Star of David – First Place Winner

Star of David cover

Cover art by Tonya Mower Zitman

ISBN#978-0-9883924-4-1, $15
5.5 x 8.5 inches, 40 pages*

A new printing has just arrived!

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First place winner of the 2012 Poetica Magazine chapbook contest, Star of David is a collection of poems by Rick  Black that emerged out of a visit to the I. Edward Kiev Judaica Collection at the Gelman Library of George Washington University.

Black, a contemporary American Jewish poet and bookmaker, had gone there to research a limited edition that he is making of Yehuda Amichai poems. Carefully, he examined each item that was brought to him — a 15th century woodcut, an ancient map of Palestine, watercolors of Marcel Janco and some anti-Semitic materials. More out of curiosity than anything else, he had also asked to see a yellow Star of David that had made its way to the archive.

How, he wondered, had a Star of David ended up in the archives — who had worn it, when and in which ghetto? He left the tiny, white archival box for last. Finally, he picked it up, lifted the cover and discovered the yellow star beneath some protective paper. Silently, he held the star in his hands, gazed at it for a long time and then jotted down a few lines that eventually became the title poem of this collection.

Later, Black combined the Star of David poem with others that he had been writing for years to wrestle with his Jewish heritage and to help him come to terms with some of his experiences as a reporter for The New York Times in Israel. None of these poems have ever been published before, so it’s a pleasure to present them to you here. In addition, please enjoy taking a look at some of Rick’s other work about Israel: Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel, and these Jerusalem prints and Jerusalem notecards.

Special prices are available for purchases of more than one item — just scroll down the price listings below.

Poetica Magazine, Contemporary Jewish Writing which is published out of Norfolk, Virginia, specializes in contemporary Jewish poetry and prose and is edited and published by Michal Mahgerefteh.

Claudia Mazur, Judge of the 2012 Poetica Magazine Contest Wrote:

“At once a recollection and a look forward, Rick Black’s Star of David seeks a bridge between past and present, a place where what’s forgotten or lost in translation can be brought to life, and perhaps resolved. The voice that sustains these poems wants answers.”

“The poems seek a new language of Judaism, one not shrouded in suffering and misery, but celebratory and joyous, as in The Passover Seder, where the speaker wants to “sing of dancing in the living room,” but not “of the dead / and the blood and the darkness.” Of course, with the new language comes a new way of thinking; there are other ways to honor what we have. Instead of going to shul, the speaker in Hands is “bent prostrate” to “dig into the dirt / to clear away / the stones” in his garden. Our understanding of Judaism, of life’s meaningfulness, is expanded to include “unorthodox” ways of doing things. In Observance, the surprise lies in the difference between expectation and action: “I closely watch the geese / floating on their wings / into the river / listen to a red-bellied / woodpecker lunatic / in my backyard / and inhale the scent of / wild lilacs / along a forest path.”

“This collection is a marvelous read, offering insight but also a fresh perspective on ancient traditions and people. Black has done a masterful job of combining mellifluous language with powerful imagery. These are not poems I will soon forget.”

praise For Star of David . . .

“Rick Black writes with the honed elegance of a poet so in command of lyric sentiment and the efficient evocative use of language that what results is indeed as urgent and vulnerable as true prayer – a distilled purity that achieves the enviable combination of specificity, intimacy, and lasting ritualized beauty.  There is something profoundly human and completely necessary about Star of David.

Kwame Dawes, author of Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems, and editor-in-chief, Prairie Schooner

“In this stunning collection, poem after poem finds Black “at the intersection of grief and solace.” With clear and unblinking vision, he opens his heart—and ours—to both sorrow and joy, inviting us to journey with him as he finds solace by saying kaddish in praise of all that is holy at the heart of the natural world.”

–Penny Harter, award-winning poet and author most recently of Recycling Starlight

“A marvelous collection of sensitive and poignant poems, about family past and present, cast together “aboard this rickety ship caught in the whirlpool of Jewish history.” Black captures the essence of Jewish ritual and culture, indeed of Jewish life and soul.”

–Gary Rendsburg, Blanche and Irving Laurie Professor of Jewish History, Rutgers University

“This slim volume wrestles with the angels of our history and brings forth a new name. It’s located, in its own words, “at the intersection of grief and solace…”

–Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of 70 faces: Torah poems and Waiting to Unfold

“Sweetness can be found in these spare, elegant poems about love—love for family, past and present, and love for the earth, its bounty; but these poems have a biting edge, too, and can bring tears to your eyes. As a New York Times reporter in their Jerusalem office during the first intifada, Black is well acquainted with war, hatred and injustice. How can God rest on the seventh day, he asks, when there is so much left to do? But Black’s tone is tender, not accusatory. For Black, the act of writing is a sort of prayer, allowing him to accept both grief and solace. Rick Black’s struggle to accept life is done with grace and fortitude.

–Barbara Goldberg, writer-in-residence in American University’s MFA program

Some sample poems from Star of David:

The Passover Seder

By Rick Black

I want to sing of horseradish,

the strong, beet-red, eye-popping,

gullet-burning horseradish that makes

you grab for a glass of water

like a life preserver.

 

I want to sing of dancing in the living room,

spinning round and round with my daughter

to celebrate our survival in the desert,

until we cannot spin any more,

and land upon the floor.

 

I want to sing of toy frogs,

leaping above the seder table

and making everyone laugh hysterically.

I want to sing of Dayenu, but not

to sing it over and over.

 

I don’t want to sing of slavery

and the splitting of the Red Sea

and the drowning of the Egyptians;

I do not want to sing of the dead

and the blood and the darkness.

 

I want to sing of tenderness,

of moist honey cake and almonds,

of brisket smothered in onions,

of dozing off in my father’s arms.

 

The Lord Is My Shepherd

By Rick Black

I shall want to know one day

why God made hurricanes and floods—

 

and rested on the seventh day.

I shall want to know one day

 

why God sent down famine and disease—

and rested on the seventh day.

 

I shall want to know one day

why God rested on the seventh day

 

but did not grant us any rest.

 

Star of David

By Rick Black

I am loath

to open the archival box

in which it is kept.

 

Yet I can not resist

and delicately

lift the top

 

to find white gauze

beneath which is a hint

of yellow,

 

a precious jewel.

I unwrap it slowly, the infamous

word,

 

Jude,

 

so naked,

so innocent,

so dark,

 

the graceful letters

set against the yellow star.

Where has it been,

 

this scrap of cloth?

Who wore it, long forgotten,

in which ghetto?

 

Go ahead,

try to calculate

its weight,

 

resting in my hand,

a swallowtail that can

no longer fly.

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