Bat­tles and Lul­la­bies: Poems by Richard Michelson

  • Review
By – October 26, 2011
Richard Michelson’s poet­ry is dark, haunt­ed by an obses­sive focus on death, a nat­ur­al obses­sion as his father was gunned down in the author’s youth. The first sec­tion of this poet­ry col­lec­tion alerts the read­er to its shad­owed con­text with the Holo­caust-relat­ed title, Count­ing to Six Mil­lion,” in which this count­ing is a Kad­dish prayer in mem­o­ry of those who died in such hor­rif­ic cir­cum­stances. In a beau­ti­ful poem enti­tled Life Insur­ance,” the author faces his own fear of how lit­tle life­time he has left to live, “…I still don’t under­stand how the elec­tric­i­ty trav­els from one lamp­post to the next, light­ing up the future/​as if it’s day­break on the hori­zon and we have all the time in the world.” Then the read­er is intro­duced to the bio­graph­i­cal real­i­ty of try­ing to fig­ure out how so many ene­mies” the Ger­mans had killed, a fact that is eas­i­ly con­nect­ed to his own father’s death, “…the next day would have his own pic­ture on the twen­ty-eighth page; one more dead Jew.” As if that weren’t enough, with sim­i­lar poems fill­ing these first 20 pages, the read­er is then intro­duced to the biog­ra­phy of the artist Edward Munch, a man shaped by numer­ous deaths of his par­ents and sib­lings. The fol­low­ing poems are writ­ten in a man­ner in which the read­er is nev­er sure whether it is the poet Michel­son or the artist Munch think­ing out loud about life, insan­i­ty, and more often, death. Indeed this col­lec­tion seems an ago­niz­ing trib­ute to the will to sur­vive, Each breath/​in Hell is an act of resistance./I tell my heavy feet to dance.” Munch’s hor­rif­ic art and Michelson’s poet­ry are both a defi­ant scream to live accord­ing to the mean­ing one finds with­in one’s own inner journey.
Deb­o­rah Schoen­e­man, is a for­mer Eng­lish teacher/​Writing Across the Cur­ricu­lum Cen­ter Coor­di­na­tor at North Shore Hebrew Acad­e­my High School and coed­i­tor of Mod­ern Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture: A Library of Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism, Vol. VI, pub­lished in 1997.

Discussion Questions