Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Hearing Eye, 2009  £4.00

www.hearingeye.org

Reviewed by Rob A Mackenzie, Sue Butler and Matt Merritt

 

Rob A Mackenzie:

This pamphlet explores issues of identity, culture and language in various times and settings e.g. Poland, Germany, Bosnia, Italy and Israel/Palestine. A recurring theme is the strength of the human spirit in times of trouble and the presence of hope in dark moments.

 

In the final poem, ‘Gathering In’, Jude Rosen concludes:

 

It is enough

to have half a line

or a small gap in the wall

through which, at any moment,

light may come.

 

This is saved from banality because it comes at the end of a sequence of poems about Israel and Palestine, including one (‘Qalqiliya Aquifer’) in which the precious commodity of water is siphoned to Israel through a channel in a town’s wall. Also, a man and his child, taking aubergines through the wall’s gateway, are pushed back by soldiers. So the “small gap” can be a complex one. The whole idea is further complicated in ‘The Depot’, set in a post-conflict Sarajevo museum. Artists conjure new artworks out of nothing—a bridge, dancing skeletons, green-striped flags, and:

 

Dmitreovic shielded his portraits in broken glass,

crushing old shoes and waiting for fresh eggs to be attached.

Juan Munoz hung a man, mouth stuffed, from a ceiling beam.

 

The artworks bear witness to horror. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that, in unlikely ways, the artworks are redemptive, are another example of a gap where the light may come in?

 

The best poems in this pamphlet certainly don’t deal in simplicities, which made me less certain of ‘The Orchid’ where a scene of urban deprivation is punctuated by a white orchid strewn across a path “with a missing flower and three buds/ unopened at the tip.” This symbol just seemed too easy, almost an evasion from reflecting on what really lies behind images of superficial decay and deprivation in communities.

 

Two rather turgid sonnets on the theme of pain seemed to me like an over-intellectualised response to suffering, but not an intellectuality that yielded insight. I much preferred Jude Rosen’s writing when her thoughts stemmed from her imagery rather than felt imposed on them. For instance, in ‘The Loss of Particulars’, scholars try to detail the exact shapes of snowflakes, but:

 

Even though the thaw

fed water into a thousand

tributaries, each snowflake was

unretrieved in itself, and disappeared

in the overwhelming that unmade it.

 

I’d question some of the line-breaks, but the thought is both interesting and relevant to matters of history beyond snow.

 

This pamphlet definitely has something going for it, but it lacks consistency. Some poems were much more interesting and much better written than others, but the best of them were thought-provoking and unafraid to tackle important themes in engaging ways.

 

Sue Butler:

Jude Rosen was born in the East End of London and has spent time in Italy and Germany doing research on fascism and resistance. Her cultural landscapes and the landscapes of her travels form the backdrop of these poems. A Small Gateway opens with a poem called ‘Acquiring substance’:

 

I was born in a hole in the air

where the atmosphere was rent

so it was difficult to attach

to loose fittings. . .

 

This surreal lyricism appears over and over again. Tension is another constant theme. There is also strudel, tumble dryers in a basement, flowers on wallpaper that bees think are real, the cobbled alleys of Jerusalem and the man in Tel Aviv who says, “’when there’s no peace/ there is a roadblock for every dream.’”

 

In a variety of languages Jude Rosen provides a glorious cacophony of images. One that struck me very powerfully occurs in ‘Framed’:

 

Far away light radiates

from the glass cupola

 

the only transparency

in the bone structure of Berlin

 

Another comes in ‘Starlings’:

 

riding the light as a raincloud threatens

to overwhelm

 

and submerge the lone voices

you can just discern.

 

Yet another comes in ‘Buchenwald: August 1989’, where she says, “. . .I had never heard/ there was a Buchenwald/ at Buchenwald”. I have to say his shocked me. And it is in this poem that two issues I have with this collection condense. Jude Rosen has an abundance of material which, to my ear, she doesn’t always mine deeply enough. For me she could have done so much more with both the image of the beech wood and the fact that she didn’t know it existed. Of course it’s easy to say but as a reader I sense so much lurking in the shadows of these poems that I’d put what little money I have on Jude Rosen being able to do this.

 

And all too often she doesn’t trust her own skill—which is madness, because skill she has in whacking great shed-loads, if you’ll excuse the modern parlance.

 

For example, at the end of the poem, when she has missed the last bus, her “thumb up hopeful of a lift, an ice-blue/ Trabi hurtles by, with three people/ hanging out, thumbing their noses” and this provides all the reader needs to know. The last couple of lines, however, seem to me to be just explanation; and what Jude Rosen’s poems don’t need is explanation. She creates marvellous gateways into real and cultural landscapes; she just needs to have faith that her words are doing the job she asks of them.

 

In ‘Mama Loschen’ (mother tongue) we are told:

 

How hard to tend a land so far from home, with so

few means and nowhere else to go.

 

Though she seems comfortable with many languages, Jude Rosen’s mama loschen is clearly poetry.

 

 

Matt Merritt:

Travel is a fertile source of subject matter for contemporary poets, but the journey that Jude Rosen takes in this pamphlet is a more satisfyingly vivid one than most.

 

In its early poems, she weighs up cultural origins, with Mama Loschen (meaning ‘mother tongue’) considering “the ferment and germination of our words”, a mixture that permeates the whole book; and her well-drawn sketches of a London Jewish childhood are shot through with snatches of Yiddish, making them all the more satisfying to read aloud.

 

From there, she moves both physically (to mainland Europe, and on to Israel) and in time (looking back across the tragedies of the 20th century). Her style is cool, precise free verse, with the poetry’s effects coming from the understated way she treats those tragedies.

‘Broken Star’, for example, takes the Jewish Museum in Berlin as its starting point, asking the question “How can we live with the pieces?” and ends with (heartbreaking in its simplicity):

 

In the Garden of Remembrance I step jittering

onto the path and trip into olive trees, try

to hold onto branches. It follows—but it doesn’t

follow—I should not be here.

 

The poems dealing with Israel and Palestine take the same restrained approach, make no easy judgments, and are all the more effective for being placed in such a wide historical context. While she’s honest about difficulties and obstacles to be faced, she uses the sense of history she’s painstakingly created to suggest the possibility of change, however hard-earned, with the final poem, ‘Gathering In’, closing with:

 

It is enough

to have half a line

or a small gap in the world

through which, at any moment,

light may come.

 

It’s the end of an unusual, and always engaging journey, and one you’ll probably want to return to.