Friday, January 24, 2020

Review of Rosie Rosenzweig’s Bring Me Into Flesh, reviewed by Gregory J. Wolos

Review of Rosie Rosenzweig’s Bring Me Into Flesh, reviewed by Gregory J. Wolos

            The poems Rosie Rosenzweig shares in her latest book, Bring Me Into Flesh, illustrate, with passion, bravery, and quiet contemplation, the enigma of our humanness: we yearn for a sensed spiritual wholeness that transcends the self while being bound by the physical limitations of our bodies, linear time, and language. Rosenzweig’s poems explore the ways memory, ritual, and symbol aid us in our quest to gain/regain connection to a power beyond our temporal experience. In her poetry, her personal journey entails the use of her Jewish immigrant background as a lens through which she can examine her personal and cultural history: for her, memory and ritual, and symbol are both the subject and means to transcendence.
            The title poem of the collection suggests a timeless, out of body perspective from which the narrator observes the joyful, “loved” young woman who, after she “blossomed into blush” and was “courted, possessed, then, catching her breath, taken to bride,” will literally “bring [the narrator] into flesh.” In the following poem, “Hush, the baby is awake!” we find the newborn, “Newly turned from the other world,” helpless now, dependent on her “mother, brimming with milk” who “raised and rocked me with a Yiddish lullaby.”  As the child grows, she becomes connected to her history through the baby-sitter her mother selected, a “Yiddish landsman, the old world countryman,” who, in the poem “Communal Bathroom,” “enlivened a young girl’s innocence,/ and initiated her ongoing quest for words.” Memory and language are associated, in that the first can only find definite form in the latter. In “The Haskalah,” the poet “dreams” into the present the life of her father before she was born, “a Polish cantor, a peddler,” “busheling out his songs, up and down Canadian streets.”
            The young narrator of “Migration: After Moshe” imagines herself the spiritual partner of birds, like an eagle: “floating to the highest seaside crags/ I held the air still, and dived with needle sharp aim.” She senses no limits to her power, when, as a plover now, “my hunger emboldened me to pick the teeth of crocodiles, and, finally, as the “original Bird of Paradise,” she envisioned herself “with a wing span towering over the curving earth,” and “cradled it in my fine-haired palm.” But the poet, though she hopes to imitate the birds, is separate from them, bound by her humanness; she abandons study (“undid myself from my desk”) to approach a flock of geese whose flight and landing have mesmerized her, but even as she “reached to touch them” and found herself beginning to become absorbed into their world, the geese are startled into flight: “Their thunder/ struck me just ten yards short with my loss caught, heavy and round, like an apple in my throat.” The fruit of knowledge, then, chokes the poet, reminding her of the separation she hoped to transcend.
            In “The Boy I Didn’t Marry,” we see the poet vitalize a memory of a fantasy love from high school, putting to use a poet’s skill with language she gained after a life’s experience: “Tortured by convention and conscience/ structured into the wannabe writer’s role, I traveled far to find this exact and skillful experience.” Yet, the poet laments, “All I have now is this forensic vapor of memory,/ a scene that may have never happened./ All really have now are these words.” The poet has preserved, even, perhaps, created, memory in language, but is that enough?
            The poems in Part Two of Bring Me Into Flesh continue the poet’s search for transcendence, the promise of which is suggested in “A Wash of Waves,” in which the narrator finds the rhythm of the waves connecting her to memories, but not just “[a] roll of facts/ that photograph the mood”; what “moves” her is “not just arms and legs,/ but body, breath and sound,/ singing to the sea/ in me.” Ritual and symbol connect the poet to memory. In “The Western Wall,” she describes “a wall whose words rise up from the sealed bonds of memory./ Hymns sound, spread and fly/ like the preened wings of birds.” The words of the hymns rise, and “[t]he wall grows bright and brighter at each round.” “Daughter to these prayers,” the poet asks, “ can I . . . blend with the sun and moon and stars?/ I want to be the wall. . . /Yearning to become one mouth with You / I crave to sing in choir, note by note, to rebuild rock by pillar,/ And to become myself with You.”
            Still, the poet realizes in “Malignant,” a word which causes “a mortal hush,” we must struggle to find solace in our physical, temporal world in which “catastrophe chastens me”; though she wished for a prayer that would “gather, build, and protect us/ with the promise of never-ending life, and “sages say this life is a waiting room for the next,” she puzzles over “which door leads to which and why?” Ultimately, she offers comfort through a reminder of the cycle of life, “flowers blooming, rising, praising their time to live/ and their time to seed.”
