War and Love, Love and War

Aharon Shab­tai; Peter Cole, trans.
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
In this col­lec­tion that spans some forty years of work, there are nip­ples of thorn” and a belly…like a lev­eled bowl/​and at its tip are leaves of lau­rel.” Some of the love poems are so ten­der a Hall­mark writer might con­sid­er them over-sen­ti­men­tal, while oth­ers describe sex so frankly that even Ron Jere­my would blush read­ing them. Shab­tai rel­ish­es life’s con­tra­dic­tions, as the rep­e­ti­tion and jux­ta­po­si­tion of words in this volume’s title might sug­gest. There are echoes of the Old Tes­ta­ment prophets as well as Cat­ul­lus; in some poems I hear strains of his con­tem­po­raries Yehu­da Amichai and C.K. Williams, who calls Shab­tai one of the most excit­ing poets writ­ing any­where.” But for the most part the voice is sin­gu­lar and strong, own­ing with wit and melan­choly a range of expe­ri­ences. Shab­tai is equal parts skep­tic and enthu­si­ast, in one poem ques­tion­ing love and coun­try and in the next unabashed­ly singing their prais­es. While some of the poems, er, rubbed me the wrong way, oth­ers had remark­able pathos. Hebrew Cul­ture” is as hilar­i­ous and com­pressed as any short polit­i­cal lyric, while pieces in Part IV are as haunt­ing as any love poems since Jack Gilbert’s Great Fires.
Jason Myers is a writer whose work has appeared in AGNI, BOOK­FO­RUM, and Tin House.

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