1871), arguably his finest poem, are not haphazard nor disordered: "Although the poem lacks a central, unifying metaphor, each image in it is used as a separate space station from which the poet launched further flights."** Robb placed Rimbaud's free-associative innovations in the context of contemporaneous French poetry, describing him as a precursor of the Surrealists and, indeed, one of the founders of Modernism, even though he quit writing poetry at the age of 19.

Rimbaud freed French poetry from formal constraints and incorporated language play, welcomed the subconscious and barred the inner censor. A literary iconoclast, he rebelled against the strict metrics and rhyme then regarded as imperative for serious verse; a social hooligan, Rimbaud deliberately vexed people of status and sometimes had to flee police. He once tried to stab a poet in Paris who called him as "a little toad." ["Shithead." Ed.] Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), older, married and already successful at conventions, poetic and societal, became his mentor, lover, and assailant. "We love like tigers," Rimbaud boasted of the savagery of their romance, which included regular skin lacerations. They debauched like humans. Drunk, Verlaine shot Rimbaud when the two were in Brussels, wounding him in the wrist , and was tried and sentenced to two years hard labor for attempted murder.

Graham Robb's speaking style was cool and detached in the typical Oxbridge manner, but over the hour of his presentation, his wit and colorfulness became apparent (well, not colorful in the Andy Warhol sense; rather his is the muted palette of Constable, subtle in the British manner). Rimbaud as a subject both attracts and repels Robb. He notes the poet's "savage cynicism," yet appreciates him as "one of the great Romantic imaginations, festering in damp, provincial rooms like an intelligent disease."

Robb's lecture at the Unterberg Center of the Y dished out juicy biographical details not found in most other accounts of the poet's life, but he took pains to balance Rimbaud's personal flamboyance with demythologizing descriptions of Rimbaud's careful and sober craftsmanship. Although the poet, like so many others at the time floating in the absinthe haze of Parisian cafés, sought mind-altering, even transcendent experiences in drugs, Robb emphasized that the poet cleaned up his act when he was composing. The French critics, for example, claimed that Rimbaud's "A Season in Hell" (1873) showed evidence of absinthe drinking, but Robb documents that the poet wrote it during a sober sojourn on his family's farm in Charleville. It was then carefully edited, although according to Rimbaud's self-proclaimed poetic goal, it showed the mind in disorder.

One might compare Rimbaud to one of his artistic progeny, Jackson Pollock, who followed the path to the unconscious that Rimbaud cleared for artists coming after him, and who also abused mind-altering substances. This American Abstract Expressionist was depicted in the press as a cowboy, throwing paint around his studio like a cattle-herder with a lasso, while in fact, as his critic and friend Clement Greenberg observed, Pollock positioned his paint as carefully as any Renaissance painter.

Rimbaud's aesthetic grew out of his faith in "l'inconnu," the unknown spirit that he believed animates all matter. His poetry was a means by which he surrendered to this life force, allowing it to use his individual consciousness as an instrument.

I have seen sideral archipelagos! Islands
whose delirious skies open to wanderers:
"Is it in such bottomless nights you sleep, exiled,
O countless golden birds, O Force to come?"
("Le Bateau Ivre", transl. L. Varèse, New Directions)

To Robb's great credit, he shows how Rimbaud's artistic goals and his efforts to effect social change both grew out of his desire to awaken others spiritually. In that light, Rimbaud's early incarnation as a poet and his subsequent twenty years as a benevolent businessman in Africa do not appear unrelated. Rimbaud employed drugs, alcohol, fasting and volatile emotions to achieve "le dérèglement de tous les sens" (the disordering of all the senses) by which he sought to suppress his self or will and allow "l'inconnu" to express itself through him. In doing so, he opened a floodgate of currents that would be traveled in various directions by painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, cinematographers and multi-media artists, in fact by all art-makers who eschew academic conventions and work intuitively. One thinks of James Merrill's channeling an entire volume of poetry via a ouija board, to cite an heir to Rimbaud's legacy whose Collected Works, published in 2001, shows the French genius's influence 109 years after his death!

