Taub, Yermiyahu Ahron. “The Education of a Daffodil: Prose Poems”, Hadassa Word Press, 2017.
From the Heart to the Page
Every once in a while I come upon a writer whose words affect me and my life. Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is such a writer and as I write this I am trying to remember how I first came upon his writing. I can’t recall if someone else recommended it to me or whether I just found it through luck. It doesn’t matter really except for the fact that it has influenced how I look at the written word and especially how I regard poetry. His poems are those that I read with tears in my eyes because of the way he treats language. Now in “The Education of a Daffodil”, Taub reflects on violence and does so as an outsider; Taub is a poet who seeks connection with the world and is one who has lived life from the outside looking in. He is a gay Jew and a lover who grew up in the Orthodox Jewish world and who thinks of himself as a daffodil, a beautiful flower who has endured pain and rejection yet, in my mind, a writer who blooms all the more because of it. If I am ever asked who my favorite modern poet, the answer is clearly Yermiyahu Ahron Taub.
All of us have at some time felt that we have been outsiders causing us to be frustrated because we cannot find a connection, we feel like fragile daffodils as Taub says. Dealing with rejection and non-communication is painful and once have experienced this, we never want to do so again. However, that pain is necessary for us to better understand who we are and so Taub takes us back to the pain so that we can recover from it. In this our poet becomes more than a poet— he is also a storyteller and something of a dramatist by throwing us cues to which we react. He has divided his book into two sections. In “Brief Histories of Fear”, Taub looks at small scale violence with a series of prose poems that are not connected until taken as a whole. It is here that he builds his mise en scene by producing an atmosphere of danger and fear of what is to come. We strongly sense dislocation and violence and as we read, we become part of his writing. We see the dependence on those who are the opposite of the figures that bring this hate and violence into our lives. “if Aunt Lavinia were here… I would not be so afraid”.
The poems in this section paint portraits of both the poet and of the various anti-heroes in differing times of crisis and, as Taub states introspection. Too often we do not look into ourselves where the answer may be waiting. It is here that we meet those who have influenced his life as created the moods he has gone through and those that are yet to come. He takes us by the hand and guides us through his life as an underling and to the point that he can stand and say that he is proud of who he is. You may question my use of the word “underling” but you only need to read this collection to understand why I chose it.
The second section, “Life Studies in Yellow and Other Primary Colors,” we right away see the interconnection between the poems in which the poet moves from being unaware and unknowing through violence until he can reach a point where there is balance and he can find the equilibrium that he needs. If we take the collection as a whole, we see that he achieves some kind of spiritual education that enables him to continue forward. “The daffodil has turned in the tank… slender of stem and bright of bulb”. That daffodil has “ventured into worlds alternative…” He no longer meets with “pity or revulsion or distance”. We have been with him as he went from innocence to brutality to balance. We have read his stories of loss and trauma, of being displaced, of xenophobia and of dealing with his sexuality to find his place in this world of ours. His past is as important as his present and future for it is from there that he arrives at the others. If there is a message here and I believe that there is a strong one, it is that one who does not examine his life to learn who he is remains just that— unaware, unknowing and far from finished. As the poet is transformed, we are there watching— not as voyeurs but as friends in whom he has trust. He has such confidence in us that we he lets us see the cruelties that he experiences (and that we also experience) and we see his survival and hope that we can do the same. In fact, I would venture to say that the book, is an ode to survival.
In one of the blurbs of the book by others, I came across a Yiddish word that OI have not heard in years— “schlimazel” or one suffers but not by his own hand. Rather he is set apart by others and the result is not only that separation but separation from himself as well. It is possible to move from that as we see here and we become aware of what happens if one does not.
I have met Yermiyahu Ahron Taub and actually spent a weekend with him here in Boston when he came for a poetry festival a couple of years ago. I did not see the guy who appears in the earlier poems but rather the man who has found who he is and is confidant in that.
Stop to think for a moment how often you feel transformed after closing the covers of a book. It does not happen often but it will happen here and I promise you that. We must celebrate survival without ever forgetting how we got to it.
Six poems also have a Yiddish version.