Hav­oc: New and Select­ed Poems

Lin­da Stern Zisquit
  • Review
By – April 10, 2014

Lin­da Stern Zisquit has lived in Jerusalem since the 1970s, when she and her hus­band made aliyah. She is among a num­ber of Israeli poets who con­tin­ue to write in Eng­lish. Though she had been pub­lish­ing poems in lit­er­ary mag­a­zines through the 80s, her first book, Rit­u­al Bath, was pub­lished in 1993. Over the next ten years, she pub­lished sev­er­al more, in addi­tion to trans­la­tions of Hebrew poet­ry — among them, the Desert Poems of Yehu­da Amichai, and two books by Yona Wal­lach. Hav­oc brings togeth­er her own poems from each of the pre­vi­ous books and since 2003

From the first, much of Zisquit’s work has court­ed dan­ger — this is not hyper­bole: her most com­pelling poems are often provoca­tive in their nar­ra­tive point of view. The sig­na­ture voice is of woman as illic­it lover, as seduc­tress, as betray­er and betrayed. Except for a long sequence of auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal poems relat­ed to the decline and death of her par­ents in The Face in the Win­dow (2004) — and more recent­ly a small col­lec­tion, Ghaz­al-Mazal (2011), where the require­ments of the ghaz­al form seem to have freed Zisquit to explore a some­times lighter tone — her speak­er has often been dark­ly fevered and intense. Some exam­ples: I lay on his wife’s bed as he / loos­ened and entered” (“Dead Cen­ter”); If he does not look at her face / she will suf­fer, and if he dares / touch her, she will fly (“Daugh­ters of Men”); ‘’When the war broke out I was unloosed / What­ev­er I believed, for­got­ten. / The ark that held us shat­tered, / leav­ing no links intact. /​You turned to wave. / I wait­ed for any man to knock at the door” (“Sum­mer at War”); I’ve pulled men under before / into the deep under­side of water / left them there“ (“Green”). Poems such as these invite a voyeurism — but who is the I? who is the you? There are no names, no places, no dates: these are not the con­fes­sion­al or mem­o­ry or diary-like poems in the man­ner of so many (too many?) Amer­i­can poets. Zisquit’s is not a poet­ry of self-dis­clo­sure; the poems may derive ini­tial­ly from some (unknow­able) bio­graph­i­cal impulse but that’s not an end, only the begin­ning: each of the poems is an explo­ration of the self’s selves, con­flict­ing as they often can be, and so widen out beyond a sin­gu­lar self. The I” pos­sess­es what Keats famous­ly called neg­a­tive capa­bil­i­ty,” when one is in uncer­tain­ties, mys­ter­ies, [and] doubt, with­out any irri­ta­ble reach­ing after fact and rea­son.” The result­ing poems can be — as they often are in Hav­oc—mys­te­ri­ous, enig­mat­ic, elu­sive, edgy, and dis­com­fort­ing. They often throw us off bal­ance, forc­ing us to ques­tion the gen­er­al­iza­tions and pieties we take for granted.

Relat­ed Content:

Mer­rill Lef­fler has pub­lished three col­lec­tions of poet­ry, most recent­ly Mark the Music. A physi­cist by train­ing, he worked in the NASA sound­ing rock­et pro­gram, taught Eng­lish at the U. S. Naval Acad­e­my, and was senior sci­ence writer at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land Sea Grant Pro­gram, focus­ing on Chesa­peake Bay research.

Discussion Questions