Robb traced Rimbaud's eventful life from his days as a precocious schoolboy who won prizes for his Latin compositions to his emergence as an anarchist and defiant son of the bourgeoisie in Paris after the Franco-Prussian War, to his painful death in Marseille at the age of 39. He suggested that the dramatic changes Rimbaud's persona took, such as his abandonment of poetry at the age of 19 in favor of an entirely different career as a gunrunner and trader who helped set up modern capitalism in Abyssinia, stimulated the creation of the Rimbaud myth. Robb speculated that Rimbaud abandoned poetry because -- ahead of his time -- he had few readers. Only Verlaine, who published Rimbaud's Illuminations (1886) after the latter's disappearance in Africa, appreciated his prose poems. (Oddly, Robb made no connection between the brutal suppression of the Paris commune and the collapse of Rimbaud's political ideals with the abrupt change in the course of the poet's life.)

Robb presents a fair and balanced portrait of the French poet. "Not a nice person," Rimbaud was aggressive, dishonest, crafty, sadistic -- especially in his treatment of Verlaine. But he had amazing poetic gifts that he exercised with passion, vision, courage and an admirable refusal to engage in literary careerism. Richard Howard, reviewing Robb's book recently in The New York Times, calls it "superior to all its predecessors in English or French" (and there are many). As Robb humbly noted, a lot of newly discovered Rimbaud material provides depth to the poet's biography. Robb's book contains a family tree, maps and illustrations, descriptions of contemporaneous events in France and Abyssinia that affected Rimbaud, and French texts of poems he presents in translation. Robb's stated goal was to present Rimbaud's "life and work . . . as one thing, a unity not severed by a trench of silence between the poet and the adventure . . . I have tried at least to allow Rimbaud to grow up." And for that we are grateful.

The Y presents a groaning board of comestibles for the Sunday bruncher: salads, pastas, crudités, crusty bread, rolls and bagels, spreads and desserts, coffee, tea, sparkling water and juices are topped off with flaky pastries, layer cakes and the best peach pie this reviewer has every gorged upon. Biographers & Brunch at the 92nd Street Y is offered several times each month, and even if an author is disappointing, the feast that follows will exceed expectations.

(The 92nd Street Y is located at 1395 Lexington Avenue (91st/92nd), NYC 10128. Call (212) 415-5500 for program information or consult the web site at

[*"Departure from affection, and shining sounds" from Rimbaud's "Departure", a poem from Illuminations.
**Apparently the line, "Je me suis baigné dans le Poème" is not a controlling metaphor writ large enough.
For an online bio of Rimbaud and thousands of other writers, see Ed.]

©2001 Big City Lit(tm)
Diana Manister is a contributing editor to the magazine.

Series/Event Review:

Lilith Magazine Celebrates its Twenty-Fifth at Makor
By Enid Dame

Lilith Magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary on March 1 with a dialogue on Jewish feminism at Makor, a West Side Jewish cultural center catering to younger people. "Lilith Writers Dish!" the evening's publicity provocatively promised, but the dish served was, after all, a hearty stew or bone-warming soup. Not necessarily chicken soup, though, for the emphasis here was on youth and innovation, as three editor/writers, introduced by Editor-in-Chief Susan Weidman Schneider, discussed what it means to navigate the "Third Wave" of Jewish feminism from an emphatically Jewish perspective.

Named for Adam's legendary, uncooperative first wife (an early feminist who boldly walked out of Eden when her husband refused to accept her as an equal), Lilith Magazine was founded in 1976 to fulfill two needs: to create a Jewish presence in the feminist movement (which tended to be hostile to "patriarchal" religions) and a feminist presence in Jewish culture (which tended to be…well, patriarchal). Lilith Magazine has survived 25 years, according to Schneider, partly because it presents a mix of various women's concerns, and addresses women of various cultures, backgrounds, and ages.

This evening's accent was definitely on younger women -- twentysomething or thirtyish. The three speakers, Rachel Kranson, Danya Ruttenberg and Sarah Blustain, are all part of the latest, or "Third Wave," of U.S. feminism. (We who came of age in the 70's are the Second Wave; the First Wave, of course, refers to the abolitionists and suffragists of the 19th Century.) Thus, all three grew up in a society where, in Danya Ruttenberg's words, "feminism was a given." An example of how things have changed: in its early days, Lilith Magazine daringly called for women to become rabbis. Today, female and feminist rabbis are a significant cohort, happily transforming Jewish life.