            The quest for transcendence is not achieved easily, as old forms may provide wisdom, but fail in the moment. In “Remember the flesh-pots of Egypt,” the poet acknowledges that “Freedom does not undo the harm/ of old time sin,” and that, ultimately, “our minds [are] still enslaved with memory. Unhappiness can lead to thoughts or actual attempts at suicide, a false route to transcendence, as the would-be suicide hopes in “145 Tofrinals”: “Take me, take me,/ take me to my home in the clouds.      Rosenzweig examines the difficulty in finding a route to inner peace in a world full of personal pain in many of the poems of Part Three of Bring Me Into Flesh. In “The Waiting Room,” the narrator imagines “Hari Krishnas chanting” as she is anesthetized, and “float[s] up/dying to live among the clouds. . . /and I sink lazily into a soft silk sky,/ until a steadfast booming voice disagrees:/ “Return! You have a lot of work to do.” Several of the poems that follow suggest a breakdown where old forms fail to resolve the narrator’s inner turmoil, as in “The Double Room,” in which she states, “A mind takes at least three months to turn, / to even find the corner to turn,” yet “She tried to say the watchword prayer: ‘Hear of Israel. God is One,’ but/ a ratcheting wheel of sobs turned her mouth closed.” Poems titled “My First Shrink Said . . .”, “Relapse,” and “Group Therapy,” convey the narrator’s struggle to establish a secure grounding, the last concluding with a shred of hope that transcendence is possible: “I enter this room, receipt in hand,/ all paid up for healing/ to play with hope/ and the comforting shelter/ of wings to inspire me once again.”
            The poet’s struggle to find inner peace and ultimate transcendence is shown again in “Heaven must be a Stand of Lilies,” in which the narrator hopes to see “tall stand of rube-rum lilies,” but, though “hunched” in prayer, can see “no lilies blooming on this carpet floor.” Instead, she “afflict[s] my soul and reads the ritual list of all I did, almost did, or didn’t even do.” At the end of ineffectual prayer, she is left longing “for language to lift me like a shofar’s blast,/ to lift and alight me in a wisp of wind/ that catches fragrance, please,/ and transforms,/ like sacrifice into a perfume for the Force of all that lives.”
            Rosenzweig nears the close of Part Three of Bring Me Into Flesh with her poem “Caught in the Cave,” in which she meditatively “dreams” while “cross-legged and “open-palmed” of emerging from a cave of ignorance, doubt, and guilt. As she emerges, she is unsure if the spiritual guide she sees is “my guide Elijah in disguise dressed like me?” Is the “glimpse of light,” the “bright shining mist . . . a mirror or a doorway to the sky?” The poem ends with the hope that she has escaped herself as she prepares to leave the cave, as “The sky rolls out its sun, redeeming me./ I start to climb the never-ending path.”
            Part Four of Rosenzweig’s book reveals the narrator moving toward the redemption/transcendence she seeks. History, memory and ritual provide the faith to “hear but not quite sing” the song that emerges from “old volcanic rock,” “the dark past,”
“Hebraic cantillations” and is part of herself, “running unseen in the hidden chambers of my ribs.” Emphasizing that the song can be heard in the “rising and falling of a scribe writing on parchment,” she seems to accept the biblical direction to “choose life, walk between/ the parting waves, to the music that I am, have been,/ and always will be.”
Accepting the song, the narrator hopes, means accepting herself, perhaps as the transcriber or “minstrel” of the biblical message.
            In Rosenzweig’s poem, “In the Meditation Hall: At Bhante Gunaratana’s Silent 10-day Jhana Retreat,” the poet furthers the meditative pose she assumed in “Caught in the Cave.” Her silent meditation brings forth memory and history, “Mother, Father, . . . Sister, Brother . . . our Holocaust family, long gone. In the silence, Buddhist names are “a mere chill from an open window, and the “wordplay” of the “mystical rabbis/Whom I’ve studied for decades” are unavailable “in this sangha of silence Without End.” But in this enforced silence of a Buddhist form, the narrator hears the opening of Jewish prayer: “Hear O Israel,” ultimately discovering that “You can hear the unshackling/ of the fettered shells of the mind.”
            Paradoxically, a poem is an expression of the ineffable—perhaps it is up to the poet to come as close as is possible to committing spiritual experience to language. This is the awesome responsibility Rosenzweig confronts in “Let Me Not Be Afraid,” subtitled “A Prayer to Pray.” “Let me not be afraid of Your letters,” she writes. In them, she hears “an echo/ Sparking images of the first creation . . . / and all sensation/ Becomes a silent rush toward the curved embrace of time.” “If I could  close my eyes and remember You  who . . . can make the tablets bloom/ with holiness,” the poet writes, she could get “honey from a rock . . wrestle with an angel/ Know my true name and not fall/ A victim to this wall of chatter.” The poet prays for the holy power to know herself, which might give her the power to translate her experience into language: “Give me the power of the first aleph,/ The soundless sound before the first word./ . . . Before my long journey into meaning.”
            Prayer for Rosenzweig takes the form of the poem, and our observance of and participation with of her struggle to put that experience into words becomes part of the holiness of her endeavor. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

