Poetry: 58 pages
Tom Mandel was born in Chicago in 1942, the American child of Austrian Jews fleeing Hitler. He was educated in Chicago’s public schools and jazz/blues clubs, and at the University of Chicago. He has lived in New York, Paris, and San Francisco, Washington DC, and now resides in Delaware.
Memento mori: sonnets. These 50 poems, 700 lines (neither number divisible by three), confront self, other, identity, loss, history, language and meaning through the most concrete instance we have of what the post structuralists call “an absent presence” —the death of a parent. This loss of apparent meaning (who gave you your name?) doubles (this father arrived by marriage, already a rhyme for the dead blood kin that came before), invoking tradition, transmission, instruction. Ritual (the sonnet, the ceremonies of grief) kaleidoscopes through its own echoes. “Do not speak these / words, but repeat them.” “Ghosts, all of them,” as Spicer said, though here it is Paul Celan’s Shakespeare (of all possible bards) who thrusts the blade from behind the curtain:
The knife comes out clean; the cake
is done. Why does time pass? Because one
observes a rule. Why wear clothes? To
a soul in paradise, clothed in its days.
“These are the most intensely felt poems I have ever read.” —Ron Silliman