“Striking Surface”, Poems by Jason Schneiderman— The Frivolous and the Sincere
Schneiderman, Jason. “Striking Surface”, Ashland Poetry Pres, 2010.
The Frivolous and the Sincere
What I most love about poetry is that it allows the poet to change genres—verse, free verse, sonnets and even prose poems and Schneiderman takes advantage of this here. While the topics of his poems are quite serious—religion, life and death violence and war, he manages to use his wit and humor and this is what makes them so special.
This is Schneiderman’s second volume of poetry (I recently reviewed “Sublimation Point, his earlier book) and at its center is an elegy for his mother and in it he is quite angry and strong recalling the Jewish burial tradition. I felt his pain in that poem and it brought me back to saying goodbye to my own mother. He is not afraid to show the permanence and eternity of death and that the ground receives those that we have loved and keeps them forever. I do not think we are ready to admit how important mourning is in our lives. I began to think about death and realizing that it is coming for us all and is, in fact, a part of life. While we do not want to, we must accept it. We see this in the poet’s poems about mourning and that mourning is the result of history and the way it goes.
The second section of the book is an eight poem elegy for his mother that begins with the line, “Whatever dead is, you are and how you must hate that…” and we feel the loss, the pain and the grief that one feels when losing someone special. He tells us of his anger at losing his mother, “When someone dies, I think it’s normal to be angry”. I look at his mother as the example of something that we hold quite dear that is taken from him and therefore no longer near. Death is the equalizer and we see that when someone is gone, he or she becomes more special that when alive.
Schneiderman looks at the nature of identity and here is the irony of the collection—identity which is so very personal I dealt with in poem that skirt the personal. In fact the poems are a union of theory and art and Schneiderman manages to get in some good humor with this, especially in his poem “Pedophile” where a 13 year old boy is convicted and received a life sentence having been tried as an adult. Yet the adult sentence is incongruous with the true physical life—the same boy with the adult punishment cannot engage in consensual sex nor can he drink yet he can waste away behind bars.
For a while I felt that this was going to be a very heavy read and I was sure that I did not want to read about someone upset about the death of his mother but I was very pleasantly surprised to find the poet’s sense of humor here, a kind of almost sardonic wit that always gets the reader unprepared. I should have known after having this in Schneiderman’s other book.
There is also a look into the poet’s “Jewishness” that is easily seen in the poems about the rabbis and how these become back stories for the other poems. We also see this in the elegies for his mother and in the meditations on war. If we stay with Schneiderman, we will find clarity and gain new insights on mortality. The poet embraces existentialism and as he writes he is stripped down to nakedness. I find it extremely interesting that poems on death, on war and on identity, subjects that can be very dark are actually the opposite with Schneiderman’s skill.