War & Love, Love & War: New & Selected Poems

Aharon Shabtai, trans. from the Hebrew by Peter Cole, New Directions, $15.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1890-0
A household name in Israel, Shabtai is the author of the PEN Translation Award–winning J'Accuse, 18 volumes of verse, and of numerous translations from Greek to Hebrew. One finds in this selection, spanning the period 1986–2008, a voice mostly elided from American mappings of the Israel/Palestine question: acute, unblinking, unafraid to question, and aware of the stakes. The selection begins matter-of-factly: "These creatures in helmets and khakis,/ I say to myself, aren't Jews,/ in the truest sense of the word. A Jew/ doesn't dress himself up with weapons like jewelry/ doesn't believe in the barrel of a gun aimed at a target,/ but in the thumb of the child who was shot at—." But to reduce the book to that would be to miss the complexity of "Love," an excerpted long poem that recalls Creeley's For Love even as it moves into an erotic anguish all its own, and the twinkling humor of poems like "Tanya Was Gorgeous"—itself situated in an uncategorizable elegy: part kaddish for a person, part for a marriage. Cole does a remarkable job bringing lightness and immediacy to Shabtai's quotidian observations and depth to his spiritual delvings, making this an excellent introduction to a vast and varied oeuvre. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/20/2010
Release date: 10/01/2010
Genre: Fiction
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