Review by Brent Goodman (email)
A GLASS OF MILK TO KISS GOODNIGHT
by Hadara Bar-Nadav
MARGIE / IntuiT House Poetry Series
(Selected by Kim Addonizio)
MARGIE PO Box 250
CHESTERFIELD, MO 63006-0250
Teeth. Milk. Fur. Hunger. In Hadara Bar-Nadav's debut collection A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight, beauty and brutality brood together on the same canvas--a fox licks your cheek, sharks eat your legs, "and the birds / love your eyes too."
Choreographing language as deft and pinpoint as the sparse stab of an impressionist painter, Hadara Bar-Nadav could be an exiled sister of the Brothers Grimm--one who survived the Holocaust to recount forgotten Eastern European myths from a time when physical hunger connected all things. This is a dark collection where survival, religion, and transformation often begin with the sacrifice of flesh--where the rib of Eve gives birth to Adam and feeds him as well, as she stands watching with the wound yet open at her side. Linger too long in this landscape and risk being eaten, possessed, or disassembled.
At the heart of this hunger, the poet explores her tragic Jewish heritage, "to be chosen, perceived / singularly / against all those teeth, / millions of miles of want / muttered into the sky" (anyone who's walked through the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC will shudder at that line). She does not forget that "6 million shadows / circle my family, // the 6-sided star / my grandmother wore." So then hunger becomes rations during time of war, sacrifice for survival, a terrorized peoples' covenant with G-d. As in the poem God of Starvation, the speaker takes everything away and calls this worship:
The iron and rolling pin
press me paper-thin.
I'm almost a millimeter
of cotton string.
almost a leak.
Permission to worship
I'm in love with the ant and skink,
animals that hunt the ground.
The shrimp and oyster call my name,
mud and oil in their mouths.
I'm forbidden to writhe or crawl.
Forbidden to put pig flesh in my mouth.
Must throw lobsters back.
When I'm thin, thinner than water,
not even God recognizes me.
But oh, the page,
the string, the sea.
Ten or so of the pieces in this collection are prompted by art. In the original 2006 P.H.D . dissertation abstract for this collection, Ekphrastic Poetry and Poetics: A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight, Hadara Bar-Nadav proposes:
By inviting readers to experience works of art that exist beyond the page, ekphrastic poetry assumes that poetry is not a self-enclosed art. Moreover, ekphrasis productively complicates definitions and perceptions of poetry and art and promotes a consideration of the ways aesthetic ideologies are shared across disciplines.
(http://digitalcommons.unl.edu /dissertations/AAI3250371/ )
Interestingly, none of the ekphrastics identify themselves as such via epigraph or dedication. It's not until the end of the collection that a two-page appendix references artistic and historical sources. This allows those art poems to blend in, proving perhaps that the true success of an ekphrastic is to remain anonymous. Should a poem expect the reader to know the painting too? The test this book passes again and again is whether an inspired poem can survive apart from its inspiration.
This debut collection is at its best when the poet keeps her secrets sharp like "Digits on the clock wound inside, / scissors made of minutes." And it takes a confident voice to sustain the extended surrealisms many of these pieces demand the reader to navigate. But in taking those risks, A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight is not without its eye-rolling melodramas. There are eccentric flourishes, missed turns, and slack lines throughout (especially in longer pieces, but most glaring in shorter poems), contradicting the collection's overall instinct to "worship glorious transparencies."
Despite reservations that this debut is uneven in execution, this was an enlightening read, and Hadara Bar-Nadav is a poet to keep an eye on. She is a firecracker mind with a wholly original voice. Her next few books should be stunners.
Brent Goodman a poet and professional writer living in Wisconsin. His poem Maps appears in Rattle #28.