Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2007 - $7.00
I was cheered by the back-cover blurb stating that Norbert Hirschhorn is a physician specializing in public health, and by his photo (athletic septuagenarian in handsome profile). He’s had a life, I thought; he’ll have something to say. And he does. True, some of his free-verse poems plumb the expected—but if a well-lived life doesn’t entitle you to an elegiac look back at your conception, your ancestry, your place in the universe, I don’t know what does.
Besides, Hirschhorn has enough writerly discipline to make his more cosmic musings specific and interesting. In the pamphlet’s title poem, a jog through New Haven becomes a meditation on abandonment by God. My usual reaction to this subject (please don’t go there) is held in abeyance by the mathematical precision with which Hirschhorn places himself on the spinning Earth in its spinning galaxy: “Earth twirls me on its hip, west to east,/ gyrating through seasons … But [God]’s running away from us,/ nearly the speed of light…”. The scientist saves the poet from bathos every time, though sometimes he runs right up to its edge—as in ‘Tov Nun Tzaddik Bes Hey’, where he visits a Jewish cemetery in Germany and remembers his “enchanting Aunt Hania” who survived the War. He tells her story with dry eyes, the only way to make a poem like this work. (But I wish he’d translated the title. And why on earth is the pamphlet’s cover a photo of graves with crosses on them?)
The poems that hooked me were the last twelve, ‘Finland: A Suite of Seasons’, chronicling a year in Helsinki. Hirschhorn is so in love with the otherness of the place—its light, its sibilant language—that he drops the cosmic tone and simply describes it:
In the deep blue pre-dawn
moths jitter about a streetlamp,
Venus, Jupiter shine white blessings.
As a result, these poems have the truest resonance of all.
Available from the poet direct at: 115 Greencroft Gardens, London NW6 3PE
The Common Reader says of Sailing with the Pleiades
I chose to read this chapbook because it was my introduction to an American chapbook and I liked the title. The notes at the end gave explanations about several things—none of which I understood.
Do you have to be American to understand Hirschhorn’s poems? I don’t think so: just more familiar with the references within the poems.
Without completely understanding some poems, there were verses which touched me. The second verse of ‘Excerpts From A Field Guide to North American Trees’ I read over and over because it is such an ordinary thing to walk beneath a tree but such extraordinary way to describe it:
Every mid-summer when we pass beneath
the linden, we breathe a piece of heaven—
golden clusters the honey-bees’ favorite.
I hope the next time I am beneath a tree I’ll remember to breathe a piece of heaven.