Poetry

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.
Catullus Cover

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.

Another of my poems, “The Threatened Swan”, named for the painting that inspired it, appears in The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted to poems about works of art. You can read it here.

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