Thursday, January 04, 2007

Cyclamens And Swords
And Other Poems about the Land Of Israel

Art Work and Poetry by Helen Bar-Lev
Poetry by Johnmichael Simon

Printed by Ibbetson Press, Boston, MA
Contact the authors at:

Approx. 75 pages of art and poetry

Reviewed by Katherine L. Gordon,
Author, Editor, Publisher, Judge and Reviewer,
Resident Columnist for Ancient Heart Magazine.

The title poem “Cyclamens and Swords”
leads the reader into the razor-fields of barefoot choreography
that is the daily dance of life in Israel to-day.
The artistic device of Johnmichael Simon’s
insights into each venture, accompanying Helen Bar-Lev’s words and
illustrations , is a gripping combination that enhances the whole book,
with two writers weaving and completing the theme like a classic chorus:
H. Bar-Lev: “sheep in a barbed wire fence”, J.Simon: “bunched between
the sprawl of Europe/ and the dark shroud/over Arabia. H: “reminding us
we are still in Israel,/that this is not yet paradise” “in a forest at peace
with itself/ a kalysha rocket’s lob away.”
The achingly beautiful cover of timeless trees, earth,
flowers and rock, is redolent of Israel’s destiny. This little land, so hallowed
in human history, seems the literary and spiritual core of existence to most
of humanity. If strife is ever present here, how can there ever be
the peace of ancient promise? This land seems to symbolize the eternal quest
for harmony where forces of turmoil march ceaselessly. Bar-Lev and Simon
explore this theme for us. Perhaps Helen Bar-lev’s observation “in my painting/
human-free” is much of the answer.
The paintings in this book are breathtaking. Helen Bar-Lev
manages to capture a brutal beauty, the sense of land that coaxed us to evolution
then left us unrequited on its rocks. The colours and contours seem internal
and universal. Johnmichael Simon gives the art of verbal painting to Helen’s work:
“Grafting words onto birds/we watch them fly the north wind.” “sailing like
rocket shells/ exploding in long weeks of coloured stars.”

Something poignantly lovely touches you in these pages:
the very human mundane concerns (hot water, the baby’s hunger, the cattle)
“Life is easier for a cow, for a sunflower.” Homely concern with a back-drop
of unceasing conflict is dramatic, a pulse that permeates the moment, disturbs
thought and enlightens the reader to reality in the dream symbol.
Israel’s botany is caught in words and painting to surprise the spirit,
birds enliven the skies, ancient hills brood. The poets have framed the land for us with freshness and wonder. We gain a new depth of appreciation for the visions born of this land, as Johnmichael Simon writes in Galilee Sunset: “like soaked disciples in the
sea of Galilee.”
The language is lush and powerful connecting the inescapable past
to the tenuous now: “the milk and honey fish ponds/of this holy land.” “we wondered
if the caravans then/were also awed by the pelicans.” A Thin Red Line “that divides
yesterday from today.”
Helen and Johnmichael visit, and write of, all the storied places that
resonate in so much of the world’s cultures. This is a special gift in a book that offers
a wealth of verse and art, answering our eager questions about this incomparable land
and the experience of living there. Yes, life and love continue and evolve in the long
link from cave to bungalow, each bitter-sweet moment cherished. A sense of the brevity
of life and longevity of landscape, both violent and creative, resonates here.
These are very talented writers who have developed together a total immersion
experience into the literature, geography and art of the lands that birthed these
Cyclamens and Swords gives the reader a “millipede of thoughts.”
There is the thread of peace and war so important and relevant to our times:
“we pulled the peace/over our eyes/so as not to see/how porous it was.” “the
iconic laughter/of middle eastern reality.” “it is the place peace goes/to meditate.”
Helen Bar-Lev’s painting of Jerusalem will stay in your heart’s-eye,
as will her poem to this city. The reader will be drawn into it with an ancient desire.
Johnmichael Simon sounds an accompanying chord , a symphony of hope and despair
in The Wadi, as does Helen with “like a cello string too taut/may snap at any moment/
in mid-note.” There is an overall note of tenderness in many images, so vivid and beautifully phrased, in love of place and persons: “you have fallen asleep/
on the blanket of your shadow” by the River Jordan.

Cyclamens and Swords will become a treasured classic, echoing
as it does so fluently, the longing, fearing and questing that marks these troubled times.
Helen Bar-Lev’s poem Beauty sums up the reader’s feelings as we reluctantly
finish this special book: “and I,/the ingrate,/ever insatiable,/implore you,/
please,/ show/ me/more.”

Katherine L. Gordon.

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