Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Terezin B.Z. Niditch


B.Z. Niditch

Phrygian Press

58-09 205th Street

Bayside, New York


31 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

These deadening lines of sometimes discerning, sometimes defiling dissonance bestir us, hector us like some Old Testament prophet enumerating past horrors, here and there naming names and, above all, accusing the future, which harbors all of us, of ignorance or worse—complicity.

In the title poem Terezin the Eastern European world of 1942 passes by the cattle cars carrying the stunned Jewish families to the holding town or ghetto of Terezin, where many of them would be sent on to their appointed concentration camps and, of course, their deaths. The poet laments,

I carried my days

until we remain only a body

a historian’s vague nightmare

to a destination marked Terezin

with our aims throwing off

thin suitcases, blankets, towels

up to our waist in human dirt.

And this is just the beginning. The intensity and stridency of horror continues,

my father simply puffed out

by terror and night after nightmare

jumped off the train

from the bare-iced sheets

by howling hysteria

of mother pregnant with another life.

I know of no appropriate frame of mind or mood that can be easily summoned to handle this type of unrelenting assault well. But the insistent poem presses on. The prophet /poet wisely modulates the tone in two places by describing a child with a serious injured eye. Pathos is momentarily accommodated but barely acknowledged. Here is the earlier of these two affecting sections,

a warm boy holds out his hand

with tightly sweated fingers

his injured eye resembling

a yellow flamed torch lamp

no one wishes to acknowledge.

My Century, the very next poem in this disquieting collection, continues the righteous hectoring and the dissonance. It ends this way,

Those who forgive evil are the unforgiven.

Those who are good are known to the unknown.

Statistics cry in the night.

Statisticians of death have clean bureaucratic faces.

Historians move over the bodies.

Theologians move no one, not even


Another poem that reflects on the tyranny of the Nazi years is 1944: Mid Europa. It works as a litany. Here is the Vichy France section,

death angels are desolate

hungary for children’s O negative

Quisling eats a four-course meal

Maurice Chevalier bows

Celine asks for human freight

Genet asks for primal sympathy…


Sartre is recreative

Edith Piaf loses herself.

Niditch’s cumulative jeremiad reaches a crescendo with the poem, Berlin. Here the poet harangues,

Alleys close to joyless beggars.

A mighty fortress topples from metaphysics.

Wittgenstein has a solipsis of schoolboys.

Elan has its own gauntness for Heinrich Heine.

One’s cheekbones show our injustice.

Fashion coexists with fascism.

Believe it or not, the poet does back off for breath on occasion. The result is positively efficacious. The poem Exile of Boston contributes this persona-revealing piece of self-knowledge embedded in a striking image of an immigrant,

What playfulness

or riddled disasters

can I offer Boston

an exile in tentative sadness

when bitchery enthusiasms

self-indulgent necrologies

are put on this shoeless

pawned overcoat of a man

holding up a foreign body…

Also imagistic and a bit romantic is a piece called Boston Waterfront. The poet limns the scene this way,

A stranger’s tongue

squares off

I overheard

the freshness of water

and the fish bleed

in the delirium

of an exiled morning.

In the latitude

of transparent wind the blue-green ocean

outspoken in mortality

in the sanguine port calls

I am not ashamed

to weep along the sea wall

counting voices on the wharf.

In the poem Another Tryst Niditch reveals a well-wrought set of Kafka-like images. Nightmares and long corridors certainly seem to go together. The poet describes,

Now silence

is frozen in a well-lit

night spot

your spiky heels

will offer daily nightmares

and your understanding

creaking blows

of the cold long corridors.

The poet waxes subtlety and even bit of elegance in the poem entitled In Memory of C. Day Lewis. Notice that the subject has not changed, nor has the horror receded. The poet has simply put aside his prophetic gown for the moment. He says,

He was there in the sun

when nothing but a lilac

cold shouldered in the blitz

as the face of the dusk

fought the crime of night

The final poem in this chapbook returns to the poet’s prophetic tone and uses a staccato delivery. Niditch compels us to listen,

A chemical zyclon b2

To hell with D’Annunzio

Red flags us down

Eterna, play the chamber music

Leonardo is not only your cat

Michaelangeli plays Scarlatti

The red bearded snow dances

Where the streets are palmed

boys play boccie thinking of sex

Each generation offered

out from Moloch’s olfactory steel

for bread…

This is the second book of Niditch’s that I have reviewed. The first one—Lorca at Sevilla, filled with imagistic logic, I enjoyed more. In this one, enjoyment is beside the point. The poet here conveys his words with a prophet’s shrillness that overwhelms with its import and uneasy necessity. This chapbook needs to be read.

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