from Jewish Book World, Winter 2010-11
HARMLESS, by Myra Sklarew. Mayapple Press, 2010. 92pp. $15.95.
Reviewed by Philip K. Jason
The question of Jewishness in poetry is too often answered by writing that seems like a forced demonstration of identity or an overly rehearsed, mocking self-hatred. Or it’s pretentiously learned. Or it lives entirely in nostalgia. Over several decades, Myra Sklarew has carefully avoided these stances. Her art is most profoundly Jewish even when it is not topically Jewish. Her identity as a Jewish woman and artist, a time-traveler who breathes and re-imagines Jewish experience across the ages, is secure. Her modesty in stance and style rests on certainties that remain unnamed while releasing the power of acute perceptions.
Sklarew is at home with Torah as myth and history, and also with modern and contemporary history, particularly its themes of violence and separation. She cherishes equally the creative urge and courageous failures of the artist and of the scientist. She is at home with the constant flux of loss, disorientation, and balance restored. At home with mystery, she is wise enough not to unravel it.
As Myra Sklarew meditates on the consequences of war (“Sleeping in Lithuania”), the evergreen meanings of sacred story (“Crossing Over” and “Moses”), the richness of Jewish poetic achievement (“Keeping Silent: for Stanley Kunitz” and “The Journey,” honoring Yehuda Halevi), or the unfathomable resilience of grieving mothers and abandoned children, she awakens us to the magic of dvarim – words, words polished and fitted together into an ascending staircase.