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.