Rodger Kamenetz’s five previous books of poetry are The Missing Jew, Nympholepsy, The Missing Jew: New and Selected, Stuck and The Lowercase Jew. He also authored The Jew in the Lotus, which The New York Times called “a revered text”; Stalking Elijah, winner of the National Jewish Book Award; and The History of Last Night’s Dream, which was featured on Oprah Winfrey’s Soul Series. His most recent prose is Burnt Books.
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To Die Next to You
To Die Next to You, a collection of poems by Rodger Kamenetz with drawings by Michael Hafftka, is a unique event in the literary and artistic world.
Two brother artists, both nurtured by the dream world and its imagined colors and sacred words, have joined to produce a single work of rare quality. More than just collaboration, this work is a journey into the power of the unconscious depth of word and image in which a master painter and poet present verbal and visual displays of agony and joy, destruction and falling, love and dying.
This project has taken 10 years to produce, from the first poems that emerged from Rodger Kamenetz’s encounter with dreamwork to three years of gestation as Michael Hafftka internalized the poems and reconstituted them in images that serve as imaginative midrash, annotation, anticipation and anti-illustration. The drawings offer brilliant first readings of the poems without limiting their scope, and it is equally possible to read the poems as reflections and interpretations of the drawings. The brilliant design of Andrew Shurtz allows the reader to move between worlds of poetry and painting without losing trace of either one.
Advanced praise for this new work has been overwhelming. Poet and art critic David Shapiro hailed Kamenetz as “one of the secret best poets in America” and found in his work “the fire in the heart of the great transcendental romantics.” Turning his eye to Hafftka’s “fabulous anti-illustrations,” he compared the artist to Soutine and Bacon and called him “a humanist in the line of Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt and Meyer Shapiro.”
John Yau, another greatly accomplished poet and art critic, said Kamenetz has sent us poems that are “mysterious and open — both parable and anti-parable,” while Hafftka “with pen and ink … registers the turmoil of being, afflicting the inhabitants of the strange world called now.”
Yau said together, the poet and artist have “achieved the miraculous.”
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