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Poetry. Jewish Studies. Walter Hess's remarkable JEW'S HARP is a celebration of family, of tradition, of living through terrible and wonderful times, and even of memory itself. The obvious themes are love and survival. The controlled lyric and narrative voice of the poems is that of a son, and grandson, speaking about his father, mother, wife, children and grandchildren; they speak of the agony of loss and the joy of retrieval; they speak of journeys, from Hitler's Germany, to Ecuador, to safety in America, and a new life. These are poems of an open spirit toward God and His people. These poems create the feel of ritual, a distancing that the depth of his subject and emotion evoke.
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Walter Hess was born in Germany and arrived in the US in 1940 via Ecuador. He was educated in New York City schools, with a BA from the City College of New York in 1952 and an MA from CCNY in 2003. He is a retired film editor. Films on which he collaborated have won numerous awards; among them two Peabodys and three Emmys. His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, and Mima'Amakim. Translations from the German of the poetry of Hans Sahl have appeared in Metamorphosis. He was awarded a prize from The Academy of American Poets in 2002. In 2003 he received from the Nyman Foundation, a prize, along with a substantial cash award for a selection from his memoir.Review:
Walter Hess s Jew s Harp is an extraordinarily beautiful and important collection. The poet, a refugee from Second World War Europe, finds loving ground in these poems of great lyricism and power that never shy away from difficult matter, while delving deeply and movingly into history, Judaism, family, loss, music, the urban and the natural with a mastery of language and poetic form. A Jew s harp is among the oldest instruments in the world, and Hess s harp plays straight to the heart, creating a counterpoint of what is most ancient and wholly modern to produce a serene, eternal, soaring and searing music all his own. --Yerra Sugarman
Despite the extreme pain and loss that s recalled so vividly, Jews Harp is a celebration of family, tradition, living through terrible and wonderful times, and memory itself. This story is about the journey from Germany to Ecuador to the ultimate settling of these German Jewish immigrants in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. The controlled lyric and narrative voice of the poems is that of a son, and grandson, speaking about his father, mother, children, grandchildren and assorted relatives. Many of these are survivors, as is the speaker, and some poems address those who perished in the holocaust. The obvious themes are love and surviving. We come to know his family, notably Oma, the much loved grandma (who didn't survive) through imagery that is so powerful one almost wants to look away. In one poem he says I want it back and this it includes lives that have ended and memories in danger of fading. He does bring it all back through dazzling free verse poems; and those using formal patterns include a wonderful Ghazal. Walter Hess had a long career as a film documentarian and the poems are enriched by his keen eye and ear for sensory perceptions. These are poems of reverence and of an open spirit toward God and His people the poet s people too. The tendency towards form, even in free verse poems, creates the feel of ritual, a distancing required by the extremity of the subjects and emotions. --Barry Wallenstein
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