Monday, June 8, 2020

Perfume: Poems and Word Sonnets, by Seymour Mayne, 74 Pages, Ronald P. Frye & Co.

This forthcoming collection features some of prolific poet Seymour Mayne's best poems in years. After more than six decades of writing, and with more than 70 publications to his credit, he is showing no signs of slowing down, even as there is a melancholic undertone to many of the poems, ruminations on the approaching dusk, the fading light of the sun in the moments as it reaches over the horizon line. I love these poems best, they are rich with depth and gilded imagery, like this image from "Kin", reminding us that our personal journey is a continuation of the journey of our departed forbearers:

And their words
were few, nothing
to exclaim
over the kindred horizon 
as now, mute,
they sleep
dozens of yards apart, 
each in the raft
of his crumbling coffin.

I did not know my grandfather, a Polish immigrant who crossed the ocean in 1907. And my father, who grew up in relative poverty, was a man of few words and was obsessed as many of that first generation were, over making sure our family was materially well provided for. The poem reminds us that their story speaks through ours.

And in other poems like "Never a Dull Moment" the poet engages humorously with themes that are quintessentially and uniquely Mayne, the Almighty, the muse of Jewish tradition, the absurdities and follies of human existence, and the inadequacy and impulse of language:

No language can contain 
our need to speak – and how
we talk, debating silence
and eternity with words
that trace God’s handiwork 
no matter how flawed.

One of my favourites is the word sonnet "Afterword", once again demonstrating Mayne's mastery of this unreasonably concise form with a startling image:


It accomplishes exactly what it needs to without waste, and leaves the door open, as it were, to anxious feelings hinging on an image that may be an arrival or an exit, and suggests an ominous presence of anticipatory emotion.

I can hardly think of a more succinct or apt description of life’s third act than "Rescue Mission":


But Mayne is far from done. He's got plenty of piss and vinegar, as my mother used to say, plenty of injustice to rage against poetically as the prophets of old. As in the poem "Generations", from the section Bucharest Poems:

One generation enjoys 
the earth with its bounties 
and the next is full
of ancient rage

against the neighbours,
against the soothing cross, 
against the quiet
of fearful mortality.

The destroyers wait their turn 
like perennials sleeping 
before blossom and bloom.

This is May, the month 
of joy and desire.
Take it with both hands 
before the slaying

begins in earnest again.

If this collection is any indication, Mayne obviously has a lot more to say poetically. And in these turbulent times, there’s plenty to be outraged about, so thank g-d for that.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

For Tamar

Life is art
Art is freedom
Freedom is a flower
That has no reason
Reason is a stone
A stone is a bird
A bird is a notion
Put into words
A word is a spider
A spider is a blessing
A blessing is a costume
Sewn out of guessing
A guess is a candle
A candle is a boat
A boat is a god
Worn like a coat
A coat is a clock
A clock is a game
A game is a house
Built out of names
A name is a wound
A wound is a dance
A dance is a siren
Set off by chance
Chance is an ocean
An ocean is a war
A war is a woman
Opening a drawer
A drawer is silence
Silence is a star
A star is a poem
Composed for Tamar.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Before There Were Numbers


Someone, sometime, 

saw things,
and called them things,
just things,
flowers were flowers,
birds were birds,
people were people,
the sun rose
and set, the moon too, 
the day was the day,
a cold day was cold,
a hot day hot,
and no one said things like
age is just a number
and no one looked their age,
or didn't,
and no one ever told anyone else 
to act their age.
No one was ever late
for an appointment, 
to the consternation of some
and the relief of others,
the trains always ran on time,
or not,
if there were trains, that is,
and as for a job, well that was something
you did because you wanted to, 
or maybe had to,
stuff was produced, a service rendered, 
it was all like art
for art's sake,
not a measure of value, 
because no one asked themselves "how much?"
or thought about having more 
or less
than anyone else,
there was no rich
or poor,
no jealousy
or shame,
and we saw in each other
the endless
the infinite
the present
until the counting began.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

 Mount-Royal Cemetery, Section L 
(250 meters from the south gate off Rembrance Road/ Camilien Houde Dr.) 

Spanish and Portugese Synagogue Cemetery, lower Mount-Royal, Outremont entrance, left of the front gate, about ten rows back.

 Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, lower Mount-Royal, Outremont entrance, right near the front. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Eichmann in a Box

Watched the film Operation Finale the other night. Mediocre movie in just about all aspects with the exception of Ben Kingsley's performance as Adolph Eichmann which is chillingly riveting in an Anthony Hopkins' as Hannibal Lecter kind of way. What we know of Eichmann's character is only what we can discern from his Jerusalem trial: the bespectacled, bookish-looking, headphone-wearing person standing in the bullet-proof glass box. He looks like an accountant or a bureaucrat, stoically convinced that he was 'just following orders' as Hannah Arendt says. But Ben Kingsley's version of Eichmann is far less banal. Since the movie is about the capture of Eichmann, Kingsley's portrayal begins with his domestic life in Argentina and shows a paranoid man with secrets; a sinister, clever, cold, calculating individual with psychopathic tendencies simmering just below the surface. Watching Operation Finale was preceded coincidentally a few days before by watching a documentary on TV called "Scrapbook from Hell: The Auschwitz Album" about a relatively recently discovered album of photographs that belonged to SS officer Klaus Hoecker who was at the most notorious death camp of all during the period in 1944 when the murder factory was in highest gear as the liquidation of Hungarian Jews was in full swing. The album is shocking for its banality - page after page of SS officers drinking, smiling, socializing together with family, friends and colleagues, after a long day of working the gas chambers and crematoria. It's truly sickening. So in this week of thinking about the true nature of evil and the unredeemable acts of unrepentant men, and in particular people like Eichmann and Hoecker - who was convicted of aiding and abetting over 1,000 murders at Auschwitz, but because he could not be conclusively identified on the selection ramp, in a travesty of justice, was sentenced to a mere 7 years in 1965, and in 1970 returned to normal life as a bank clerk where he worked until retirement - I have been imagining what would have been a more fitting  punishment for them and people like them. Death by hanging was too good for Eichmann. Life in prison would've also been too easy. Surely there is another more innovative and appropriate method, a truly hellish prison to which Eichmann could be committed. I would have injected Eichmann with a serum that would paralyze him permanently from the eyes down. Render him unable to do anything but blink, like the so-called locked-in syndrome that tragically afflicts some people who've suffered strokes. Then I would hook Eichmann him up to machines that ensured he is nourished and cleaned regularly for as long as his natural (and perhaps unnatural) life permits. He would continue to live with awareness and consciousness but without possibility of interaction that would offer any type of enjoyment, pleasure or satisfaction. And then I would put him in a bullet proof glass box, maybe the same one that was used during his Jerusalem trial, and display him in a public venue in Israel, so that the people (and by people I mean the entire nation) he victimized could come to see him. I imagine school children learning about the Holocaust coming by the busloads, their teachers pointing him out, saying this is what we mean when we say 'evil', look how ordinary he is, how harmless he looks, this was the unrepentant architect of an attempted genocide, one of the most despicable people who ever lived. I imagine Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren spitting at him, cursing him, laughing at him, teasing him, crying in his face as they show him photos of the loved ones he and his crew murdered. I imagine ordinary people gawking at him in disgust. Day in and day out people would come and stare at Eichmann in his box, and he would have to listen to their pain and suffering, for eternity.     

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

RIP Sears

Sears means a great deal to me. Not because I ever shopped there. Because they were one of the biggest, if not the biggest, retailer of clothing in Canada. And that means they bought more Canadian-made clothing than anyone. They were the foundation of the shmata industry. Which also means that they supported my family for at least two generations. My grandfather Sam Solomon (Sample Manufacturing Corp.) and my dad (Carla Jane Dress Inc.) sold millions of garments to Sears over the years, both through their stores, but more importantly through their catalogue. Sam was the industry innovator of the private label dress business and Sears (the label I remember best was 'Jessica') was his biggest customer for a long time. Some of my fondest memories growing up came from being in dad's office and listening to him and his brothers Hy and Charlie talk about Sears 'check-out' of their styles and the 'back-up' Sears was demanding for their catalogue. Sears always pushed them to innovate. They were the first to demand that their suppliers use computer coding to maintain inventory for 'just-in-time' supply management. In more recent years, as manufactured garments turned to imports, Sears demanded rebates from suppliers on exchange rates, which gave my dad fits. They also imposed prohibitive penalties for late delivery. But there was no way of getting around the terms Sears demanded. They were simply too big and important to the industry to shun their business. The more Sears scrimped and saved to try to survive in the last decade, the more obvious it became the industry as we'd known it was on its last legs. With the writing on the wall, my cousins decided to close the business founded in 1949 a year after dad died in 2012. 

PS. The cartoon was something I drew in '99 using the pseudonym Solomon as a tribute to my grandfather. 

Friday, October 5, 2018