Thursday, March 06, 2008
Times Leaves by Barbara Bialick
reviewed by Luke Salisbury
( Ibbetson Press, 2007)
Poets, it seems, will not give a book of poetry a bad review. The poetry world seems to be one happy family, as opposed to the fiction jungle where firing out a bad review can be a badge of honor and taste, or as Bob Dylan once put it, "Your loss is my gain."
I'm not a poet, so my praise for Barbara Bialick's Time Leaves, comes from the jungle, not the communal smiley face. This is a fine little book. Ms. Bialick writes from the heart of the Baby Boom generation. Her concerns are aging, peace, remembering the worlds of parents and grandparents, Israel, divorce, Detroit. The insights, and fine,clean, language, are clear-sighted, never warped by nostalgia, bitterness or self-pity.
In "'Good Shabbes' Sestina," after being warned by her grandmother not to waste time watching My Friend Flicka (That's the heart of a 1950s childhood and a lousy show as I recall), the poet and her brother "head from our grandparents' den to the room of Yiddish, smell the Maxwell House coffee, "sit at an olden, carved wood table from another time," and sense "the sepia ghosts of my great grandparents."
"I swear I hear an old Siberian train whistle.
With an anxious hiss, I whistle
at the weirdness of aging and time."
"Detroit For Sale, 1960s" describes the poet's reaction to her neighborhood moving from the city to the suburbs. This happened en masse after the riots in '67 and '68.
"Outside the window;
'for sale signs' like cemetery stones,
from one house to the next."
"I'm scared of the new German shepard, in chains
in the garage next-door.
I'm not supposed to go outside alone.
I feel like a prisoner...
Just then, the dog in chains, begins to howl...."
There's allot in these seemingly simple lines. The fear, white-flight, new guard dog, the poet's feelings, the death of a certain urban way of life in the wake of violence and neighborhoods turning Black--it's not a simple or pleasant story, but it's here in this seemingly simple poem. Like many of Ms. Bialick's poems, there's depth and craft behind the apparent simplicity.
Time Leaves is a whistle at the weirdness of aging and time. And a fine whistle, indeed. Its tunes are tunes we all whistle. And tunes we shall all hear.
This book should be read and read again. A life has been distilled here.
* Luke Salisbury is a professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.