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Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss reviewed in The Colorado Review

In an interview with Ammiel Alcalay in the excellent anthology Keys to the Garden: New Israeli Writing, the Israeli poet Tikva Levi describes how she was railroaded out of Hebrew University on account of her interest in Arabic literature. In her view, Mizrahi (Israeli Jews who claim Arabic origin) suffer from the political and cultural hegemony of Ashkenazi Jews, the marginalization of the Arabic language and its literature being an expression of this. Levi’s situation is not exceptional; following his publication of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), Ilan Pappé, in an interview with The Guardian, faced calls for the end of his job and threats to his life. For an Israeli to seek contact and solidarity with Palestinians, to question the state as it drifts to the right, poses the risk of exile from the cultural center and possibly from one’s family, friends, and/or faith.

Morani Kornberg-Weiss, an Israeli writing now from America, takes this risk in her collection Dear Darwish via a series of plaintive, lyric letters in the spirit of Spicer to the Palestinian cultural hero Mahmoud Darwish. These letters to Darwish begin with prosey lines that crackle in their directness: “Mahmoud, if I am an Israeli woman living in Buffalo and / you reside in IsraelPalestine on my bookshelf and I read and transform your poems, are we still telling the same story? Mahmoud, do I have the right to use your words? Mahmoud, would you grant me permission to do this? Can we work together to define it and its possibilities?” The frank enthusiasm of the prose is counterpointed with a more meditative examination of the finer difficulties of addressing “the Other”:

What if I stand above you
(in this poem):

I
You

Would you think it strange?

What if you
stand above me?

You
me

or:

You
I

I don’t know how to share

this poem with you.

These lines, sorting out the micropolitics of syntax, dramatize the difficulty of Kornberg-Weiss’s project of simply addressing one man, which stands in for the larger difficulties of working out the relations between people whose mutual history is marked most visibly by traumatic violence, displacement, and dispossession. The minute scale of this struggle nearly grinds the lines to a halt. Yet their near exhaustion can also be read as wit or play. In fact, it’s the wonder of this collection that Kornberg-Weiss moves from heavy material, which would become leaden in some writers’ hands , to a series of provisional speculations and envois, seeking dialogue over sententious proclamation.

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Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss reviewed in The Iowa Review

In her finely crafted debut collection, Dear Darwish, Morani Kornberg-Weiss offers readers a graceful synthesis of domestic imagery and political life. By challenging the boundaries between public and private spaces, and between public and private types of address, the poems in this deftly rendered first book show us that a morning cup of coffee, a dish, and a darkened room can serve as a point of entry to questions that are global in scope. Presented as a series of letters to the iconic Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Kornberg-Weiss's poems suggest that the traditionally feminine realm of the home remains at the very center of much larger political and ethical conflicts, presenting us with a perfect matching of form and content all the while.

With that in mind, I find it fascinating that Kornberg-Weiss engages with the epistolary tradition, as letters are frequently categorized as part of the private, and hence domestic, realm of discourse. As the book unfolds, Kornberg-Weiss politicizes this seemingly feminine type of writing, revealing the myriad possibilities for activism within the epistolary tradition. Consider "Dear Mahmoud":

Many poems are
dedicated
to other writers.
The indication: a 'for.'

I wonder about these offerings.
Do they begin with the addressee in mind
or does the gift-receiver appear midway?

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The Electric Affinities by Wade Stevenson reviewed

  

 

A book worth reading for the life lessons it recalls, in spite of the ironic fact that the protagonists of this story, by nature of their privileged circumstances, seemed to have been largely exempted from the initiations of life’s burdens and responsibilities at this point in their lives.  It’s the reader’s own hindsight that completes this portrait of an era, set in the summer of 1969. The story revolves around the emotions, observations and uninhibited interactions of a group of young and casual socialites that come together in the Hamptons-Sag Harbor scene and end up hashing out their attractions, impulsive philosophies of man-woman relationships, daydreaming and experimenting with a degree of urgency.

The notion of any memoir of what it was like to be young and engaged in the summer of 1969 gets confused with the grandiosity of myths about the counterculture. But here, the author assures us that being an unformed romantic youth, full of yearning and naïve aspirations, self-indulgent and ardently single-minded,  was no different then, than it is now. Friends give you trouble instead of companionship and family seems indifferent to your real métier.

