Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Review of VAN GOGH’S EAR, by Pamela L. Laskin, Cervena Barva Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2010, 75 pages, $15
By Barbara Bialick
To Pamela L. Laskin, a good, thinking poetry teacher/writer, is always teaching, even through her poems, including what she learns from her students and other artists, as she treads through her experiences. “Words continue to persist/fleshless/until they take form in a poem/…New epics are born/out of millions of years/of old thumbs and cortexes;/words, who never knew/there was anywhere to go.” (“Evolution”)
Meanwhile, she leaves you with underlying symbols to identify and figure out,
a gift to the reader, such as in the central concept of Van Gogh’s ear…van goes here, Van Gogh’s here...as she divides the book into the following sections: a left ear a right ear, the ears of the self, the ears of other artists.
In “An Education”, Laskin, as teacher, contemplates an essay from a student whose “father beat her up when she resisted rape”. Coming from a life of “Irish oatmeal/two rings on my fingers…” she exclaims “I am her teacher./I have to grade her paper.”
But she is not just a teacher. She has a clear poet’s eye, as well as ear: “Just the other year/my father said, ‘I’ll love you forever’/then died…You enter/like the cave you first discovered/as a child/…Only there’s no way out…”
She also feels for the poor, sad people she’s observed in New York, where she lives. “Things That Are Beautiful” is about an old “crippled” woman “crouched in her wheelchair on a busy street…selling necklaces…” As you read the poem, you realize it’s a sestina, that’s framed on such telling words as beautiful, naked, hands, streets, and so on. “Like everyday, she is naked to the crowd.”
The cover art for this book is a beautiful drawing by Marc Chagall. But even on the back of the book, her photo demonstrates a mischievous Mona Lisa smile.
Laskin is a lecturer in the English Department at The City College, where she directs The Poetry Outreach Center. She’s published five books of poetry, as well as some poetry chapbooks, five picture books, two young adult novels, and edited a collection of fairy tales. She resides in Brooklyn, New York.
I predict there will be more good books to come.