I could count the number of times I’ve read a complete poetry book in one sitting on a single digit. Until now. Ruth Panofsky’s Radiant Shards not only allows a single-sitting read but almost demands it. A sectioned story of fact and speculation, this suite of poems is well-researched yet comprised of fabricated insight that (I like to believe) must be accurate. This is an author who knows her subject intimately, adding poetic artistry that, poignantly paired with historical photos in black and white, creates an enrapturing, ekphrastic-adjacent feel.Panofsky’s poetry reads like narrative prose, thus the story-time readability, the gradual revealing of a fully developed character, and our desire to know what comes next. As a reader, we’re granted predominantly unobstructed views aboard a depression-era trolley-like ride through Winnipeg’s North End. I can relate in more ways than one, this being my dad’s hometown, a time and city I know well, ethnic blocks and pockets of grit. Not to mention a sex worker buddy – their journey, while unique, unfailingly familiar – who I’ve written with. Following a prompt to share something funny, something personal, with a blush he/she told the story of their most embarrassing moment – dozing off on the job, mid-job. Their second most embarrassing moment? Waking up, after dozing off on the job, mid-job. Finding levity (and strength) in situations that could break others.
Within this neighbourhood Panofsky directs our windowed ride through Hoda’s childhood, family, loss, hardship, choices or lack thereof, parenthood, a youngster and woman’s survival. It would be wrong to break the fluidity of this work, so instead I share a sequence of passages in their inherent, seamless flow.
As I walk / the North End / streets / Hoda’s body / the pitch / of her voice / beckon // Soon / I find myself / yielding / to her rare / dignity / compassion / and grace
Fatso cow / the kids call me / cracked too // but I know better – / my body sparkles / my mind stirs // let them jeer – / I say nuts to them
Hodaleh, Hodaleh / Daddy calls / his voice // nearly breaks me / he is gentle / I betray his trust // easily / sleep with boys / in the adjacent room // and pretend otherwise / I do it for him / to earn our keep // and make him safe / by my side / in my sight
His words / and will / strengthen / my resolve / against the / bullying torment / that rises anew / in Daddy’s hallowed North End.
While structure allows fluent absorption of this work, Panofsky’s content – words, style, structure – pull us through this time, this space, and this story of resilience in such a way we FEEL our heroine’s strength, determination, caring, need, and yes, pride that makes an individual – real or imagined, relatable. This is a project of passion shared in a rich, engaging manner. I’m left pulling for a person I’ve never met, but perhaps now know.
About the Author: Ruth Panofsky is an award-winning poet who lives and writes in Toronto, where she teaches Canadian Literature and Culture at Ryerson University. She is the author of Lifeline (2001) and Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices (2007), which won the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award. Radiant Shards: Hoda’s North End Poems, her third volume of verse, received a Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Award.
About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of WIBA Finalist Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Dromomania: A Wonderful Magical Journey. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s poetry, articles and columns are published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not trekking the globe with a weatherproof journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and misbehaving. https://www.amazon.com/author/billarnott_aps
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