Showing posts with label Shoah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shoah. Show all posts

Friday, August 12, 2011

Golden Nails by Jane Downs

I was very pleased to see Jane Downs' sensitive review of adagio and lamentation in the August 2011 edition of Poetry Flash and want to share it with you. Jane is a Bay Area poet and partner in Red Berry Editions. Her work has won prizes and appeared in numerous journals. Her novel, The Sleeping Wall, was a finalist in the Chiasmus Press book contest. She recently published a handmade chapbook, The Weight of Pink Peonies.

Golden Nails by Jane Downs

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky was born to parents who escaped Nazi Germany where many of her family perished. In adagio & lamentation, Lowinsky explores the abiding effects of this history on her family. The living move out of the darkness of the Holocaust to lives in America where the threads of loss and solace, past and present are intricately and forever woven together. Lowinsky's lyricism brings us into a consciousness that is scarred by a past that also "stun(s) her with joy."

The book's opening poem invokes Oma, the ghost of her artist grandmother who was her only surviving grandparent:

Oma come visit me sit at your easel as you always did

your brush poised your eyes as fierce

as a tiger's show me how to create

the luminous moment among so many shades

These few lines introduce Lowinsky's theme of transformation and redemption through the creation of art. Her eyes, like Oma's, are as fierce as a tiger's. Lowinsky's gaze is resolute. Her refusal to look away from the devastation of the past and the realities of fear and dislocation provides the impetus for her own art making, using a pen and ink instead of a brush and paint. Her poems act as an invocation to resurrect the ghosts (shades) of the past—to bring all that surrounds them into an instant of insight. In the title villanelle Lowinsky writes:

and my grandmother sang lieder of long ago


my child's soul was full of glimmerings the glamour of the gone the glow

of candles borne by children into the dark German woods the illumination

of the evergreen all this I saw and more when my father's fierce fingers made Bach flow


long gone now my grandmother my father although

sometimes I call them back by villanelle by incantation

come my fierce father play for me water my soul in Bach's flow

sing my sad grandmother your song is my covenant with long ago

Fierceness is a requirement of art making. Through art, Lowinsky traverses time and place. Art conjures up the ghosts of family and cultural history. The music of Bach leads a young Lowinsky into the "valley of the shadow" towards the world of her imagination where she sees "the glow/of candles borne by children into the dark German woods." The children's hands hold the future, the promise of enlightenment, the hope of the forever green. Lowinsky's grandmother's lieder presage her granddaughter's future as a poet. By the end of the poem, Lowinsky has stepped into her father's place resurrecting the past with her poetry. Her words have entered historical time, joining the timeless stream of music alongside Bach, Mozart, and Schubert.

There are poems about Lowinsky's aging, her husband, immediate family, her conflicted relationship with her scholar father who "pounded golden nails / into [her] brain." Some poems are humorous, some celebratory. The sensual always co-exists with the disembodied. The poem "summer fruit" begins with:

if joy were a taste on my tongue

it would be you

juice of the peach

Lowinsky's love for and deep connection to the women in her family runs throughout the collection. In the poem "great lake of my mother" she addresses her mother:

have I told you it's from you I've learned

endurance reflection

how pain crystallized

can create

such radiance

The poems also paint a portrait of Lowinsky the poet—a woman whose experience, imagination and artistry have culminated in this haunting and life-affirming book. The last line of the book reads: " . . . the woman remembers her notebook her pen."

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Muse of Summer

The Story Behind the Poem
The muse makes weird things happen, excites your passions, moves your soul.
Lowinsky, The Sister from Below, pp. 2-3

Interior of My Grandparents North Berkeley Home
Oil Painting, 1943, by Emma Hoffman

Summer is my season. Summer fruit is a joy. I love it for breakfast. This morning it was glowing Bing cherries, sweet strawberries, a half a golden apricot, a handful of blueberries with my morning yogurt. Our summer garden is a joy. Dan tends the roses. They respond in vibrant yellow, salmon pink, fire orange. He brings bright treasure into the house. The Buddha of the kitchen window sits surrounded by all this color—his eyes closed. Mine aren’t. Dan’s tomatoes are gathering red. Their smell is ecstatic—sends me back to the girl I was, on summer vacation in Vermont—intoxicated by the smell of tomatoes in the sun. Dan feeds the birds. Finches and hummingbirds come, flashing their yellow bellies, their fuschia throats.

