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Recommendation: Shake and Tremor by Deborah Bacharach

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Deborah Bacharach’s Shake and Tremor is about relations between men and women, the complications and deceits involved.  She combines Biblical stories of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Lot and his wife, and Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, with contemporary examples.  She mixes past and present so that the reader may not know where she is as she moves from poem to poem and also within poems.

An example:  Ten Young Men of Sodom and Gomorrah opens with an epigraph from Genesis: “For the sake of ten [righteous men] I will not destroy it.”  It consists of nine vignettes.  one of them reads:

It’s not that I have greater
lungs or desert living
gives me the strength of ten.

I’d be driving my own taxi, but there are no medallions.

Or “Farewell to his Wife,” set in the moment when Lot’s wife looks back and turns to salt:

He does not look back.  He does not choose
to lunge for her hand even as her hand
slips from his grasp when she looks back.

Maybe they said their good-byes
over tax returns,
a glass of wine and orange rinds.

The poet will return to this moment another time and tell it very differently.  The shifting of both topics and attitudes keeps the reader off balance. But Bacharach is having a wonderful time with the mixture.  It’s worth the trouble to go with the flow.

The key poem for access to the mind of the poet, for me, is “I Am Writing About Fucking,” which gives a sequence of reasons: “because I am human, . . .because sorrow was taken . . .” ending with:

because it’s not polite and I am always very
please and thank you
because there are already
enough words for snow
because of shame, that fishbone in the throat
because we are made of stars.

If this word play pleases you, you should enjoy the book.  And perhaps be a bit jealous of Bacharach’s skill and her leaps of imagination.

Recommendation: Pansies by Carol Barrett

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scan0001This is a beautiful and gentle book.  It does not claim to be poetry, but it is written by a poet and it begins with a powerful image, comparing the children of a large family to pansies, which “are a persistent breed.  They take to the same soil, year after year.”  If you didn’t read the back of the book it would take you until the third of these finely crafted vignettes to find out what is going on; this is the story of a compassionate woman who needs a babysitter and ends up learning about a sub-culture very different from her own.  The young woman she hires teaches her bit by bit about another way of living, of understanding one’s place in the world.

Young people, who only hear bad stories about different peoples, such as Muslims or unwanted immigrants, should read this book.  So should those who are older and weary of bad news.  The writing is concise, elegant, and honest about the narrator’s mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as about the limits to the relationship.

No, these are not prose poems, but they are close cousins.  I will share it with my poetry group and I expect that they will like it as well as I do.