Date Published: April 2018
Marc Kaminsky’s A Cleft in the Rock is a monumental achievement. At home in no world, Kaminsky has an uncanny gift for walking between worlds, traveling like a courier from the personal to the archetypal. I know of no poet whose work, passionate and visceral, inscribes itself so readily in typological time, the perpetual present of Biblical story, psalm, and creation myth. Meticulously grounded-in Yiddishkeit, the maelstrom of the family, wholehearted married love, the struggles of the aging body-these poems open onto absolutes. The chords they strike have extraordinary resonance: a dying father and Moses’ encounter with God, a hospital procedure and an interrogation site. Kaminsky visits the depths to find how to “live/with catastrophe in the world/of signs and wonders.” His book is itself a cleft in the rock, a site of hard-won emotional possibility in a stone-hearted age. These are poems of naked vulnerability and contingency; they remind us what it means to be whole and human. –D. Nurkse
A book of voyages, named for a moment in the people’s ur-voyage, written in the generations-long moment between departure and arrival, where even the rock on which a life is built turns out to be less than solid. Not so much a guide book as a record of a hard-won acceptance: “Isn’t it time/ I took up residence/ on the site of loss,/ in the house of my wavering,/ my impurity and impermanence?” An invitation to “the stranger’s table,” where we dine together. –Mark Weiss
The stakes are total in Marc Kaminsky’s A Cleft in the Rock, a radically candid account of a life marked by guilt, pain, and redemption by a mature poet whose every observation opens onto “a moment in the life of the planet.” Beginning with “Days of Kivi,” a long elegy that I can only compare to Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish for the vividness of its reenactment of memory, the reader is pulled into the rushing torrent of family drama, in this case the growing madness and early death of a younger brother. Grounded in Jewish spiritual practice and a quest for a moral life, Kaminsky’s poems have the power of “the lost ocean/ rushing through rock” and become in themselves vehicles for healing. They constitute collectively an extended prayer that “I might live/with catastrophe in the world/ of signs and wonders.” –Lee Sharkey
Every night I fell asleep traveling
in my father’s song
to the east, to the west.
In the east he taught me
death, in the west
he taught me death.
He sang of going under in the black
fires of Warsaw
and the crematoria.
He sang of being wrapped in white
linen in the streets of Laredo
and St. James’ Infirmary.
For much of my life I wasn’t here,
hypnotized by my father’s
I traveled on in images and music
he made more real to me
than my own right hand.
Marc Kaminsky is a poet, essayist, and psychotherapist in private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author of eight previous books of poetry, including The Road from Hiroshima (Simon and Schuster), Daily Bread (University of Illinois Press) and Kafka’s Ax (forthcoming from Junction Press in 2018). His poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Voices within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets, Atomic Ghost, and The Oxford Book of Aging. He has published six books and many essays on aging, reminiscing and storytelling, and the culture of Yiddishkeit.