On Ruins & Return: Poems 1999-2005
On Ruins & Return, Poems 1999-2005 is Rachel Tzvia Back's second full-length collection and tracks the cycle of violence marking the lives of Palestinians and Israelis in the last intifadah (uprising).
The past exists in layers of our present and perhaps nowhere more powerfully than in the place evoked in this beautiful and haunting collection of poems. Rachel Tzvia Back's passionate historical sense illuminates ways in which outer violence touches our deepest subconscious. From a complex of shared circumstances within the seemingly endless struggle between Israel and Palestine, she draws spiritual sustenance. When hope is in retreat and there seems to be "nothing left/resembling the human/but soldiers on their knees/ in the sand", the austere beauty of this poetry remains.
Where is any place now when even in Israel one longs for the promise of Israel? When every place has two names and two destinies, ghosts cannot be silent and the land itself speaks. Woolf asked, “what is the tense of desire, what is the phrase of the moon,” and in Back's poetic idiom, hallucination and prophecy go by the same name. Though lyric in their shape these poems are disjunctive injunctions, asemic prayers, desperately disparate, because in a land of strangers every citizen and every idea of citizenship is suspect. As in her previous book Azimuth, Back is able to use open field composition, multivocal address, polyvalent textures, and a particularly disturbing fractured form of couplet to speak searingly, bracingly, truthfully about a life only she herself has lived.