The three women spoke of their experiences both on the magazine and in the larger world. Rachel Kranson spoke first. Now a scholar and pop-culture writer for Lilith (her article on Barbara Streisand in the latest issue analyzes the singer's "retreat into myth"), Kranson was raised in a Modern Orthodox environment, where she received two conflicting messages: (1) As a girl, one can be and do anything --this is America! -- and 2) As a Jewish girl, one occupies a lower rung on the spiritual ladder than boys and men. Her epiphanal moment came as a teenager in Talmud class. Both she and her best pal Noah, a boy, hated the class, defiantly scribbling notes and poems during sessions. Rabbi X, a man, met separately with the two rebels. He promised Noah private tutoring to help him "relate to Talmud." Rachel was given a book to read: Love and Marriage the Jewish Way. At this point, her divided belief system broke down.

Danya Ruttenberg comes from a suburban Reform Jewish background; her Bat Mitzvah was expected to end her Jewish life. She became committed to "atheism, feminism and punk rock," until a religion class in college utterly captivated her. Today, she identifies herself as a religious Jew, but embraces an egalitarian, "Hey, we're all human beings" form of Judaism. Her forthcoming book, Yentl's Revenge, features work by young Jewish women and asks such questions as, 'How do younger women feel about Judaism?' 'How will the transgender movement affect Jewish law?' (a good question!), and 'How can we deal with "rampant class-ism" in the Jewish community?' Ruttenberg was the most politically radical and activist member of the panel.

Sarah Blustain has recently left her work as Senior Editor of Lilith for a position at the New Republic. For the first time in her career, she is not part of a Jewish or feminist milieu, and sometimes feels "awkward" in an environment where men habitually call her "sweetie," and only two co-workers (at this "liberal" magazine) consider themselves feminists. Less connected to the organized women's movement than the others (in college, she thought feminism was "icky", but later found herself unexpectedly in tears at a women's seder), Blustain sees herself primarily as a journalist. Yet, all her stories for Lilith deal with the important -- and feminist -- question: Who owns the tradition? Obviously, if its ownership can change, so can the tradition.

As a fiftysomething Second Waver, I found it interesting that all three women are, in various ways, connected to organized Judaism: they attend services, study traditional texts, and even consider having a religious marriage service. This is definitely a change from the old days, when the tone -- dare I say, the spirit -- of such a gathering would be decidedly secular.

Further discussion included the audience, and was lively, intelligent, and incisive. Topics ranged from the recent un-election, the religious right's anti-woman agenda (their latest thrust appears to be a bizarre connection between having abortions and later developing breast cancer) Schneider gave this claim a "high mishegoss [craziness] rating), the reluctance of young women, who agree with feminism's visions, to identify themselves as feminists, the cultural incorporation of women's movement ideals, often watering them down to sell products, and misogyny in the Jewish community. Rachel Kranson had the last word, emphasizing the importance of building coalitions "even with the people who voted for Bush."

The dialogue could have continued, and obviously will -- in the pages of Lilith Magazine.

(Edith Dame is a poet, author and professor whose work has been widely published. She lives in the metropolitan New York area.)
[One of Dame's Seventies-era pieces lent its title to the feature collection, "Because They Did," which appeared in the Jan 2001 issue. See Archive. Makor is located at 35 West 67th Street across from Lincoln Center. See Listings for other literary events. Visit the organization's web site <> for a complete schedule of its musical performances, lectures and other offerings. Ed.]

©2001 Big City Lit(tm)

Series Review:

Peacock and Sapphire at the 14th St Y
A review of "Women Writing the World" -- A Poetry Reading/Performance with Molly Peacock and Sapphire, featuring Veronica Golos and Tom Aalf's Jazz Trio.

How Personal Does the Political Have to Be?
by Larissa Shmailo

The impetus behind "Women Writing the World," a poetry reading featuring Molly Peacock and Sapphire at the Sol Goldman YM-YWHA Center for Cultural and Performing Arts, was the celebration of International Women's Day, March 8. The event was one of nearly 250 March readings organized by Ram Devineni, publisher of RATTAPALLAX, in honor of the U.N.'s Year of "Dialogue among Civilizations." [See related article, "The Poem's Embassy" in the March 2001 issue, Archive. Ed.]

Veronica Golos, the host for the reading and resident poet at the Sol Goldman Y, introduced the evening and noted that it was fitting to celebrate International Women's Day on the Lower East Side, the site of the historic march by women garment workers demanding the eight-hour day (a demand whose time has come round again for many women).

