In her collection of essays, Bright Unbearable Reality, Anna Badkhen—a former war correspondent, now essayist—forces us to examine the reality of migration despite the desire to look away. As her title implies, she compels readers to see the true causes of the massive amounts of people—one in seven worldwide, she says—who relocate due to climate change or suffering related to new weather patterns and natural disasters. I had planned to write that those people are forced to relocate, but that would be a false passive, a sentence construction Badkhen points out that ignores the true action and actor in order to make ideas more palatable. Badkhen doesn’t allow the reader this comfort, as she continually highlights the systemic problems that those in the wealthier countries cause, while at the same time, those countries deny entry to those whom they have displaced. In her essay, “Ways of Seeing,” she points out that there is the surface reality that most of us who have the privilege of reading her book know and the reality of those whose lives enable us to have that privilege; the difference, to use one of her images, between the restaurants and hotels that line Waikiki and the hotel workers striking for a living wage.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.
Have you ever had an imaginary friend? Someone with whom you could confide anything? A soulmate who loved you no matter what you said or did? Celia Paul’s extraordinary new book, Letters to Gwen John, adopts Gwen as just such an “imaginary” friend/soulmate and listener as she writes all her thoughts and feelings to the long-dead post-impressionist painter who lived in the latter 18th and early 19th centuries. Using a series of letters, Paul reveals her inner thoughts about life, art, men, freedom, and beauty. The book is part memoir and part art history, and it makes a beautiful read. Filled with imagination and insight, Paul examines the meaning of art and life. She shares her vision and makes you believe that communication is possible across space and time. As she puts it, “time is a strange substance.” And somehow, as you read this amazing book, you see Gwen John seated in a cozy room somewhere, like the one she paints in Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, reading Celia Paul’s letters with a faint smile.
Migrations: Poem, 1976-2020 By Gloria Gervitz Translated by Mark Schafer New York Review Books, November 2021
The story of Gervitz’s poem is an epic in itself. Migraciones began as “Shajarit,” a fifteen-page poem, which Gervitz began writing in 1976 and published three years later. So began the poem that would grow over the next forty-one years as a tree incorporates its rings, or a river is fed by its tributaries. Gloria Gervitz’s book is an epic journey in free verse through the individual and collective memories of Jewish women emigrants from Eastern Europe, a conversation that ranges across two thousand years of poetry, a bridge that spans the oracles of ancient Greece and the markets of modern Mexico, a prayer that blends the Jewish and Catholic liturgies, a Mexican woman’s reclamation through poetry of her own voice and erotic power.