Alicia Suskin Ostriker's voice has long been acknowledged as a major force in American poetry. In No Heaven, her eleventh collection, she takes a hint from John Lennon's “Imagine” to wrestle with the world as it is: “no hell below us, / above us only sky.”
It is a world of cities, including New York, London, Jerusalem, and Berlin, where the poet can celebrate pickup basketball, peace marches, and the energy of graffiti. It is also a world of families, generations coming and going, of love, love affairs, and friendship. Then it is a world full of art and music, of Rembrandt and Bonnard, Mozart and Brahms. Finally, it is a world haunted by violence and war. <I>No Heaven</I> rises to a climax with elegies for Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated by an Israeli zealot, and for the poet's mother, whose death is experienced in the context of a post-9/11 impulse to destroy that seems to seduce whole nations.
Yet Ostriker's ultimate stance is to “Try to praise the mutilated world,” as the poet Adam Zagajewski has counseled. At times lyric, at times satiric, Ostriker steadfastly pursuesin No Heaven her poetics of ardor, a passion for the here and now that has chastened and consoled her many devoted readers.
No Heaven is Ostriker at her best. The elegiac poems that sing to her dead mother and characterize an eroding America as 'this moon-shaped blankness' are deeply compelling.
In No Heaven Alicia Ostriker is at the top of her form. The poems 'hang in the air like Nijinsky taking a nap'—no need of heaven when the living can perform such feats.
With the vision and compassion of the poet, Ostriker not only shares a glimpse of a "stolen past" in a Berlin museum, the gnawing emptiness following her mother's death and the continued government - and religious - bred violence coursing throughout the world, but she also gives an answer. Life indeed may offer no heaven.
A long-prominent poet and feminist critic (Stealing the Language), Ostriker further plumbs subjects of previous work: sectarian violence, urban geography, family history, easel painting, and Jewish identity. If Ostriker sacrifices verbal nuance for moral clarity, she nonetheless makes her persona and views appealingly present on every page.
Edgy, erotic, funny, and ornery. . . .Ostriker's tonic poems remind us that although we are the animal that kills out of rage and greed, we are also creatures of grace and harmony.
Ostriker's poems connect to the reader—and to one another—to deliver a owerful and complex story. 'No Heaven' offers lots of reading experiences that you don't expect when you pick up a book of poetry....The poems are alternately beautiful, startling and perceptive. But reading through the breadth of Ostriker's work, you will find that her poetry gains momentum, following upon itself with nuanced skill, successive poems building to deliver a message more complex than any single poem.
Alicia Suskin Ostriker is a major American poet and critic. She is the author of numerous poetry collections, including, most recently, The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog; The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems, 1979–2011; and The Book of Seventy, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. She has received the Paterson Poetry Prize, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award, among other honors. Ostriker teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Drew University and is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.learn more