Silver Highlights by Azila Talit Reisenberger
01 Jan 2012
Silver Highlights is a collection by Azila Talit Reisenberger who contemplates on love, human nature, ‘the dog’ and on other vanities.
Growing in another ‘Mother Tongue’ yet ‘living in English’, Reisenberger twists and turns the English language in fresh and exciting ways.
As the title suggests it concentrates on “Highlights” in life seen from the vantage point of the ‘Age of Wisdom’, the age of ‘Silver highlights’, when we count our past achievements and record our present existence with absolute fun.
The poems are witty, and cheerful yet some have a bitter sweet twist to them.
Date of Publication: January 2012
Reviews: Review by Geoffrey Haresnape:
“‘I WRITE— TO BE’, AND IT’S IN ENGLISH
Is Azila Reisenberger’s ‘I’ an open sign through which the reader has free access to her innermost world? Or is it a construct designed to create specific responses – a persona, in effect? The many ‘I’ poems in Silver Highlights leads to a consideration of these questions. Certainly, the subject matter of these poems is personal. The reader is introduced to her ‘I’ as lover, wife, daughter, mother, professional academic, traveller, and aging person.
Reisenberger’s ‘I’ deals not only with the more usual items in a woman’s narrative— a daughter’s pietas towards her parents, the learning curve of marriage, concern at loss of youth, a mother’s feeling of being cast off by grown-up children, etc. — but also with some surprisingly intimate subject matter. ‘Freedom’ and ‘Feminine Conformity’ are paired and contrasted poems dealing with the respective attractions to their owner of ‘tiny lacy things/in pink and black’ and ‘old fashioned cotton…bloomers’ that can cover her ‘wall to wall.’ In ‘Freedom’, the bloomers prevail over the ‘sexy lace that scratches,’ but ‘Feminine Conformity’ opts for the ‘little lacy things’ rather than the bloomers because wearing them ‘makes the world know/that I am still in the race’. In a different context, the ‘I’ reveals covert thoughts on her eventual death. Notwithstanding her attitude of apparent acceptance, she admits: ‘ in my heart I know/that I will kick and bite/when my day comes round’ [‘The Days’ ].
Generally, the ‘I’ poems have such a confessional character that we can almost think ourselves to be dealing with an open sign that gives free access to Reisenberger the person. This is, however, not the whole story. Although she may not be consciously crafting a persona with her ‘I’, Reisenberger needs the act of writing to bring a self into being. This is admitted in ‘Why I write,’ the first poem in the collection. We come to realise that Reisenburger’s ‘I’ may, in essence, be a necessary strategy to establish a coherent identity for herself — and for her reader. Through the intense business of writing a poem, she discovers the ‘I’ that she is compelled/wants to be, and by which she wishes to be known to her reader. Most of the ‘she’ poems in the collection are essentially disguised ‘I’ poems, so the same rationale for their genesis can be seen to apply.
There are, however, a number of poems in Silver Highlights for which the above remarks are not appropriate. The collection follows in the wake of The Other Booker Prize , a novel. Reisenberger’s knack for narrative and creation of character may be found in some of the poems organized around a ‘he/she’ binary. ‘All by Himself’ is a wry take on the responses of a long-married man to his wife’s death. A sense of loss is present, but there is also a realization of new-found freedom with its immediate compensations. He can lay claim to the whole double bed and can snore all night ‘like a vuvuzela’ without upsetting a fellow sleeper. Religious observance is inscribed in the widower’s formulaic ‘May your Soul Rest in Peace,’ but this is counterpointed against his confessional “Now I can rest in peace.’
A similar technique of verbal counterpointing may be found in ‘The beginning of the end,’ a cautionary tale about a teenage love affair. In this poem, a sixteen year old girl believes that she has embraced adult life after having sex with a fellow student: “This is the end of the beginning,” she thought.’ When her baby comes with its plethora of duties and expense, the single mother changes the word order of her observation to ‘This is the beginning of the end.’
Reisenburger’s work as a writer straddles two languages, Hebrew and English. She realizes that the cross-over from one language to another can lead to some awkward situations; e.g., a young girl in Tel Aviv wonders how Shakespeare can be such a great writer when ‘his Hebrew/was slightly old-fashioned and stilted’ [‘Recognizing Genius’]. A key poem, ‘In Need of Translation’, reminds the reader that English is not Reisenburg’s mother tongue. In South Africa, the Hebrew of her Israeli childhood, which she has sometimes worn ‘like an exotic coat of great beauty’, has brought little or no response. So she has had to find new clothes if she is not to walk ‘naked’ and is to survive in her place of residence. English constitutes that alternative garb, and a workmanlike dress it is. What Marcia Leveson calls ‘Reisenburger’s fresh moments of insight and nostalgia’ are efficiently realized in English, together with a good deal of irony and humour. There are, however, ways in which the Hebrew heritage remains. Not least among these is her evident reliance upon the wisdom and ethics enshrined in a body of literature written long before Modern, Middle, or even Old English were evolved.
Reisenburger is ever practical. ‘Who reads poetry?’ she asks in her final poem. This collection should be enough to pull her friends who ‘go to cricket/play poker/and love to vegetate/in front of the television’ away from these activities, and to make for them ‘the only on occasion’ when they spend time with a book of verse.”