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.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Boston Poet Journal. Virgin Voyage. (Boston Poet Publishing 19 Oakridge Dr. Londonderry, NH 03053) $10.

I remember rushing down to the long-defunct Book Cellar in Porter Square, Cambridge to get my copy of the "Boston Poet" some years ago. Many of us local poets often published on these pages, and more than a few got their first credits and moved on to publish and read widely. It was a scrappy newsletter, with right-on interviews, poetry, listings and reviews. Diana Saenz, the founder, writes in the forward that the journal is a "third generation" publication. After changing ownership for a few years, it later morphed into an online enterprise Now it has reemerged as the "Boston Poet Journal" and Saenz is back at the helm. The inaugural issue has poetry from many of the stalwarts of the Boston poetry scene including: Afaa M. Weaver, Raffie Wolf, Walter Howard, C.D. Collins and others.
Walter Howard has a poem dedicated to the Boston poetry impresario Harris Gardner titled" Winter" Howard writes like a modern day Shakespeare recounting the call to of all places the Warwick Museum of Art in Rhode Island for another session of Gardner’s "Mad Poets’ CafĂ©" reading series.

" Into the windswept night
We flew
naked to the winter’s wrath
his terrible swift sword
Warwick our goal
To Warwick!
heart in both hands
storehouse of honey
harbor of wounds."

And poet Afaa Michael Weaver remembers his first car and uses it as a vehicle for a rite of passage for the young blue collar Baltimore black kid he once was:

…In motion,
a car’s wheels are the signals of the way
its soul hisses, sucks in its breath.
It breathes air like that spring air
of purple and yellow when I washed
the first car I ever drove, as Uncle Frank
let me turn it around in the alley.
I dreamed of chasing women with a machine
that could play music and smell like evergreens.
I dreamed of the hunt and being in the cut.
Uncle Frank through in men’s mother wit
to keep me out of Baltimore’s apocalypse--
A black man’s gotta wear suit and ties,
A black man gotta have a private world."

This is a fine rebirth of the Boston Poet. Highly Recommended.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/ Jan 2007//Somerville, Mass.