A delegate from the U.N.'s Staff Recreation Council Society of Writers was on hand to bless the event, quoting Sri Chimoy and teaching the audience the Hindi word for 'poet' (kabi, "one who envisions"). After this, the reading entered the realms of 12-Step qualifications, women's magazines, and solipsism.

The jazz trio began, featuring a soupy base, squeaky violin, and the misfortune of original compositions, and then Golos led the reading off with a series of poems. I personally hate it when middle-aged women read sex poems, and therefore won't comment on the opener ("our marriage, the color of syrup" on her interracial marriage.) However, the poem, "Lilith Lets Eve into a Little Secret," was fun, with Lilith chiding Eve for being "thin as a rib" and averring: "Knowledge comes of flesh." After singing "Respect," Golos ended with a beat rap about the myriad small failures aging flesh is heir to.

Golos then introduced the featured readers, who had elected to read in rounds as a form of poetic dialogue. Molly Peacock, former president of the Poetry Society of America, read first, declaring that "there are only two subjects of lyric poetry: sex and death." And earrings, a motif in her work, as she later admitted. Her first poem was the well-known "At the Fair," about preparing her mother for burial. "Bury me in my pink pantsuit .../ I had never dressed you before." The narrator adorns her mother in uncomfortable clip-on earrings. Regretting this suffering for beauty, Peacock ends by asking her mother to be comfortable in death. Women need comfort, the poem seems to conclude, even if it is a poor thing compared to joy.

The next poem remained in the nuclear family. "My College Sex Group," a dialogue between Peacock and her sister, had the memorable line, "clitorises like chicken wattles." The round ended with a pop-up poem called the "Hotel Peach."

Sapphire, looking serene in brown velvet and, by her own admission, "less angry," took the stage next. Her work as a writer -- more than "the redemptive power of unmerited suffering," as Golos termed it -- may have helped her be happier, or so the God-narrator implies in her "Cabin in the Sky" dream as he tells Sapphire's abusive father how his daughter made her life right. Sapphire did mention women other than her mother and herself in one poem, "Poem for Jennifer, Marla, Tawana, and Me" about violence against women ("It was not her fault / It was not her fault / It was not / It was not / It was not her fault"), but soon returned to the nuclear family and poems about an alcoholic mother and abusive father. Family, abusive or loving, is still family, and still the dominant concern of female artists, if the work of these two poets is evidence.

The next round brought poetry about Peacock's alcoholic father, and a love villanelle with the cute line, "No use getting hysterical / All words other than 'I love you' are clerical" (well, we do live for love, don't we?). Sapphire followed with a series of Breaking Karma poems, primarily about her abuse at the hands of her parents and boyfriend.

Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against poetry about Mom and Dad, or about the internal experience of poets in relationships. And domestic violence is a real women's issue. But it would have been nice to hear someone talk about the other issues women face. As a U.N.-related event, a mention of the recent cutbacks in U.S. abortion funding abroad, or the persecution of women under the Taliban* might have been appropriate. Barring overt politics, it would have been nice to hear any poem that was not about, well, boyfriend, Mom and Dad. The major disappointment of this reading was that the avowedly feminist poets didn't write the world, but rather, remained in the province of the nuclear family, where women have always been told to stay.

(Larissa Shmailo, who is a poet and an editor for a major New York publishing house, writes frequently for Big City Lit(tm).)

[*For an eyewitness report on the human rights abuses of the ostensibly Islam-based Taliban regime in Afghanistan, international reaction, and the oil interests at stake there, see Ed.]

©2001 Big City Lit(tm)

Series Review

Makor's "Poetry & Mentorship" Series
2/22: Richard Howard and Lucie Brock-Broido
3/15: Agha Shahid Ali, Amanda Schaffer and Daniel Paley Ellison

In just eighteen months, Makor has become the unofficial literary adjunct to the arts campus known as Lincoln Center, a complex comprised of the Metropolian Opera, Avery Fisher Hall, NY City Opera, NY City Ballet, The Vivian Beaumont Theatre, The Performing Arts Library, The Walter Reade Theatre (film), Alice Tully Hall, and The Juilliard School. Only Barnes & Noble's Lincoln Square monolith separates Makor's double brownstone on 67th Street from direct discourse with the complex.

