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.