Two “full disclosures” to start this review. First, I am far from a poetry expert; and second, the author of the book, Yoni Hammer-Kossoy, is a good friend of mine.
The Book of Noah is Hammer-Kossoy’s first book of poetry, and the poems are somehow both accessible and challenging.
As I read the poems, I found myself thinking about what Noah must have felt as the flood waters continued to rise.
A book of poetry with an ecological bent
Hammer-Kossoy uses different forms for his poetry, such as prose like this:
The flood rose for weeks, unlike anything you could imagine.
Flood of numbers, flood of silence. The way sleet changes to snow
with a sudden lack of pelting. Flood of astonished lines on a test.
Flood of thoughts misplaced like keys. We became cutout dolls at
the window, listening to shouts of kids playing under a pink sky.
Home was an ark with a flood in its throat.
Hammer-Kossoy says that he’s been writing for as long as he remembers and has had poems published in various literary magazines.
“I’ve been writing ever since I forged an absence note for my younger brother, but it is only for about the last 10 years that I’ve focused on poetry,” he told The Jerusalem Report. “I love words, and I’ve fallen head over heels for the way poetry concentrates and embodies our world through images. I feel like poetry enables me to open up creatively and emotionally in a way that no other writing form does.”
For many years he worked in hi-tech but left a few years ago to devote himself to writing and teaching. “It’s absolutely exciting to see years of writing and creating come together in a single collection,” he said. “It’s also a bit surreal, in the disorienting way of looking at a photo of myself or listening to my voice on a message. And, of course, like anyone with a new book, I hope it becomes a best-seller. Luckily, in the poetry world this means selling something like a hundred copies... so I might have a chance! More importantly, I’m truly thankful for this opportunity. I never set out to write these poems for a particular audience, but the idea that my poems could reach a stranger’s hands and cause them to feel something blows my mind.”
Many of his images are evocative, such as these descriptions of trees.
This is how it feels
to be a forest: each tree alone
within reach of another
each tree bent from holding up
the sky. Sometimes a great wind
blows and all the trees sway
sometimes there’s a hush
and only one seems to move
from an unseen breath
There is a strong ecological bent to many of the poems and warnings that the world really could be destroyed as it was in the days of Noah. Most of all, the poems humanized Noah for me.
Noah died when the water pulled back like a
crumpled sheet and the wind was bone bare and standing ankle
deep in mud he looked up at the rainbow and God said don’t
cry everything will be alright. Noah didn’t die but cried when
he tilled the land and the grape vines he saved from before took
root, cried every time he drank, cried every time he cursed his
silent disobedient son. Noah says he didn’t die, that he’ll be there
waiting when the animals come again.
Hammer-Kossoy says that poetry is more important today than ever before.
“It’s hard to think of a time in history when we’ve been more bombarded with words in our daily lives, yet so much communication in today’s world struggles to get beyond an empty or momentary transaction of information,” he said. “On the other hand, every word in a poem counts, and connecting to that sense of beautiful language and intentionality – whether it’s through the process of my own writing or reading the work of others is a very personal and necessary experience. Poetry is important because it forces us to slow down and reminds us how to feel deeply in a world that does everything it can to stop us from doing so.” ■
The Book of Noah is published by Grayson Books.