From the Bloc 11 Cafe: Ajda the Turkish Queen

Ajda: The Turkish Queen at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square

By Doug Holder

Ajda Snyder is a talented singer/songwriter, who met with me at my usual spot at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville, MA. She told me that she has lived in these environs since 2012. Snyder said of our city,  " I love it here. I would like to buy a place, but it is just too expensive."

Snyder describes her music as a confluence between the East and the West. She reports, " My music has been described as roots mixed with the ethereal." Snyder, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, said as a kid she was inspired by Judy Garland.. She started performing in the Houston, Texas Public School System when she was growing up.

Snyder told me she recorded at the famed BC35 Studio in Brooklyn, NY. This studio was founded by Martin Bisi , and has recorded members of the Sonic Youth, Swans, White Hills, JG Thirlwell, Cop Shoot Cop, Live Skull reunion, Pop 1280, The Dresden Dolls, Alice Donut, Lubricated Goat, Sxip Shirey, Parlor Walls and many more....

Ajda plays a number of instruments including: the mandolin, guitar, melodica, organ, piano and the banjo.

I listened to one of her songs, "Bobby's Car." It takes place in one of the more carnal places--none-other than a car. The tune is evocative, a sad/sweet homage, to a long lost love. Her voice is hypnotic--it seems to float through the air like an early morning mist.

Ajda is a voice teacher as well. She teaches privately at a shared-studio in Boston, and at Somerville's " Union Lesson Studios," right above the Bloc 11.

Ajda has played in many Somerville venues, such as the defunct Johnny D's, the Arts Armory, and elsewhere.

Snyder credits a former roommate, and  a one-time drummer for the Dresden Dolls-- Brian Viglione, as helping her get started--with his extensive contacts and his collaboration on any number of projects.

Snyder who founded the band "Black Fortress of Opium," as well as others" is focusing on " Ajda: The Turkish" band for now.

To find out more about Ajda  go to: