From time to time I will post one of my new poems here. Here’s one I wrote after reading Harrison Salisbury’s classic work of history The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. Salisbury takes you into the lives of the Leningraders: soldiers, Party officials, scholars, street-sweepers, writers and artists. The story is a double tragedy. The brave Leningraders faced as much if not more mortal danger from their own national leaders as from the besieging Nazis. Through it all, they kept on living and writing music and poems and novels.
ACCIDENTS OF FATE I might have, could have been a great poet, if only I’d been born in another time, another place. Perhaps communist Russia, that would have been nice, or one of the Eastern Bloc countries. It doesn’t matter where as long as it was under the totalitarian thumb. I could have written in a cold flat, shielded for a moment from the gaze of the enthusiastic party censors or in the Gulag on toilet paper or only within the tattered fibres of my mind. I could have written of knocks on doors in the middle of the night, of the husband’s eternal longing for his wife. I could have been sentimental and histrionic. I could have given irony a wide berth. And as they pulled out my fingernails, I could have shouted out my verse, could have flung it in the face of my torturers.
Winner of the 2016 Poetry Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature.
“Enjoyable, readable, fresh.” – The Jury
In 1968 Isaac Bashevis Singer was asked by The Paris Review what he thought about the future of the novel. He was optimistic. But he did concede that poetry was in trouble. He actually went so far as to say that in the twentieth century poetry “became bad.” In his view poetry became bad because poets stopped caring whether their work was interesting or even possible to be understood.
Catullus’s Soldiers, my first collection of poems, was released by Cormorant Books in 2015. You’ll have to judge for yourself, but with the poems in the collection I’ve tried my best to be understood at least and, wherever possible, interesting…
Here’s the poem that inspired the collection’s title:
CATULLUS IN A MARTIAL MOMENT Caesar has his legions to move this way and that, to cross the Rubicon or not, to live and die at his imperious word. For this Caesar shall be remembered when he is gone. But my army is greater in number, and of infinite formation. I tell them when to come and when to go. They march to a cadence of my choosing, across the page like a wave of soldier ants and set up camp in the country of a foreign mind. When all of Caesar’s soldiers have fallen and lie mingled with the marble ruins of his desires, or are pensioned off to farms of forgetfulness, when his colonies have rebelled or been conquered by barbarians whose time has come and no more tribute is forthcoming, my soldiers will still be winning over a different people in a world I cannot even begin to imagine.
And here’s another one from the collection:
THE BUTTERFLY The swimmers laugh and splash each other in the clear shallows. Further out men fish. In the shipping channel a freighter slides by with surprising silence. The swimmers soon feel the ripples. On shore a Monarch butterfly lies flat on a stone. Its wings do not look broken. Its body is intact. It is still and looks asleep. I have never seen a Monarch butterfly so still. I have never really seen the patterns on its wings. When I touch a wing it barely flutters under my fingertips. The colours, gold, black, amber, become clearer to me as everything around it – swimmers, river, freighter, sky – keeps moving. It looks like an expensive hand-sewn silk scarf or tie, or the Indonesian shirt my late father bought once. Since it can no longer fly, it lies in the sun and waits.