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TEL by S.  Karlan


by S. Karlan

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 2014
Publisher: Lulu

Karlan (Evolution, 2013) contemplates the impossibility of life and the inevitability of death in this long poem.

The poet’s subjects are youth, aging, history, and the struggle to come to terms with each. He begins with images of childhood—specifically, with “you” watching swans floating on a pond and wandering through the sunny streets of Tel Aviv. These are quickly complicated by an image of a suicide bomber blowing up a bus, and later, a biblically tinged loss of innocence during a first sexual encounter: “You recoil in terror / From the woman who would / Bring you into history / Enter her gate / And leave the garden / A flaming sword / To prevent your return.” Reminders of the fleeting nature of life are everywhere, and Karlan often returns to the metaphor of the tel, an artificial hill formed from centuries of detritus: “Tel / A mound on the side / Of the road / There, for the weary tourist to see / Gazing absently out the window / Before nodding into sleep. / Tel / Layers of conquest / Displacements / Of the golden dust.” The word is found in the names of both Tel Aviv, the modern Israeli city that lies at the heart of the poem, and Tel Megiddo, the ancient site that’s the origin of the term “armageddon.” Karlan’s verses have a dreamlike quality, vacillating between concrete imagery and more abstract, visionary stanzas. The author is stronger when working with the former, crafting lines that are as specific as they are fanciful: “The streets are known only to themselves / Where old buildings hold secrets / In a grammar of fire escapes / And curtained windows.” Although readers will get a sense of Karlan’s overall argument in broad strokes, they may find it difficult to precisely identify where some specific images or topics fit in, as some are quickly introduced and then dropped. However, there’s a sense of universality in the poet’s answer to unanswerable questions: Writing itself. “Black ink on / White paper / Creation out of / Nothing / To learn with the brush / To draw the words / With energy and passion / So that every word will tell / Every day, a new page / A new beginning.”

A sometimes-inscrutable poetic work with many intriguing images.