Miriam’s Book: A Poem
 

Harold Schweizer

Poetry

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Praise for Miriam’s Book


“From the very first line, “Before the night stoops like a widow over a field of bones,” as Harold Schweizer’s stunning poem sequence opens, we are in the presence of a great poet. At once metaphor of loss and grief and fractal of Europe’s post-war landscape, Miriam’s Book comprises a harrowing tale of the struggles of one young couple—the narrator’s Jewish mother and gentile father—to survive the war. The text hovers among partial memories and shifting versions, and between an English made eloquent by distance and fragments of a German that, like Celan’s, still bears the traces of the Nazis’ horrific devastation. In the end, Schweizer bears compassionate witness to a truth, the soul’s capacity to create out of trauma beauty, though it be harsh and fill us with awe and terror—which is to say, Miriam’s Book unfolds in the terrain of the sublime.+

­—Cynthia Hogue, author of Revenance and The Incognito Body


“Harold Schweizer’s poetic novella Miriam’s Book is literally the best reading that has come before me in several years—fiction or poetry.

The period is WWII and Miriam is Jewish, escaping Germany, eventually to Switzerland. Her lover is Heinrich, who eventually is conscripted into Hitler’s military. What befalls Miriam is nothing we would wish for anyone, but we don’t find her pitiable because she is so appealing, courageous, and alive, taking her chances at life, at love, at surviving. Schweizer accomplishes the conveyance of this one soul with such grace we feel ourselves delivered as she meets and avoids discovery. The book reads like a mystery novel, and because of its filmic, piecemeal, disjunctive manner the reader stutters with its actions like the flickering of old films. The unsteadiness somehow carries us through even as it threatens to fail, omits things, leaps across gaps as its narrator, Stern Krebernick, leaves himself out, the inner ambush of his silence broken only by Miriam’s scant address to him at the close.

When a story is so severe it would be unbefitting to heap praise in the usual way. Perhaps only through the tenacity of lovers can we be brought to bear the weight of this ever unknowable, unspeakable period. Through this book we experience how much it takes to persevere beyond basic needs, toward heart’s core and even further: to enter the almost silent nucleus of one soul finding its way. Miriam’s Book is a resonant cry that reverberates long after one has read it to the last. “

—Tess Gallagher, author of Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems and The Man from Kinvara: Short Stories


“In Harold Schweizer’s strikingly innovative book-length poem Miriam’s Book, time becomes part of an emotionally charged interior narration. Set in the turbulence of northern Europe as WWII unfolds, the book depicts a world in which a character might survive certain death but bear the marks of such a possible outcome as if what did not happen could be even more significant than what did. Schweizer’s characters carry these projected narratives on their bodies like phantom limbs. These real pains from missing body parts and psychic losses merge and reverberate on another plane of reality which is already embedded in this one. Miriam’s Book is a stunning achievement and may well prove to be one of the most accomplished prose poems of recent times. “

—Charles Borkhuis, author of Disappearing Acts and Afterimage




Miriam’s Book is about a young Jewish woman’s traumatic experiences in WW2 and subsequently her child’s exposure to her post-traumatic stress disorder. While much of this narrative poem or verse novella is based on historical events, the fictional parts and the dislocations of syntax and temporal sequence aim to convey the terrifying uncertainty and disorientation suffered by victims of war and flight.

Harold Schweizer’s most recent publications include a volume of poems The Book of Stones and Angels (Tupelo Press) as well as two books of philosophical prose, Rarity and the Poetic: The Gesture of Small Flowers (Palgrave) and On Waiting (Routledge). He is Professor of English at Bucknell University.

Review in Compulsive Reader