One of the best representatives of quality programming at Makor is the Poetry & Mentorship series curated by poet Eve Grubin. Richard Howard and Lucie Brock-Broido (Knopf, The Hunger, 1988; The Master Letters, 1993) appeared there together on February 22, less as one-time mentor and student than as poets who have each mentored many, many others.

Upon the death of her mother, Brock-Broido wrote, "I am magical no more." Responding to those who have called her language 'Pre-Raphaelite,' she announced her new obsession: legibility. By this, she quite clearly means not penmanship, but rather, the effort to afford the reader immediate apprehension of the words on the page -- though their meaning may lie deeper.

First my father died,
then my mother died,
then my father died again.

Borrowing on some seventy titles in the notebooks left by Wallace Stevens, Brock-Broido read a piece called, "Dire Wolf". Sorrow, she writes, "comes in packs." Another of Stevens's titles was "The Halo That Would Not Light". This instantly put her in mind of a favorite, if underused word of poets, "lucubration," the practice of many, even, likely as not, herself. Brock-Broido's low-toned, vowel-embracing voice suggests acquaintance with the 40-watt night. For her title, she chose a slight attenuation: "The Halo That Lit Twice". The result, a double sonnet, "lit and faltered, halted," offered some of the rewards Baudelaire had in mind when he wrote, "Rhythm and rhyme are responses to man's immortal need for symmetry and surprise."

"Self-Deliverance by Lion" is a poeticized account of a news event. A despondent woman travels by train from Chicago to the Washington zoo to die, not by man-made tool or machine, but by claw and fang. The lilac shadings and frost-crewled windows that open the poem slowly give way to quick, primordial crimson. The choice to borrow on another's inner life, to tell it for her, is a risky one. In writing the first-person Helen in Egypt, H.D. chose a public life, one already much written about at distance and brought it close. For all that Brock-Broido's piece is evocative and its detail convincing, one's discomfort in hearing it is due more to a sense of a well-intentioned invasion than to its violent imagery.

Brock-Broido engages, not by showmanship or performance, rather, her delivery exemplifies the deferential service to the poem urged in a recent essay here. [See Feb 2001, "Ego-Free, The Poem Aloft", Pt. 2, Archive.] Speech is a gift and she knows it. Her voice is relaxed down to its natural position; as instrument, she breathes the poem out as she breathed it in, with the result that legible becomes audible. As director of the Writing Division at Columbia, she sets an important example which can help the next generation of serious writers resist the influence of their semi-literate peers whose truncated speech bears the imprint of advanced devolution.

Despite a list of publications and variety of accomplishments that could make even Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) seem narrow, Richard Howard is praised by his students for the generosity of his attentions. Following Brock-Broido, he complained graciously that she had read too briefly. So then did he. If, as Howard says, the poet is in a constant state of desire and longing, these two draw on very different states of imagination to express that longing in art, which is, as he and others have said, "the only available secular faith."

With a voice as reedy as Brock-Broido's is resonant, hair as scant as hers is yard-long plentiful, Howard too offered work of full engagement, richly and imaginatively realized. At Makor, he wove together a letter written to The New York Times by a young gay man who was solicited by a stranger for sex in his truck and then severely beaten by him with a one-sided phone conversation between the assailant's wife and her sister. The victim's account of the incident ("If he took part, who took all?") reveals that the husband had the HIV virus, and alternates hauntingly with the sister's appeal to a woman reluctant to recognize her husband from the newspaper description, own his crime, his multiple deceits, and the likely effect of their infrequent, but deadly spousal intimacy.

Richard Howard signed copies of his latest collection, Trappings: New Poems (Turtle Point Press, 1999) after the event.

~ ~ ~

Agha Shahid Aliwas scheduled to appear at Makor on March 15, with Amanda Schaffer and Daniel Paley Ellison but had to cancel due to a long-standing illness. Schaffer and Ellison, grads of the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, read their mentor's poems.

In here it's deliberately dark so one may sigh

in peace. Please come in. How long has it been?
Upstairs--climb slowly--the touch is more certain.
You've been, they say, everywhere. What city's left?
I've brought the world indoors. One wants certainty.
Not in art--well, you've hardly changed--but, why,

in life. But for small invisible hands, no wall
would be lacquered a rain forest's colors. Before,
these walls had just mirrors (I tried on--for size--
kismet's barest air). Remember? You were then
led through all the spare rooms I was to die

in. But look how each room's been refurbished:

[. . .]

