“Because there are no words,
There can be no poems.”
— from “The Shock That Went Away”
It’s a powerful line from one of Judith R. Robinson’s most resonant poems in her new anthology, “The Blue Heart.”
Thankfully, there are words, which Robinson has gathered to compose this slim, but stirring book of poetry that pays tribute to the survivors of the Holocaust, those who didn’t survive, and those people and institutions who keep the memory of those victims alive.
In fact, Robinson, an award-winning poet and fiction writer who blogs on the Jewish Pittsburgh poetry scene for the Chronicle, dedicated this book to one particular institution: the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
Robinson has written a book that is sometimes grim, sometimes hopeful. The images she creates are, as one reviewer wrote, “not for the faint of heart.” Perhaps so; perhaps they’re not even for those who don’t appreciate poetry.
But they should be.
Robinson sometimes invokes images of, and references to, children in her verses, such as in “A Survivor’s Child Paints,” in which the poet becomes an empathetic art critic, visibly moved by the images the young artists puts on paper.
Sometimes she gets abstract, employing visions of the high priests of old, as she does in the poem of the same title as the book, “The Blue Heart.” Here, a high priest bears witness to the suffering of a generation of Jews long after his own time is past.
In “Wakeful,” Robinson employs the sonnet, a format typically used to compose love poems, to invoke remembrance as well:
“For give her: she is afraid to be
near the spot of brain that bled so;
scared to watch the scab let go,
open up, pour forth, to see
the pool, a bloody flood again, said she.”
Robinson is not afraid to use disturbing images and metaphors. This is a disturbing subject; it must disturb us if the words are to touch us — and stay with us.
Some of Robinson’s poems are dedicated to individual survivors, giving this book an even more personal impact.
“The Blue Heart” is not the kind of book to be read, then slid onto a bookshelf never to be read again; it should be pulled out and read again and again and again. Like the psalms, you’ll always find a line here or there that will touch your senses, make you pause for a moment and think. That is the mark of good poetry.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“The Blue Heart,” by Judith R. Robinson, Finishing Line Press, 2013, 28 pages.