Laurence Carr reviews The Stones of Lifta; poems by Marc Kaminsky

The Stones of Lifta by Marc Kaminsky; Dos Madres Press, 2019. ISBN: 978-1-948017-58-9

While most books of poetry address our inner lives through image and language, others hold up a mirror to the outside world. Marc Kaminsky’s poems in his powerful new volume, The Stones of Lifta, address one of the most difficult topics that we face: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, set in Lifta outside of Jerusalem with the author creating voices from both sides. 

The book does not blink at controversy, and I’m sure that it is a work that will bring forth strong opinions from our readership. It is the duty of art, both literary and visual, to ask challenging moral questions, and by sharing the poetic narratives offered in The Stones of Lifta, we will be able to reflect deeply upon the Middle-East conflict.  

The book contains a series of linked poems and short narratives with a lyricism that bring them into the realm of prose poems. The pieces become inner monologues and dialogues that interweave among characters, the author and the reader. The more formal poems, for the most part, maintain their poignancy not only because of the subjects explored, but with the line breaks that Mr. Kaminsky has chosen to point up a singular word or image. The reader is able to grasp an urgency to these pieces, many written in short stanzas which sharpen their contents, as in “The Key”:

the key to the door

that’s long gone

hangs from my neck

by day I wait

for the night to return

me to my village

of dreams where I look

for the family

photos I didn’t have time to pack

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The prose poems have a more narrative feel, like that of fables, each centered around a strong plot point and arcing to an ending. I quote here from the beginning of “Gray Bird”:

“Once, crossing a bridge at Ismalia on my way to Sahar Tumaizi’s sweet shop, I passed a gray bird on the ground. Something about it stopped me. It wasn’t on its legs, it lay there as if nesting on stone. It took me a while to realize it would never fly again.”

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There may be a criticism that a few of the poems feel overwritten, but one cannot fault the writer for deeply exploring the subject matter. As I read the book, I wondered if Mr. Kaminsky is planning more prose work examining similar content.

Literature, in this case poetry, has always stood at the forefront of addressing political and social issues, presenting points of view that explore our shared human condition. Perhaps it is art, and in this case, the language of poetry, that will bring us into dialogue with one another. 

Here, we present here the book’s opening poem, “Hinani.”

Hinani

Unworthy as I am, when I saw

footage of my friend Menachem climbing beneath

the Jerusalem hills with an old man—

a displaced person—an Arab

who guided him into the ruins of his home

in Lifta, I felt something

become as clear and actual to me

as if for one pulse beat I heard

a voice speaking to my heart.

Call it the divine, it is the voice that calls

to us once or twice in a lifetime.

We recognize it immediately and answer, Here I am,

for we remember it from before

we were born, and remain ready all our lives to go

where it sends us. It spoke clearly

and distinctly as I sat with Menachem

in my Brooklyn office, watching

his unfinished film, it said to me, Go

to Lifta, accompany your friend to the emptied village

of Lifta, walk beside him as he treads carefully

around the boulder that blocks the winding path up to Lifta.

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Additional thoughts from others:

“Marc Kaminsky brings an impassioned intelligence to the Israel-Palestine struggle, immersing himself in it with a depth that only a fiercely probing aesthetic can render. He identifies with both the quotidian and divine of each side, as his poetic arc carries us along with him on this journey that is both painful and wondrous. 

The white Jerusalem stone of the contemporary city and the Heilige Yerusalem of centuries are intertwined as only finely wrought poems can make happen.”

Tamar Opler, psychoanalyst 

 Jeanne Marie Beaumont, author of Letters from Limbo writes: “As the poet was summoned to Lifta, this probing and timely book summons the reader with blunt, contentious dialogues, daring and tender monologues, striking allegories, and always, the piercing questions that, seemingly unanswerable, must continue to be asked in the pursuit of understanding and justice.”

Richard Hoffman, author of Noon Until Night: “The poems . . . address the heartbreak of the history torqued and twisted by fear and hatred, but this poet’s heart remains unbroken, alive, responsive, and attuned to the painful dissonance.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun and author of Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation: “The Stones of Lifta is at once the most emotionally evocative and political nuanced collection of poems about the Israel/Palestinian struggle that I have encountered in my 33 years as editor of Tikkum.”

Deena Metzger, author of Ruin and Beauty: New and Selected Poems: “These poems reside where the soul meets heartbreak in wrenching beauty.”

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Marc Kaminsky is a poet and psychotherapist in private practice in 

Brooklyn. He is the author of nine previous books of poetry, including       

The Stones of Lifta (Dos Madres Press), The Road from Hiroshima

(Simon & Schuster), and Daily Bread (University of Illinois Press). 

His poems, essays and fiction have appeared in many magazines and 

anthologies, including The Manhattan Review, The American Scholar, 

Natural Bridge, The Oxford Book of Aging, and Voices within the Ark: 

The Modern Jewish Poets.

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Reviewed by Laurence Carr, Lightwood Press Publisher      

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