Eve Grubin InteReview
Moring Prayer by Eve Grubin
The Sheep Meadow Press, 2005
Reviewed by Andrea Baker
Grubins Morning Prayer is comprised of four distinct
sections, each written with a generous sincerity and forthrightness
that represents the best of what may be meant by the term accessibility.
The intensity and urgency of Grubins voice seeks a true sanity
and wills itself into deep witness: Keep me close to the flaw,/
to the cracked soil/
learning, leaning/ into this difficult
The first section begins, after a loss you live/ with your gasp.
Your gaze// with your hungry mouth as you lift the fork. The
particulars of the loss are unnamed and the story would only be weakened
if they had been. Instead, we have a grief unburdened by the details
of its narrative, turning with forceful and restless conviction toward
the religious laws of a scripturally centered Judaism. Here, stillness
seems to be the physical manifest of devotion: On the Sabbath
I stop. The wings still./ The blessed food nourishes/ A wild calm
that springs from this new sanity. This stillness is presented
as spiritual nourishment that is real despite a humanity that does
not readily embrace it. In Grubins work, Its not
the faith; its the faltering
not in peace; toward peace
Its grieving and praise.
We are presented with an orthodoxy that doesnt hesitate to quote
the rabbi as Authority and sees religious laws as a channel./
A space for God, but also never asks for more than careful attention
to the given and flawed presence of life in its world. In Seduction,
Grubin writes: God moved, seducing Adam with beautiful/ language
into Eden. Likewise, the beauty, grace, and inherent flaws of
language seem to seduce the speaker into religious life. She writes,
word-shiver my shells, my salt/ nearer to you. The you
rings as a presence simultaneously Godly and human so it feels only
natural that the second section takes on the, at times tumultuous,
but always profound dynamics of parent-child relationships.
The speaker now moves fluidly back and forth in time to stand as the
parent and the parented. The religious orientation remains but it
seems to have, as Grubin would phrase it, climb[ed] into the
underwhisper. Of her own troubled mother she writes, the
hinge in my mothers mind split// loose rust// came down like
pollen onto my eyelids, my lips. We feel this as the material
proof of restlessness, acknowledged in order to propel even greater
conviction toward the sanity that emerges as a more and more prevalent
theme even as the relationship of mother and child is shown possessing
nearly magical power. When she writes, presumably of her mother, She
kneeled at the hills base, stirred/ the new season,// held the
scent of cut lawn in her palms, dutiful love is so powerful
that it controls the seasons. In a later poem, the speaker is the
maternal force that births even inanimate objects: Soon I will
cry out,/ be born// to the books on the windowsill, to the dust.
Within the context of these mythically scaled bonds we also locate
a kindness, prepared for the flexibility required to maintain the
greatest strength. She names this balance Sanity then
defines it: Supple as the bridges frame is soft built
to bend. Locating these dynamics again in the mother child relationship,
she continues, When the mother restrains a wrestling child/
she grips the child close// to stop a fall still// she allows/ a softness
in her limbs.
In the third section, we move to a subject matter that is at once
religious and erotic. In the opening poem, Desire, Grubin
writes, God unpoured the wine out of Eve and the birds began
yearning.// A woman desires her husband as the rain wants the earth/
to need it. Desire is forceful and captures a religious longing,
but this same willfulness is also shown to be without power: What
I want will not come to me just because I desire it./ I have been
told that I cannot force.// I dont know how this will end.
Its in the openness to contradictory drives that we feel the
supple strength that was earlier evoked. Among the highlights of this
section are two poems that pine for the purely receptive femininity
of the nineteenth-century novel: Sometimes I just want to give
in, become/ the heroine in a great nineteenth-century novel, an earnest
and suffering young woman. While Grubins twenty-first-century
voice is far from lacking in either earnestness or suffering, the
historical vision is one without the power to overcome and given to
acting out its suffering: I want-in my white nightgown-/ to
unlatch the shutter, throw/ open the window,/ cry out into the rain.
Of course, those grand gestures stay rooted in history and Grubin
seems to recommit herself to witness as she aligns herself with the
current natural world where, Every crisis emits seeds/ as when
a poppy unwraps in a windy field.// The seeds are gifts, opening into
Finally, in the last section we see this gift held open and risking
even more than it has up to this point as Grubin asks pragmatic questions
about how to reach an empowered femininity: How can a woman
find her own wildness?/ Where is it? What is woman? Non-man?/ Soft
dress, long braided hair, non-football, non-president? Further
down the page she makes another declaration of her faith in sanity:
What is a wild woman? If
Your head, are you
wild? Is rebellion wild?
What does it mean to be
Are tattoos wild? Being
a senator? A poet?
Who is wild? Is she wild?
Her? Or her?
Grubins questions are fantastically compelling for both their
rejection of the crazed-poet stereotype and their eagerness to locate
sanity as wild freedom. This poem stands out as nearly a manifesto,
but it is a manifesto of questions that seem to be the cause of the
final poems, which become more fragmentary and, at times, even lightly
surreal, such as in Prayer Mouth, New York City, where
she writes, The electric animals are standing// on their hind
legs in the mains, sobbing,/ walking like humans. Though many
poems like Jerusalem III continue to present themselves
nearly as prayers, Lets praise/ even those who, for now,
lean/ on the hinge, the poems become less grouped by subject
matter and are populated by rabbi as well as secular literary figures
like Huck Finn, Gatsby, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot.
was drawn to write about Morning Prayer after having read
that it received most of its attention from Jewish periodicals rather
than from the literary world. While it seems a great gift to bring
such well-crafted poems to the Jewish community, there is nothing
that should limit it to that world. Its a fine collection that
stands on its own merit, and, in the best of all possible senses,
represents a voice that has negotiated the world with faith in the
particularities of its own perceptions. It deserves wider recognition.
WITH EVE GRUBIN (click for next section)
Eve Grubin's book
of poems, Morning
Prayer, was published by The Sheep Meadow Press in December of
2005. She teaches poetry at The New School and City College, where
she is also the Marvin and Edward Kaplan Lecturer in Jewish Studies.
Her essay, "After Eden: The Veil as a Conduit to the Internal,"
will appear in The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Folklore,
and Politics (U. of CA Press, 2007). Her poems have been published
in the American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Virginia
Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is a fellow at the Drisha
Institute for Jewish Education.
Baker was the recipient of the 2004 Slope Editions
Book Prize for her first book, like
wind loves a window. She is also the author of the chapbooks gilda
(Poetry Society of America, 2004) and gather (moneyshoteditions,
2006). She maintains a blog at andreabaker.blogspot.com.