Friday, November 16, 2012

Rachel Tzvia Back’s New Collection

A Messenger Comes
by Rachel Tzvia Back

From Singing Horse Press
5251 Quaker Hill Lane
San Diego, 92130

An excerpt from A Messenger Comes appears below these words of praise.

Rachel Tzvia Back’s A Messenger Comes is poetry that, without apology, centers of grief and its faithful companion, memory. The reality of death—always a shock—pulls us inward and apart, but the messenger from the living insists that we mourn while we continue on with our lives. Back’s poems are moving, eloquent, and delicately honed.
—Irena Klepfisz, author of Keeper of Accounts, professor of Women’s Studies, Barnard College

A Messenger Comes is no simple book of consolation. It is a book of questions: Can grief be sustained? What can we learn from the grief of another? Can we know another’s grief? What can we say to console her? What if grieving is not something that we should get over? What are the connections between grief and memory? How does a poem intensify our memory of the ones we have lost? Lost to what? A harrowing and inspiring book of poems!
—Hank Lazer, author of The New Spirit and Deathwatch for My Father, Editor, Contemporary & Modern Poetics Series, University of Alabama press

In the poet’s own words:

The title A Messenger Comes is lifted from a passage I read in Leon Weiseltier's seminal scholarly work Kaddish – on the history and evolution of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning. The extract – which is my new book's epigraph – goes as follows:

A messenger comes to the mourner's house.
"Come," says the messenger, "you are needed."
"I cannot come," says the mourner, "my spirit is broken."
"That is why you are needed," says the messenger

The book is a collection of elegies for my sister and my father. It is very much a book of a broken spirit.

Excerpt from A Messenger Comes by Rachel Tzvia Back


          (for my father, on his dying)


In worded a world
how broken
from beginning:

sunburst and blossoms all
of creation ruses

of beauty –
fragrant thicket no less

we exist
in a shattered vessel
shards at our bare feet –

Someone’s mother cries out
Stand still or
you’ll get hurt
– and

you try hard in the slivered
not to move.


Day asks: What does it matter
putting this anticipated

on the page our
for imagined emptiness

of after –
direct half-

worded sorrow to tell
his tale or
your own

inked in another – it's
just another
loss what

does it matter
it has always been

shattered –
Day asks
then asks again.


Because what
can be said?
In the end

the spoken stands
with bare spindly arms

its unspoken
brother what

with tight knots to
your ravaged throat so

what you do
speak is always
poor and pale

of what
you do not.


You are dying.

But you do not say so
we do not say –

in steadfast

the winds orbit
echoing inner chambers where we
linger in

your researching
options thick
folders of studies

long letters to the scattered
family reports
of shifting numbers

platelets and neutrophiles
defiance of

your fall.

Reprinted from A Messenger Comes by permission of Singing Horse Press and Rachel Tzvia Back. Copyright 2012 by Rachel Tzvia Back.

Rachel Tzvia Back – poet, translator and professor of literature – lives in the Galilee, where her great, great, great grandfather settled in the 1830s. Her poetry collections include Azimuth (Sheep Meadow, 2001), The Buffalo Poems (Duration Press, 2003), On Ruins & Return: Poems 1999-2005 (Shearsman Boks, 2007), and A Messenger Comes (Singing Horse Press, 2012). Back's translations of the poetry of pre-eminent Hebrew poet Lea Goldberg, published in Lea Goldberg: Selected Poetry and Drama (Toby Press 2005) represent the most extensive selection of Goldberg's poetry in English and were awarded a 2005 PEN Translation Award. Back has translated into English poetry and prose other significant Hebrew writers, including Dahlia Ravikovitch, Tuvia Reubner, Hamutal Bar Yosef, and Haviva Pedaya. Back is the editor and primary translator of the English version of the anthology With an Iron Pen: Twenty Years of Hebrew Protest Poetry (SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions, 2009) – a collection named "haunting" and "historic" by American poet Adrienne Rich. Ms. Back’s poems have been anthologized in After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events .

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