Book Review Excerpts
By Hilton Obenzinger
Ithuriel’s Spear, 2017
Paperback, 5 3/8” X 8 3/8,” 114pages
Hilton Obenzinger’s new book of poetry, Treyf Pesach, has been praised by Paul Auster, Michael Lally, and Diane di Prima among others. It is mostly occasional pieces– poems for a revised Haggadah, secular prayers, and psalms for the months since Mr. Trump became president. Obenzinger does his prophesying in long lines that are alternately outraged and humorous as he comments on politics and human follies over the last ten or fifteen years. Some of the poems are as up to date as “Dear Mr.. Donald Trump,” one of 12 Psalms that end the book and says, “Due to a world that you cannot make into your own image/Due to shoddy real estate deals in the guts of refugees/We have to let you go/You’re fired.”
He typically uses everyday language in the classic American style of the New York poets and William Carlos Williams and, of course, the progenitor himself, Walt Whitman. Some of the poems have an incantatory quality and are meant to be read aloud, and indeed many have been performed. One of my favorites is a poem that was performed with a jazz ensemble that is called “Peace Comes to the World” and is full of delightful, zany imagined changes:
“Politics becomes a way to meet new people and make sense
of the world, a kind of dating service and Department of
Public Works rolled into one.
“The suicide bomber walks into the marketplace, yanks the
string. Candies shoot out in all directions. He’s become a
suicide piñata, except he forgets to die in the explosion of
Excerpts, of course, don’t do justice to this kind of poetry that builds its effect through its long sentence-lines and heaps of images. A wonderful shorter poem called “Remembering/2011” is about how easy it is to be confused by how much you wanted something to happen in history: “Didn’t Al Gore refer to that speech in his own inaugural ten/ years ago? I can’t quite recall.” And a sweet, very long 2014 poem called “Goodbye Books” is a valediction and farewell to a long list of favorite books: “The books line up and I shake the hand of each and every /one of them.”
Charming and political, ranting and rough-edged, it’s a book to read to yourself, or read aloud to serotherapies as a substitute for the religious texts you have rejected in time when you need support.
But feel free to laugh.
From “Books for Readers Newsletter” by Meredith Sue Willis:
Prayers, incantations, rants, yawps, elegies, reports from long ago and just yesterday, the poems in Hilton Obenzinger’s remarkable new book effortlessly (and powerfully) combine the public and the private, the political and the personal in ways rarely encountered on the contemporary American scene. His book strikes with all the force of an exploding bomb – because it speaks the truth.
Paul Auster, 4321, The Book of Illusions, Moon Palace, and The New York Trilogy
Treyf Pesach is a terrific book. For me it brings in particular two things that are very hard to find in recent American poetry: a sense of humor, and a sense of history – especially valuable at this moment, these two things, really.
Tom Clark, Truth Game, Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems, Beyond the Pale
Future historians of North America should place Hilton Obenzinger’s rants and proclamations among the key unfounding documents of the currently failing USA experiment in democracy, or perhaps founding documents in a new attempt—or both.
Les Gottesman, The Cases, From the Files of Victor Spoyles, Editor-in-Chief, Omerta Publications.
Testament and testimony, Hilton Obenzinger’s Treyf Pesach embraces echoes of the Old Testament/Torah, Whitman and Dickinson, Robert Frost and Rosa Parks, incorporating all that and more into the poet’s bearing witness to the travails of our times in what one poem describes (referring to Frost) as “American plain-talk verse,” verse that refuses to be silenced, watered down, placated, compromised or ignored. One of the most timely, as well historically compelling, collections of poetry since Ed Sander’s verse histories of “America.”
Michael Lally, The Village Sonnets, Swing Theory
I have been following Hilton Obenzinger’s work with delight and astonishment for over 40 years. He is a treasure. Funny, surreal, radical — he is the American Jonathan Swift.
Diane di Prima, Revolutionary Letters, Loba, The Poetry Deal
The moral heartbeat of these here States, this globe; each poem a declaration, a drumbeat, Hilton, the lovely, loving friend and real voice in our midst!
Stephen Vincent, The Last 100 Days of the Presidency of Barack Obama