Schneiderman, Jason. “Hold Me Tight”, Red Hen, 2020.
Risk and Vulnerability
I have long been a fan of Jason Schneiderman’s poetry and I love every new book of his that comes out, However, I was not prepared for the vulnerability that I found here. That is not a bad thing, far from it. It is a good thing because it meant the poet has descended from above and feels what so many of us feel.
“Hold Me Tight” is composed of five poetic sequences and looks at life in today’s world of technology, violence and anxiety. He explores selfhood and where life is going. The collection opens with “Anger”, a long poem about finding peace and the struggle it takes. Having just recently done some deep research on anger for a class I will be teaching on anger in the Hebrew Bible, I dove right in and realized that this is an extremely personal poem about an issue we all deal with from time-to-time. Using his own life as a basis, we see the universality of anger and no one is exempt from being angry.
“And I realized
That I’ve never
I only know rage.”
This is the conclusion he reaches after Schneiderman asked everyone how anger works and after trying to find a definition of what anger is. Can we differentiate between anger and rage?
“What it’s like to want
Everyone else to suffer
As much as you
This is a question I leave for you to decide after reading “Anger”. Schneidermann looks for a definition for the anger he feels only to discover that it also has another name.
Next we have a series of parables about wolves used metaphorically to look at political conflicts, emotions and relationships that all seemed to have the perpetrator and the victim, “the predators and prey”. “Wolf loves Fox, which wolves don’t do… which makes all the other wolves hate him”. I reread that line over and over thinking how perfectly this applies to loving someone that society sees as unfit for me.
“All the wolves are named Wolf,
which usually works fine, but now that
Wolf loves Fox, they need a name to drive him
”… “Foxbutreallywolf [sic] says
…“I had to know you would give everything up
for me”. (Thinking to myself, “WOW!”. I have never heard it put that way before).
A group of ten poems about Chris Burden and his movement from the personal, self-inflicted violence of his early work to the larger questions of political violence of his later work.
“The submarines are undeniably beautiful,
suspended from the ceiling in a field…
‘Oh god, look at all that destruction we’ve
unleashed on the world!” But really,
Those are some beautiful submarines”.
We then shift to a group of poems about technology and art that looks at how technologies extend the possibilities of the human body and this alters what it means to be human.
“O newest of new words
Welcome to my mouth!
Are we open to dealing with the new especially when we see the tremendous amount of change in our lives?
“Because we die, because
We can more easily calculate
The number of possibilities
Than actually look at them.”
In the fifth and final sequence, Schneiderman creates a series of “last things” where finality gives meaning to the people and things in question. That old humanism is here as is the holding, accepting and loving of the changes in the way we live and think.
“The last baby is only the last baby for a year or so”.
Schneiderman’s project invokes a kind of old fashioned humanism, embracing the ruptures in our contemporary ways of living and thinking.
Risk and vulnerability abound in the entire collection. I was reminded that the line from the Book of Ecclesiastes , “there is nothing new under the sun” is only temporary especially when we realize that the germ for something new comes from the old and what is new is only temporarily so. There were times that I read that I felt that I was actually conversing with Schneidermann (and maybe one day I will get that opportunity). Everything he says is grounded in the reality in which we live. There are surprises here in that we are surprised to see how we feel in words. It takes a brave man to do that.
I must admit that I did not arrive at what I say here after a singular reading. I kept returning to the poems hoping that the conversation between the poet and myself was still in progress. We can chat about every line of verse and every completed poem and to me, that is what great literature is. Schneidermann’s poems will stay with me for a very long time and the fact that I am having flashbacks as I write this is proof of that. I love “Hold Me Tight”.