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Pay Attention to These Poems

Female Jewish poets continue to nourish our souls with words to inspire, to relate, to tell truths, to voice pains, and, most importantly, to speak our stories. The works produced in 2004 were no exception. Here are some highlights:

Striking the balance between penetrating observations and sharp wit, So Far, So Good (Sivan $12.99) by Karen Alkalay-Gut, is at once easy to read and poignant. In “Morning Science,” a woman has a casual conversation with Freud over cereal. “I am not even awake and he is already into me/ about my hysteria and the need to tell all my secrets to our friends.” Yet despite their clever tone, her poems dig deep under the skin of modern life. In a poem about hunting for an apartment in Tel Aviv, she writes, “there is still/ something of the sand, of the beach, the red clay/ from beneath the sidewalks, the earth/ that first created the human form.” Whether illuminating everyday experiences or touching the larger truths, the poems in this collection confirm that Alkalay-Gut is a writer of distinct capability and breadth.

Yosefa Raz’s unique personal story gives weight to the poems in In Exchange for a Homeland (Swan Scyth Press, $14). From frontiers as diverse as her childhood home of Jerusalem, to her service as a Hebrew teacher and border guard in the IDF, to the struggle of a family coping with a father’s sexual identity, her words transport the reader without leaving the realm of the familiar In “Fantasy for a Gay Father,” she writes, “I will open myself as easily as opening a window.” It is with this ease that she draws the reader into the world she inhabits. Though her poems occasionally drift from their center, their evocative imagery and colloquial style keep the reader along for the ride.

Fall (Wesleyan U. Press, $19.95) by Amy Newman is a unique collection; each poem takes its inspiration from one of the dictionary definitions for the word “fall.” The first section follows a narrative about Adam and Eve’s fall and exile from the Garden of Eden. In the second, a body falls ill and declines to death. Eloquent and haunting, the poems in the third section dance around the noun “fall,” or autumn. In the poem “A downward movement or slope,” the narrator observes falling leaves: “Though air supports the slow descent, the spiral of their questionings,/ the evidence is all abstract; my testing, loving, curious kingdom,/ my lucky days, my strange existence, pale and thin in search of God.”

The stark poems of Rachel Zucker provide a refreshing alternative to most confessional women’s poetry. At times heavy with disappointment. The Last Clear Narrative (Wesleyan U. Press, $13.95) explores marriage, pregnancy and motherhood. Underlying her striking descriptions is a pervading sense of loneliness, as if the speaker is always looking from the outside. However, this does not detach the words from their subject; rather, her poems stretch from their compact core towards a dream of clarity.

Miriam Stone is the author of At the End of Words: A Daughter’s Memoir (Candlewick 2003). She lives in Brooklyn.