By Anna Rabinowitz. Tupelo Press. $14.95.
Reviewed by David Kozubei.

Because this is a hurried review, it cannot be the lengthy exploratory result of persistent meditation over a period of years that this poem deserves, like all great work, although I have already read it a number of times.

Several decades ago, George Barker wrote:

By being sorry for myself I began
And now am sorry for the rest of man.

Darkling begins as a welling-up of memories and justifications, of the relationship between a daughter (the speaker of the poems) and her mother. The mother has been dead for some time. Like a river, the memories broaden out, to include a brother, and her parents’ origins and immigration to the USA.

Then comes a tour de force preceded by the word premises, which widens the theme, as if the river (my analogy, not the poet’s) is trying out different ways it can go into the past, where the immigrants came from. Other sections narrow back to the mother and daughter theme, and then widen back to the relatives (and others) that the immigrants left behind, and who will be shards and sherds in the oncoming Holocaust in Europe. These, along with the relationship between the mother and father, and the increasing encroachment of the Holocaust in the rest of the poem, are the themes that play like the flames of a fire with each other. Incandescent Imagination sets fire to the paucity of individual facts which survived the Holocaust.

The tone is unremittingly elegiac, like Gorecki’s Holocaust music. It is not an easy read, but only as hard as it has to be, and those who read it will come away in some way better persons for a time at least, and with the knowledge that they have done something important. As for the poet, she is fortunate to have found a way to encopass so many of her life-interests in one book. Not a common fate even among good writers.

This is not the place to go into the meaning of the many devices that, if noticed, enhance this poem; but mention must be made that without distortion or intrusion, it includes a devise used by some poets in Scotland, England and America in the seventeenth century (and in some other literatures at other times). This device uses the first letter of each line in a poem to form a vertical phrase or sentence. In this poem, a reader can make up all of Thomas Hardy’s poem The Darkling Thrush which is about a bedraggled thrush singing its heart out in the growing dusk of a desolate winter’s day.

Charles Reznikoff’s long impersonal poem Holocaust, along with the very personal Darkling, are the ineradicable Twin Towers of Holocaust poetry in English. Nor should Jerome Rothenberg’s Khurbn be forgotten.

© David Kozubei 2001

An edited version of this review appeared in the online magazine Frigatzine. It can be found at http://www.frigatezine.com/review/poetry/rpy03koz.html.