Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Editor's Review of Melting the Ice King by Gerard Sarnat

I recently had the pleasure of reading Gerard Sarnat's latest poetry collection Melting the Ice King, published this year by Pessoa Press, San Francisco.  The book contains about seventy-six poems within about sixty-five actual pages.*  Most of the poems are elegies (often satirical ones) to the poet's father who died of lung cancer just shy of 100 years of age.  The irony and satire found throughout the collection begins right away with the cover photo, which features a romantic shot of the poet's rugged looking, movie star handsome father smoking a cigarette while on horseback and holding hands with his similarly mounted beauty of a wife (pictured).

Readers familiar with my personal biases know that I am not a fan of prosaic poetry and that I believe that vignette style poetry more properly belongs in collections of short stories or in flash fiction venues.  Thus, it will come as a surprise to readers of my reviews to learn that I actually enjoyed reading Dr. Sarnat's poems, about three quarters of which fall into the prosaic or vignette style categories.  The poems contain a Kerouac-ian rhythm and flow to them which I find compelling and pleasing to the ear. The raw honesty of the often ironic poems, while occasionally jarring, really sings; whether this is due to the form or the content or some combination is an interesting question.

The ideal audience for this collection would be elderly Jewish Americans of a liberal bent that remember the hippy era with mixed feelings.  A working knowledge of yiddish and medicine would serve the reader well, but Dr. Sarnat aids the uninitiated by the use of helpful footnotes.  However, readers who may only have heard of Jews and for whom the 1960s might as well be the 1860s will still enjoy reading this collection, as readers that fall into this category will have the additional pleasure of being immersed in what for them would be a new and interesting culture.

Many of the poems are personal to the Sarnat family--some a bit too personal, as when the junior Dr. Sarnat mentions the discovery of the senior doctor's "condom drawer."  However, the vast majority of the poems address difficult topics such as:  hospice, funeral planning, end of life decisions, sibling rivalry, the elderly taking care of the even more elderly, death, and loss.  These poems, though sung by Dr. Sarnat's unique voice about his unique extended family dynamic, have a rich, universal appeal.

Melting the Ice King, as well as other collections of poetry by Dr. Sarnat, is available on and at select bookstores.  It is a bit overpriced at $19.95, as many longer collections by more well known poets may be had for a fraction of that price.  A significant collection of Dr. Sarnat's poetry was published in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.  Three of the poems that appear in Melting the Ice King were first published in the Review and may be found here and here and here  Another poem, "Red White and the Blues" is wrongly credited to Songs of Eretz in the Acknowledgments section of Melting the Ice King.   Five more poems by Dr. Sarnat published or reprinted in Songs of Eretz may be found here and here and here and here and here

About the Poet:  Dr. Sarnat received his education at Harvard and Stanford.  He established and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised, has been a CEO of healthcare organizations, and was a Stanford professor.  He and his wife of over forty-five years have three children and two grandchildren with more on the way, and live in the room above their oldest daughter’s garage.

*The number of actual pages (a term of my own invention) of a poetry collection is determined by counting the number of pages in a volume that are actually covered with words of poetry (a rather tedious process), leaving out all pages not found in the main body, all blank pages, blank spaces, and pages devoted only to section or chapter titles.

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