Personal and religious encounters provide the raw material for Ratner's ( The Lion's Share ) 13th collection of poetry. And the poems, which evoke Jewish ritual and communal life, are remarkable for their simplicity, clarity and depth of feeling. They are not so much ``about'' religious experience as they are moments of it. In a poem dedicated to the illustrator Bernard Solomon--whose beautiful woodcuts support the text well--the poet responds to the Rebbe's (and Plato's) challenge to the artist: `` how dare you / pretend to create such life .''sic ital The reply: ``Tell the frightened child /you imitate it only.'' The poems are declared imitations, representations, and as such gain their power from their exactness of observation and from the poet's use of language as a mimetic tool. Not all of the poems are equally strong; some never transcend the coded autobiographical, occasional pieces for loved ones. But no matter. For the most part, Ratner's intelligence, perceptiveness, craft and humility before the material win out. She comments, ``somehow / when I'm quiet enough / the meanings surface.'' She's right. (Oct.)
The poems in Ratner's latest collection mainly center on Jewish life-cycle events, rituals, and family. Ratner artfully probes shifts in Jewish family tradition as in ``Rosh Hashanah Meal'': ``There's challah of course/ but Ann slices it/ in the kitchen/and nobody blesses it.'' The poems on death (mainly about her grandparents) and the misery of loss in general are especially poignant. In ``Heartsong,'' her grandmother is dying: ``Digit digit digit digit/ her heart a timepiece/ digit digit-alis.'' Painful and witty at the same time, the poems are simple in structure and give the reader a warm feeling for family, changing tradition, friendship, and an understanding of the pain of alienation and loss. A glossary of terms is included. The book is beautifully illustrated with bold etchings by printmaker Bernard Solomon that capture the mood of spiritual quest. Highly recommended. Ratner is an LJ reviewer.--Ed.-- Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md.