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Howard Schwartz has been quite a force in the world of poetry. The noted editor of Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets has already made his mark with many works edited and written. And now this lovely mystical book with its epigraph from Rabbi Nachman: “Through breath the world was created.”
The title poem sets the tone for the entire book:
While you sleep, .
an angel whispers the secrets of creation,
every branch of the tree of life.
And this is what Howard Schwartz sets out to do:
waiting for the wind,
a sensual stone,
thirsty for a kiss.
From now on
you will wake with this thirst
and drink in everything
until the crickets rub their wings together
The “you” is left ambiguous here. Is it the poet’s self? The reader? Everyman? This adds to the mystery of the work.
But Howard Schwartz is a Jewish poet, and, as such, also shows us he has his feet firmly planted in reality. There are a number of poems about family and friends that have nothing to do with the mystical, which I found less successful, rather chatty, prosaic. “My Father Had Many Professions” for instance:
My father had many professions,
all at the same time—
first at every estate sale.
Once in a while I went with him,
saw him bargain
try to eke out
a few bucks.
He is best at interweaving the mystical and the quotidian. In “Spirit Guide,” a grandmother from the other world visits her granddaughter:
Kissing her forehead,
touching her hair,
Savta stays close by.
and I’m here, she whispers,
but I will always be with you.
Among the secrets she reveals:
journey like a river,
sing like a sweet bird,
let the angels in.
Of course, if you don’t believe in angels, you will probably have a little trouble with half the book. Fortunately, there are some beautiful, lyrical poems in this collection that are spiritual, but not particularly Cabbalistic. There is, for ex ample, the lovely poem to his grandson as they traverse a forest together:
of my child,
I take you for a walk in the forest.
Your hand in mine,
I feel like a creator
as I reveal this world
of shadows and light
“Shadows and light.” This sums up my impression of “breathing in the dark.” We all know what shadows are, and we know what light is. Howard Schwartz in BREATHING IN THE DARK gives them new nuances, new feelings, breathing a spiritual breath into them. The author is genuinely steeped in cabbala, but you don’t have to be a cabbalist to read them. Like mythology in Yeats, the imagery of the holy book serves this poet well.
— Nikki Stiller – Home Planet News – Issue 66 (Vol.18 No.1) winter/Spring 2013
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