Academic journal article Shofar

On "Afikomens"

Academic journal article Shofar

On "Afikomens"

Article excerpt

I started writing this sequence a couple of years ago, just after reading the most recent poems in Harvey Shapiros new and collected, The Sights Along the Harbor. The work left a powerful impression on me. First, there was Harvey's book title, which echoed with the title of one of Charles Reznikoff's books, By the Well of Living and Seeing. Embedded in words like "along" and "by" as used in those titles, are the suggestive reminders of a practice of witnessing and of"devekuth," of nearness and farness that both prefigure and animate the diasporic poetics of both poets. Rezi's poetry deeply influenced Harvey's later work, as it influenced mine and so many other poets, Jewish and non-Jewish, who came into contact with it. Harvey had clearly studied the seemingly straightforward, unadorned yet subtlely musical lines of Rezi and had sought to find, in their Jewish plain song, an equivalent for his own experience and poetic ambition. Here is Harvey's "God Poem":

Nobody does silence as well as God.

He fills whole cathedrals with it,

store-fronts and synagogues.

We once believed in the music of the spheres,

but now we hear silence - static and silence.

It can be overwhelming - the way God

was said to be overwhelming in the old books:

when he talked to Job for example,

or when he instructed Moses on

what plagues to deal out

or when he described to Noah just

what he was going to do, and then did it.

Better to be nourished by the silence.

There is, in the poem, naturally, the silence of God here and now. If the ancient God warns by way of speaking of catastrophe, there is the modern God of the present, the God who may well have disappeared, who does not answer for the Shoah, or for the millions of other crimes and unnatural deaths caused by his creatures. But there is also - and maybe this is only for the poet to sense - a literary silence to Harvey's lines, lines that refuse, like Rezi's, to add anything excessive to the language of the poem, anything other than the gracefulness that comes with the words themselves and with their spoken rhythms. …

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