The narrative flow in this novel reminded me of watching an Eric Rohmer film! Here are the quotidian moments of hanging out on the beach but contemplating the attainment of being elsewhere, moving around at vacation pace, but psychologically sprinting. They strain to be intelligent and articulate, winning over the admiration of their peers, but they frequently fail to live up to their own desires to connect with each other.  There is the contrast between what the characters say and what they are actually doing, and how things turn out, that fuels the drama.

I gave it 5 stars because it’s a great study in social collisions, one which perfectly describes why the baby boomers were also wistfully dubbed the me generation.

— Jane Stevenson

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A Reading and a Review with Sophie Seita

 

Saturdays Live: Eugene Ostashevsky, Holly Pester and Sophie Seita in collaboration with The White Review from Serpentine Galleries on Vimeo.

Poets Eugene Ostashevsky, Holly Pester and Sophie Seita present readings in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery's Powder Room, within the exhibition curated by Martino Gamper, design is a state of mind. 
Programmed in collaboration with The White Review.

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Sophie Seita’s Artfully Fragmented Fantasias in Counting

BY HARRIET STAFF

Sophie Seita

Bookslut’s Kristina Marie Darling reviews Sophie Seita’s first book,Fantasias in Counting (just released, BlazeVOX 2014)! “Although many of her works are concise and carefully crafted, they demand an active participation on the part of the reader, something that an audience would not suspect given the regimented forms she frequently invokes (musical scales, exercises).” More:

The reader     says
                              even as/if painting
                              wouldn’t sight the single but the total unity.

The reader     says
                              wouldn’t
                              cannot sleep.

Thinking about lines now
Thinking about lines now
Thinking about lines now

What’s interesting about this passage is the way that Seita writes as though she is conforming to the reader’s will, yet at the same time challenges and undermines the expectations that most readers would bring to such a text. Passages like this one, beautifully and artfully fragmented, call upon the reader to forge connections between different elements of the poem, prompting them to participate actively in the process of creating meaning from the work. Fantasias in Counting is filled with thought-provoking works like this one, which show an astute awareness of readerly expectations and the consequences of the work’s necessary challenges to the entrenched relationship between the artist and her audience.

seita

Read the full review at BookslutPhoto of Sophie Seita by Lanny Jordan Jackson.

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Music for another life by Kristina Marie Darling and Max Avi Kaplan reviewed at Poet Hound


Max Avi Kaplan’s photography capture a glamorous 1950’s high-style woman who is spun into a wife who reveals the unglamorous side of domestic bliss under Kristina Marie Darling’s skilled hands. I am not able to share the photos that pair with each poem, so please sneak a peek any way you can and/or purchase a copy for yourself, the photos truly set the scene for each piece. A woman named Adelle, who longs for domestic bliss and finds none, she is one who abandons the notion only to reveal the complexities of having been part of married life and then no longer being part of the world so highly touted by conventional society. The balance of being married and no longer being married tilts back and forth in the pages as Adele’s thoughts melt into readers’ minds as Darling challenge the “conventional norm.” Darling and Kaplan bring forth the all too familiar diatribe of women who “snag a man” only to become invisible to them as they keep the house clean while also trying to strap on their high heels and dresses only to find their once devoted lover glued to the television screen or worse, running off to be with another woman who has distracted them away from home. Below I am happy to reveal a few samples:

ADELLE BURIES HERSELF FOR A WEEK

I always wondered what it would be like to live alone. Back then I thought I might still acquire friends, hobbies, or pets. I knew I’d keep the tea kettle warm, real daisies blooming outside the window. What I didn’t imagine back then was the stillness. Every room seems like an ocean. I tried buying myself new things: a television, some dishes, a new bed set. Now my pillow is soft but the stone walls are firm. No one ever wants to come in for tea or cocoa. Every time I close my eyes I hear the kettle shriek.

I love this piece because it hits home for me in a different way. Whenever I lived completely alone I found myself very happy yet noticed that the social life dropped off in a dramatic way just as Darling indicates above. I especially love the line “Every room seems like an ocean,” because I know exactly what she means. Each room’s emptiness vast and expanding when you are all alone. When you go to bed alone, you imagine sounds that are not there because there is no one else to distract you from yourself. Here Adelle is adjusting to life on her own and finding the balance of trying to make herself happy in this new state of being alone while thinking about all that she wishes for such as friends dropping in or pets greeting her at the door.


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Photos on flickr