Summer is my season, the season of my birth. Summer’s colors and smells take me back to my new baby days in my grandparents’ North Berkeley home. I feel at home in summer, in my body, in light dresses, in my connection to earth and sky. I feel held by the warmth, blessed by the light, until the fog rolls in. Then I complain about what a cold wet blanket the fog is, how it interrupts my summer bliss. Dan, who doesn’t do so well in the heat, is grateful for the fog. And I must admit, there have been a few days, as the earth warms, that I too have welcomed the fog.

It’s not just the fog that intrudes on my bliss. For the summer I was born was war time, Shoah time—a terrible time for the world, for the Jews, for my family. My immediate family had made it out of Europe, and after a period of limbo, had found a home in America. They were haunted by those who did not get out, especially by the ghosts of my father’s parents. The ghosts wove themselves into my earliest sense of the world. They are always with me.

All this sensual delight, this stimulation, this seduction and color, this hot and cold, these ghosts that wander between the worlds, are heaven for a Muse. She thrives on summer fruit and roses, on tree light and dancing shadows, on long reveries in which the ghosts hold forth. She lures me to places I’ve never gone before. She rummages through her dress up box and puts on costumes I’ve never seen. One summer she showed up as Iris, a goddess I‘d never kept company with before. Iris demanded a poem.

Iris is the rainbow goddess, goddess of color, goddess of vision. She is a flower; she is psychopomp—she bridges the worlds between humans and gods. She is associated with writing, for writing bridges the inner and outer worlds. Some say she has recently appeared to star gazers as a planet. She guides the souls of dead women. No wonder she showed up, demanding her due. She was one of the goddesses present at my birth, and I had not honored her. Here is the poem that came:

Regarding Irisblue eyes are hers dark almost violet like the fierce
painter’s eyes of my mother’s mother and she slips off
her rainbow bridge making sense of the vision I had
as a girl of a being of light crossing over the water

she says she was there at my birth she
and her sea sister Thetis it was dawn
on a summer Wednesday far from the transit camp
Lag Westerbork where my father’s mother gave up

the ghost and Iris a small recently discovered
planet rose on the eastern horizon she the forgotten
goddess who carries a box of writing implements draws color
out of the glistening air is good at delicate negotiations between

those who belong to forever and those who are just
passing through gathered blessings for me from the sea
full of secrets full of wandering fish from the dead
who gave me sea horses to ride goat song

and shimmer my baby body was touched by the purple
of ghosts their blues their deep maroons and I was gifted
with every pleasure of voice of tongue of kicking feet full
of my mother’s sweet milk all joy to her who had longed for a child

and my mother’s mother painted my sea shell sleep and the red begonia
which glowed on the dining room table it was California and the yellow
hills stirred their big lion bodies and my hands reached out to touch
the light ah! I can see her face who is lilac and rose whose nipples

are apple blossoms who flings her green breasts at the dreaming sky
even now sixty years later as I sit on a wooden porch I can see
how she draws violet and orange out of trees words with their long
roots out of the seas and at the horizon she gathers me gold and silver
out of the summer air
(Published in Adagio and Lamentation)

Often my poems take me places I don’t know I’m going, show me inner landscapes, lead me to sacred springs I had not imagined. Sometimes when I read them years later, I understand that they have been prophetic. I suddenly understand my recent obsession with writing poems that respond to my Oma’s paintings. Iris has been engaged in “delicate negotiations” between Oma’s soul and mine. She carries a “box of writing implements” and “draws color out of the glistening air.” Iris bridges the world between writing and painting, between the dead and the living. She is what Jung would call the “transcendent function.” Jung writes:
The process of coming to terms with the unconscious is a true labour….It has been named the “transcendent function” because it represents a function based on real and “imaginary,” or rational and irrational, data, thus bridging the yawning gulf between conscious and unconscious. It is a natural process, a manifestation of the energy that springs from the tension of opposites, and it consists in a series of fantasy-occurrences which appear spontaneously in dreams and visions. Collected Works V. 7, 121
I began my collection of poems “Adagio and Lamentation” with the poem “Oma” in which I invoked her, asked her to “come visit me.” Years later, thanks to Iris’ “delicate negotiations,” she has. It is summer, my season, and I sit in deep conversation with my Oma. I spend hours looking at her paintings, at her oil painting of the “red begonia/ which glowed on the dining room table.” I am sure my baby eyes were transfixed by that flower; I am sure I reached for it with eager hands. In this season of my birth I am given back something of my earliest images, Thanks to Iris and her rainbow walking between the worlds, to the “transcendent function,” to Oma’s skillful paint brush and her willing ghost.