White Leaf Press, 2007 - £3.00
Joanna Ezekiel's style of writing is echoed in the layout of this very low-key collection. From the simple cover with black and white photograph, the small plain font, to the brief biographical details given, everything is understated. Ezekiel writes in a bare, uncluttered way, which makes for straightforward reading. Poems did not jump out at me, but the more I read, the more I felt each word had been carefully chosen and placed.
At the heart of Safe Passage are a number of poems on a family theme with intriguing references to Shabbat candles and Seder night. One always has to be careful about assuming the speaker in a poem is the poet, but with mentions of grandparents, mum and dad, aunts and uncles, and one acknowledgement to the poet’s grandmother, I concluded that the “I” in these poems was Ezekiel herself and sensed affection behind the sometimes detached tone. The two poems which worked best for me were the delightfully named ‘Uncle Alec and Elijah’; and ‘Grandfather’, a vivid narration of the kind of story that lives on in family lore.
.......... that battalion my grandfather
almost joined, that tracked away from him
when he changed his mind, are long since dead, lie
under the charred French earth, the lot of them.
Ezekiel is very good at painting images with her small, neat brush. In ‘Candles’, “wax tears wept/ the outline of India” on the white tablecloth; I found this technique most effective in the family poems. Some other pieces came over as rather cold, or perhaps it was the distancing effect of the very small print.
However, the collection closed on an upbeat note with a nice little finale, ‘The Night Before Your Best Man’s Speech’, in which the Best Man of the title is “waiting to uncork” said speech. Cue applause.