The Forward carries a review of what promises to be a wonderful collection of poetry by Israeli-American poet, Rachel Tzvia Back. Though I studied for a PhD in Hebrew literature until 1983, I haven’t kept up with new developments in the field and her work is unfamiliar to me. But after reading this review I long to hear her give a reading and read more of her work:
Many of the poems in “On Ruins & Return” have strong political implications — razed homes and wells, ambulances stopped at roadblocks, Arab families forced to stand outside in the cold night as soldiers in jeeps search their village — but a political agenda does not dominate. Back’s images of near-daily Israeli trauma during the height of the intifada — “mangled/metal blood flesh/to be scraped off the street/collected in sandwich bags”(“On the Ruins of Palestine”), “burnt out bus carcasses” (“A Dream”) and “mothers watching/soldiers on their knees/sifting and searching for body parts/do not think of next worlds/they think only of/lost worlds” (“Soldiers on Their Knees in the Sand”) — are searing, and unforgettable. Back’s words stem from a place in the heart that does not distinguish Palestinian from Israeli, but rather weeps for lost limbs, marred bodies and drops of blood, regardless of nationality…
The collection’s finest, most chilling pieces, “A Fable and a Nursery Rhyme” and “Their Sons, My Sons,” are companion poems of sorts, the first inspired by a Palestinian bombing of a Jewish school bus, the latter written after an Israeli bomb fell on an Arab strawberry field. Whatever your political affiliations, both poems — with visceral scenes of Back’s three children searching for the body parts of three children their own ages, and an Arab mother gathering in a head scarf her sons’ flesh among strawberries — will grab you in the gut.
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