Lorna Knowles Blake
Out of the Depths: Poetic Midrash Gives Voice to Silenced Women, p.2

Unlike Alicia Ostriker and Enid Dame, two other contemporary poets who often take a more overtly feminist midrashic point of view, Golos’ characters seem to speak in a quieter, more elegiac register. In the poem “The Sacrifice of Sarah,” where a reader might expect rage, or even anger, Sarah contemplates,
I lay out my questions like a shroud. What is sacrifice
if not that all is taken from you? Each part you love,
revere, whatever you count on, or hold close,
loosened, till the hollow of your chest becomes a
                      ringing bell,
and you are nothing but the air in which the clapper
Even the voices of the slaves Hagar and Harriet seem more meditative than filled with the rage as one might expect from women bought, used, abused and cast aside. Another poet might have indulged in more stridency, or overt editorializing, but Golos is primarily, it seems to me, interested in the relationship between women living in conditions of captivity, in which neither mistress nor slave can truly exercise free will. Given that both are considered property, the power of one woman over the other continually shifts as sexual power and fertility shape the dynamic between them. The poems within each section are often mirrors of one another—a telling of the same event from a different point of view—as much as they are windows into the women’s souls.

The poems in this collection may be emotionally concise, even spare, but the details of time, place and the natural world are sensuously rendered. Scent, taste and color figure prominently. Rather than clutter her poems with expository material, Golos has included an extensive collection of notes at the end of the book which provide additional details and an excerpt of the story of Sarah and Hagar from the King James translation of the Bible.

It is tempting, when reading a book this ambitious, to wander off in one of the many directions the poet beckons. In fact, some readers may find the frame of the book distracting, or the narrative progression from the section “Exodus” to the final section “Coda” confusing enough to require a second reading. However, more satisfying than parsing the many threads of each section is holding them in both hands and knitting them together. Then we see how Sarai’s (re-named Sarah) and Hagar’s experience deepens in intimacy, intensity and complexity in the story of Harriet and Sarah, and ultimately achieves redemption under the long shadow of the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island where we encounter Sadie and Hattie, who has shed her scars and whose “dead sing Praise Songs now.” The final poem of the book bears quoting in its entirety:

           Out of the Ruins

The world turns over its dark rubble.
Cast the stones, I can read them.
Here. I do not forget.
In my sweat the old gods
Long ago
I lived as a stranger—the tilt of the world, pulling.
I have told my story slowly—leaving room for error;
a mosaic, fragments
           of imperfection.

[1]       2

Lorna Knowles Blake's poems, essays and reviews have appeared in Barrow Street, Brilliant Corners, Calyx, Connecticut Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Formalist, Home Planet News, The Hudson Review, Lumina and Tar River Poetry as well as in several anthologies. She teaches poetry workshops for the New York Public Library and serves as a Contributing Editor at the journal Rattapallax.

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