This first collection pamphlet, partly featured in Thumbscrew 6, targets with
new-world individualism the taboos and protocols of an American Jewish diaspora and
its neuroses and expectations. Garlitz's tone is predominantly needling but she looks
you straight in the eye, and there's a coherent imaginative 'world', qualities of
maturer Anglo-American poets like Kazantzis and Lasdun. My quarrels are with parts
that call into question the proportion of craft to 'creativity' or whether mere self-expression
becomes a kind of cul-de-sac.
There is dry humour in 'Fünf', a snores-and-all encounter with adultery that
tries not to be conscience-stricken in recalling how the furtive growth of sexual
awareness has been doused by religious prescriptions. The title poem, too, dramatises
without the elbowing of poems about family ceremonies, the story of an earlier, more
pathetic victim of this conflict. The girl is perplexed by smatterings of old lingo
and customs in new surroundings after an arranged marriage
(' ...under the chuppah/veiled and carefully guided,/ as if I were capable/ of bolting...')
Nicely understated marital annihilation. Restrained detail and tight form match her
confusions and leave us to sense the illusion of 'a better life.' But even here abstractions
about the two men in her life intrude, adding nothing to how she dreams about being
jostled by her father and scraping her skin only to wake and
feel my husbands's fingers
pushing up my night gown.
Discursiveness also blurs the focus of 'The Peacocks of Temple Sinai, Florida.'
Images of bagel-and-matzoh-cadging peacocks with their evocative colourings and of
exiles collecting their grandchildren only interweave in a finale that speaks for
itself after loosely-phrased comments on 'muted memories' and exile clichés like:
' the years of hostile sleet and biting wind.' A reverse process mars the sonnet
portentously entitled 'The Writer's Beginning'. Concentrated description of a Bronx
pharmacy in winter declines into thoughts of what it must have been like, and ends
in saccharine pleonasm:
saw later this was where it all began:
what followed was a wish to have again.
Licensed by a 'confessional' tradition that indulges centrifugal significances,
the 'I' of the poems oscillates between dramatised and 'propria' persona. Hence the
tendency to caricature relatives for their significances and to conjure up situations
for moody disaffection. 'Werd Ich Donnern Hören Die See' (the sea's remorseless pounding)
feels like someone writing about being stranded in a dockland, determined to be depressed:
'I have to wipe the clothesline/ to get rid of the residue from the docks,/ the shit
brown sea.'( A phrase tactically repeated) ' At night, the clock's red numbers/ accuse
me, remind me harshly/ how much time is left..' ( O for a moratorium on personified
clocks !) Silence in a noise-ridden neighbourhood weighs her down 'like the spill
of gas from the docks'. Obscure! Without believable monologue the monotony is not
in the scene but in writing that strains after authenticity.
The authorial presence can also be prosaic. In 'Touring Birkenau' rhetorical
shilly-shallying about her companion marginalises hints of persisting postwar squalor
I think, she's learned nothing about Poland...
(...)I get angry and talk about memorials
while she says cramped lodgings are remembered longer than massacres
(...)....................I think, no,
she's learned much more than I have.
Shopping lists of examples and statistics are meant to convey exasperation in
'Turning Out' and 'My Mother and My Life as a Woman'. Manifestos about parental fantasies
over dangerous liberation, and their interference in a life so utterly lurid or mundane
perhaps we should infer irony at the expense of an overstated cause. Part of what's
called 'the life my father feared' reads:
I dress in black, draw pentagrams on the floor
to find my lucky lottery numbers,
go to Rocky Horror with teenagers
and chase the unsuitable, always chase
anything normal away, attract the screwed up
who give only ulcers or VD....
In contrast the opening is judiciously sarcastic about the overprotected model housewife
and mother, one section in four pages where detail coalesces into a paradigm of domestic
horror and relinquishes quasi-adolescent ingenuity. The monologues of 'The Grey Budgerigar'
(which might make you laugh if you don't want it to stop being such a know-all) and
'My Parents Wanted Me to Be a Barbie Doll' are in similar anti-establishment vein.
The sloppy form, lashings of corny detail and unmitigated pique make this feel like
workshop (or workout ?) drafting.
Garlitz's genuine satire is dispassionate and the tensions of the observer generate
its momentum. 'Security' suggests a contemporary, dehumanising obsession through
a superstore assistant's ambiguous fascination for an on-site detective whose every
movement expresses distrust and vigilance. He initials her dress allowance ' slowly,
like you're carving/ your name on a tree.' As he strip-searches her she's reminded
of a joke about a little girl,