Listen, my friend, But for quick hands, my walls
would be mirrors. A house? A work in progress,
always. But: Could love's season be more than this?
I'll wipe your tears: Turn to me. My world would be
mere mirrors cut to multiply, then muliply

in. But for small hands. Invisible. Quick . . .
(From "Rooms Are Never Finished"
Breadloaf Anthology 1999, Michael Collier, Ed.)

Even as each of the ten stanzas begins with 'in,' that preposition ends the preceding sentence or phrase, bringing the invalid back to his confinement, though it is the visitor who is comforted. Read with fine shape and clarity by Amanda Schaffer, the dignity of this poem's voice was felt throughout the rest of the evening.

A native of Kashmir, Ali is the author of several collections of poetry, beginning with Bone Sculpture (1972) and including The Country Without a Post Office (Norton, 1998) which was offered at the reading, as well as of T.S. Eliot as Editor (1986), and is himself editor of the recent Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (2000).

Ms. Schaffer selected her poems based on her mentor's urging to let her language be as "extravagant" as possible, and so began with "Self-Portrait Miscopied from a Brain Scan." On the floor of the stock exchange, someone "throws up his hands and reads a novel." The layered irony delights. Her work is fresh, her observations and her sadnesses genuinely and precisely expressed. "Behind every eye is a river scene."

Elsewhere she speaks of the eyes long dim of patients not just etherized but dissected on a basement table. Schaffer, a scientist, appears to hold the scalpel. One particular cadaver has served in multiple sessions: "I feared my Edgar couldn't take much more." Edgar's tissues have changed colors in a continuing evolution. As bodily outcroppings have Latin names which correspond to features of the face, Edgar's ribcage has ears.

In a display of imagination seemingly spontaneous, not the result of academic probings of the world for ideas, Schaffer concluded -- to sustained applause -- with a found poem, ready-made from an index of that most individual of human features, the fingers:


Finger, milk flowed from A's
Finger, the little, of G
Finger, the cities of sin overturned by
Finger of God, see God, finger of
Finger, O could have crushed I with his
Finger, M produced fire with his
Finger, J brought forth water by digging his, into the ground
Fingernails, light brought down by
Fingers, sucking of
Fingers, two, of J, placed on A's eyes before he died
Fingers, three, thickness of the firmament
Fingers, human, not separate till time of flood

Daniel Paley Ellisonread from his mentor's dream poems, one, "I dream I returned to Tucson in monsoon," and the other, where the glass bangles on his mother's arms at bedtime, are a comfort to the child, even as they sound to him like ice breaking.

Ellison indicated that he too seeks to let suffering and comfort inhabit the same breath, then went to exemplify "how memory lives in the body" with a poem called "Knife". This young man read each of his pieces, several about his grandparents and the duty of memory owed by him to their suffering, with a reverence similar to that applied to his mentor's lines. Unfortunately, the lines worked the more conventional for the excessive awe with which each was uttered. "Billboards of illusion" are pushed aside to seek Ginsberg in the "wilds of Brooklyn." Skies in dreams of Ukraine are "snowy"; silence "devours"; dead chickens lie inside (a psyche?), "small and waiting"; rotting black locusts erupt from white. "She [the grandmother] is dying / as you will be." The cumulative awe began to wear into a sense of self-satisfaction that proved as distracting as the late arrival of apparent extended family members.

Yet, if the expression in Mr. Ellison's work is not yet fully achieved, the poetic vision nevertheless holds promise. In "Snakebit", he isolates the moment in a relationship, as the lovers splash in a sunset pond, when all was over between them though they continued for some time beyond it. "I saw you led back into your grief, . . . cast your body back, your name, 'Rachel, Rachel,' on my lips." He releases love and holds it, arguing it later, as any poet does, with himself.

But to the mentor goes the last word, spoken, as before, as invalid:

Now that God
is news, what's left but prayer, and . . . well, if you
love something, why argue? What we own betters
any tale of God's--no?

The March 15th session concluded the series. On April 5, Franz Wright and Sapphire appear in a special National Poetry Month event at Makor. On May 3, "Men on Men" presents Yusef Komunyakaa, Tony Hoagland and Jason Shinder, followed on May 23 by "Letters to a Young Poet", an evening with U.S. Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz and National Book Award winner Lucille Clifton. Details and updates appear on the web site:

-- MH