cover image LIVING IN THE PAST


Philip Schultz, . . Harcourt, $23 (88pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100872-8

A worried boy gets ready for his bar mitzvah, a grown man looks back on his extended family, and a somber poet reflects on the Holocaust in this moving, if hardly groundbreaking, sequence of 81 untitled poems. The first 54 remain narrative in their focus, setting the scene in "Rochester, NY, in the fifties, when all the Displaced Persons/ move in and suddenly even the elms look defeated." Schultz (The Holy Worm of Praise ) introduces an immigrant milieu where "Everyone dickers with God." A pyromaniac uncle, a suspicious grandmother, the sexy "new girl at the end of the ally" and an overconfident rabbi provide the supporting cast. Central figures are the boy himself (never named); the boy's father; and Mr. Schwartzman, a Holocaust survivor whose suicide gives Schultz a sad counterpoint to the boy's own coming of age. The last 27 poems reflect on the story from the vantage point of an adulthood where "One needs to be practical"; citing Jewish philosophers (Martin Buber among them) Schultz views the past as "houses full of performing souls, each a single/ beautiful spark." Schultz's long, clear free verse lines maintain a trustworthy voice; set beside earlier poetic takes, however, on American Jews' postwar inheritance (Robert Pinsky, say, or Adrienne Rich), Schultz's offerings seem neither formally, nor thematically, new. (Apr.)