Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces three pieces by Ivan Klein.
Reading Ivan Klein’s work I imagine a man, sitting alone in an empty room, and talking. Not to anyone specific; probably to himself. In the emptiness his words echo off the walls, and in the echoes is the musicality, response, sub-text. Ivan’s work is mystical; both cerebral and physically frank. Kabbalistic imagery and Kafka’s fingerprints keep appearing, as does Melville and the streets of Greenwich Village. Jewishness is among the poet’s primary concerns — the mystery and misery of it, exile and redemption. The writer easily slides between poetry and prose, references and tonalities. As he states: “There is no such thing as poetry, / Just let yourself be.”
Aside from his book of collected works, “Alternatives to Silence,” Klein has also recently published a chapbook “Some Paintings by Koho & a Flower of My Own.” This sampling of Ivan’s work features a timely Tu B’shvat piece, “Amaryllis,” where the strangeness of celebrating the “Jewish Arbor Day” in the middle of January comes as a lingering metaphor for the absurdity and incongruence of exilic living. The poem “Primo Levi Departing Auschwitz” pays tribute to the great thinker and writer and the moment of his liberation — the freedom that is fraught with the inescapable confinement of memory. Finally, “Poem to David” is the author’s tangled and cryptically mighty advice to his son.