by Rachel Weiss-Feldman
April is National Poetry Month! In its honor, I invite all to meet new WNBA-NYC member Bracha Nechama Bomze. Her debut book-length poem Love Justice came out in March from 3RingPress. It depicts the streams of culture, ancestry, and politics that fed the river of her 31-year love affair with another woman, now her legal wife. A native New Yorker, Bracha and her wife, Carol, have been together since 1983, and married since 2008.
Love Justice is compelling and absorbing. There are reflections of Jewish relatives who immigrated to turn-of-the-century NYC, Holocaust survival and its aftermath, protesting war in the 60’s, and the quest to be able to marry the one you love. I asked Bracha about the craft of poetry, as well as some of the topics she writes, and is passionate, about.
How did you hear about the WNBA? My publisher, Jezra Kaye, told me about the association, and suggested I attend the Twitter workshop, in anticipation of my book. The workshop was wonderful, the presenter was patient, and I learned a lot. I was thrilled to know this organization exists.
For those [like myself] who know little about poetry format, what is a book-length poem as opposed to a collection? I can explain it with the following metaphors: A ceramicist creates a set of dinnerware, and carefully crafts each piece. Each has some kind of tie-in, subtle or otherwise. Even if each piece is not identical, they can be recognized as connected and would serve as connected items. This is like a collection of poems.
In contrast, a book-length poem could be envisioned as a hand-embroidered tablecloth. There are variations to the stitching and design but it is all one piece, as opposed to separate but connected pieces. The intricacy of an embroidered tablecloth contains designs that enhance each other yet stand out while being part of the same cloth. It is the same entity.
Who is one poet that most people don’t know but should? Maxine Kumin—she is one poet who may have been forgotten, but can be found in the anthology Poets Against the War (2003).
Love Justice contains a powerful segment about the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire in 1911. What is the personal significance of that event? My wife’s grandmother, Sheindl, was denied a job at the company one week before the fire. Sheindl was a union organizer, and each time she went to factories to organize, the bosses would call the police and she would be carted away. The factories forbid labor unions. In fact, one reason the doors were locked was so organizers could not get in. Sheindl tried to get a job at Triangle Shirtwaist to unionize the shop (but also because she needed work). She was not a natural seamstress, so we’re not sure if she didn’t get hired because the bosses had a head’s up about her or if she failed the sewing test.
I’ve always been aware and interested in this tragic event since my teens but it is especially important to me because there is no way my wife would exist if her grandmother had gotten that job. Last month [March 25, 2015], I read a segment of Love Justice at the fire’s 104th anniversary commemoration. The factory was at Washington Place in the Village [today, it is NYU’s Brown Building of Science], and I was able to point to the windows on the 9th floor from which workers jumped. The part about the fire is a segment of the book from page 18 (beginning at line 6) to page 23.
What was the aftermath of the fire and how does it resonate today? The Triangle Fire tragedy took place during the birth of the labor movement to organize garment workers. This was not the only factory fire of its day, but it gave impetus to a movement that was already happening. Italian and Jewish communities were particularly affected. When the factory owners got off scot-free it sparked great horror among various communities.
Today, groups like the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition are making powerful public statements about the fact that the issues that killed the Triangle workers still persist, and there are a lot of opportunities to stand up for just and safe environments for everyone. Today, while we do have rules for safer factories here, there are very few inspectors. And for undocumented workers, there are all manner of hellholes that are secret and dangerous, and that persist in the US and all over. Sweatshop labor and child labor are issues of justice (and injustice).
What are you currently reading? Basho: The Complete Haiku by Matsuo Bashō, translated by Jane Reichhold.
Haiku seems very easy: 5 words-7-words-5 words, no rhyming necessary…kind of simple. They are more difficult than you think. You want to reduce a complex idea and evoke emotion in a powerful economy of words.
To quote Mark Twain “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement…Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”
How in your opinion, can poetry change the world (or at least groups of people)? Poetry gives permission to feel culturally taboo emotions as fully human. This includes tenderness and empathy as well as what is necessary for us to feel in order to challenge the direction of a war-obsessed society. By speaking of what was voiceless in us we liberate what is voiceless in others. Poetry also gives permission to say the unsayable in order to put one’s finger on what needs to be changed in the world.
Bracha will be reading and launching her book at 7pm on Saturday, April 18th, at Book Culture, 450 Columbus Ave. (between 81st and 82nd Streets), NYC. Bracha’s website and blog is at lovejusticethepoem.com
To learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, visit RemembertheTriangleFire.org.
Rachel Weiss-Feldman is the WNBA-NYC Membership Chairperson. She has worked in non-profit marketing and project management for over 15 years and is currently working towards a Certificate in Fundraising at NYU-SCPS