Passing Over By Norman Finkelstein
(Marsh Hawk Press, East Rockaway N.Y. 2007)
Norman Finkelstein is a poet, literary critic, and Professor of English at Xavier University in Cincinnati OH. His body of work is impressive and includes critiques of modern and post modern poetry, scholarly studies on international relations, and several books of his own poetry. Critics have described his books as beautiful and beguiling, brilliant and audacious, lyrical and probing. In Passing Over he physically and metaphysically explores the Jewish-American identity within the history of the Passover.
In “Aliyah” he contemplates the Word and the Book, those constants that anchor Jewish people no matter where they live on Earth:
Even here in the promised place,
where the light sears every wound,
the figures are fruitful and multiply
as if it has been ordained.
Finkelstein dissects his creative process with clarity, exposing each serration honestly. Readers know exactly where his ancestors have been because he dissolves all boundaries. Consider this passage from “A Tomb for Gershom Scholem” for example:
The Blessing glimmers on the border of nihilism,
a no-man’s-land between Berlin and Jerusalem,
a haunted line between France and Spain.
The ghosts from Paris, from Prague, from Vienna,
circle warily around the merkabah.
You cannot fend them off; they are parts of you.
They are the sparks returning, completing a movement
which you thought could never come to rest.
“Mara: The Shape of an Absence” is a long poem, haunting and tender. I cannot adequately convey the impact of this poem in a review, but quote two small excerpts here because they describe Finkelstein’s poetry to perfection:
in a psychic
As if held in account
against the unspeakable
And in a second excerpt from the same poem:
Mara, beyond my hatreds and desires
and the hatreds and desires of those I see
lies the void we have misnamed history,
as dark and capacious as the leafy Absolute,
alone in its gloomy park.
You fell into the one to fall out of the other,
if only for a few moments
on a summer day.
These poems carry fragments of death and miracles. Through his words, Norman Finkelstein eats the bread of affliction, mourns the losses of history, and drinks the wine of bitterness while holding watch in a night gone dark with ancient powers. His poetry, indeed, is beautiful and beguiling. Highly recommended.
Laurel Johnson is a Retired Registered Nurse and the author of four books. She is Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review and Review Editor for New Works Review. Her poetry and prose can be found online in various literary e-zines. She lives in Kansas with her husband of forty-plus years.