Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Encantadas: Evolution and Emotion Poems by Karen Alkalay-Gut and Ezra Gut

Karen Alkalay-Gut

The Encantadas: Evolution and Emotion
Poems by Karen Alkalay-Gut and Ezra Gut
Simple Conundrum Press; Tel Aviv, Israel, 2014
ISBN: 978-965-7600-023; 69 pages; $25.00

Review by Joanne DeSimone Reynolds

In a mortar and brick bookstore, this volume would be an island among the aisles.
Part poetry, part pictorial. A travelogue, yes, but, with splashes of diary. A natural science text, Darwinian, a dose of Bible. And a parallel to Melville’s novella of the same name. The accompanying photographs, stunning in both color and range.

Imagine one of a nubby-skinned, spike-crowned, citron colored iguana, up close. Or another, of a Blue-footed Booby. Some of the earth’s oddest creatures staring out at you.
And the many images taken from greater distances, showing a netherworld natured Galapagos of “immense deluges of black naked lava” (from an epigraph courtesy of Charles Darwin). In a Shel Silverstein kind of way, the photographs, presumably taken by Ezra Gut, enhance the poems and entrance the reader.

But, the poems, floating aside the color-burst photos as they do, have an insistence all their own, much like the tourist-tame creatures they evoke. Included here, are two of the poems in their entirety. One from the lighter side of the collection that elicited a chuckle from this reader, followed by the introductory poem, a forthright look into the speaker’s mind:

          The Booby

          You wish it would be wiser than it is.
          You wish the eyes to be hiding a deep truth.
          But sometimes the status of “ancient”
          does not accompany the actions we admire.
          The amazing feet of the blue boobies
          are not even important enough to be moved aside
          when the bird shits. And a chick looks as smart
          as the mother who just hatched him.

          A Thought
          I wouldn’t want a paradise.
          Even in the Holy Book they knew
          it’s too simple just to be
          good, without judgments
          to make each moment
          a new encounter to encourage
          revision and insight.  Living
          as I do, equidistant from
          Armageddon and Gehenna,
          and not all that far from where
          the Bible places Eden
          my dreams teeter
          like a dinghy in high tide
          but with no shore in sight.

          But dream I do

How many Boobies have we met in our lives? How often have we wished one to be wiser? For “eyes to be hiding a deep truth”?  Chuckle or no, we have seen the Booby and He is us! in Pogo parlance, unable to get out of the messes of our own making. And as for the paradise the poet conjures, it is wholly rejected as a place of stasis in favor of the world as we know it. A place of choice. Of duality and ambiguity. Tensions out of which dreams arise and art is made and we become more fully conscious and human.

Many of the poems in this collection rely heavily on anthropomorphism. Dolphins “smile” from afar in the poem White Bellied Dolphin. Iguanas “clearly [listen] attentively” in Idle Gossip. Sinkers at best. But, to skip them would be like dismissing a child for less than stellar behavior. And it would be a shame to mistake something wondrous for a stone. In the poem Shells, for instance, the enormity of an animal’s armor evokes primal feelings, sending chills up the spine, “How the weird reptilian fear overtakes me.” And even in poems of lesser note, the reading experience opens up like a crevice under pressure when considered in relation to well chosen images. A Myriad of Constellations offers such a moment. The first lines “Behold:/a myriad of stars/appear in the equatorial sky” sound magisterial, even biblical in tone, but, deliver little in the way of the new, and the poem bobs somewhat in the doldrums. However, when our attention turns to the facing page, a photograph, Escher-like in its play of interlocking iguanas, spiny backs tipped in Van Gogh yellow as if electrified, sends us sailing.

Karen Alkalay-Gut is an award winning poet, a professor, and an editor. Born in London and raised in New York State, she now lives in Israel where this book was published, first in Hebrew and now in English. Having been involved in collaborations of a far flung nature, for instance, with the fashion enterprise Comme Il Faut, and one with the avant-rock musicians Roy Yarkoni and Ishay Sommer which produced an album entitled Thin Lips, this project, tethering the cross currents, the outcroppings, and the strange inhabitants of the Galapagos into a collection of poems as taught as nautical knots, makes perfect sense. I hope you consider it for its navigation of the formidable, fragile, frank, and fanciful. But, do not feel guilty if you find yourself lost in the glossies. And for heaven’s sake, don’t hide it from the kids! The book is meant to be shared, with its eye-popping photographs and thoughtful poems, as enchanting as the archipelago it describes.  

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