Sarnat's first book of poems, HOMELESS CHRONICLES from Abraham to Burning Man, potent as it was and able to utilize poetic verities of line and structure without tying down his anger at social inequities, hardly prepared us for the personal intimacy and moving emotional content of Disputes. Despite the safety of his stable, upper middle class life, married to his childhood sweetheart and leading a prosperous and happy life, Sarnat has worked selflessly with the homeless as a healer in the fullest sense of the word, refusing to turn away from inconvenient, unpleasant reality and motivating him to dig deeper into his own life, exploring the domestic turbulence that may have lied buried along the way. In the course of creating this informal poetic dialogue, joking at himself and finding light in situations where others would see only dark, Sarnat has woven an absorbing, sophisticated embroidery which makes us smile with him, open our hearts, and reflect more deeply on our own experiences. By allowing multiple facets of his own life to overlap, intertwined with shifting timeframes and periods including experiences both shared with other people and passively observed, Sarnat magically transforms words and phrases into moving, occasionally disturbing poetry that should resonate with a wide range of readers.
Melting the Ice King
Gerard Sarnat’s fourth collection, Melting the Ice King, is a poetic tour de force. Equal parts sacred and profane, profound and ribald, sensory lusciousness and chuckling wisdom, Gerry kept me not only on my toes but eagerly turning pages. Shifting between meditations on his 99 and 100 year-old parents and hilarious DiMaggio, Monroe, Manson and Lear cameos; intriguing work like this doesn’t come along often. Sarnat not only honors the legacy of his lineage, but also his readers.
What happens when you grow up in the shadow of a father who may not approve? Then what happens when he dies and the clan’s new patriarch is you? Sarnat weaves fact with fiction in turns surprising and emotionally trenchant as he uses deft skill to paint an immigrant family making good, sometimes behaving badly. This thought-provoking collection left me inspired to write to understand my own father.
Seventy year-old Gerard Sarnat continues to write masterfully and young. His latest book is a moving tribute to his parents that spans our collective struggles. In psychologically subtle and artistically diverse -- even epic -- verse, Sarnat's engaging inventive reflections are by turns fierce and comical. Melting The Ice King is a memorable collection well worth the read.
Sarnat sees the world in unique clips of vivid Americana and Yiddish colloquialisms. Death’s a messy business, and who would know better than Gerard and his dying father, both physicians? In "Gerontophilia," tenderness seeps in: "Senilitude, I smell you. / Right thing to do, see Father through/ barefoot and clean. Be there. Care." Though Gerry employs straightforward plainspeak when he grieves, other entertaining poems summon Philip Roth-meets-Bukowski!
Gerard Sarnat’s many-splendored poetry comes out of the love of a grand/father who juggles verbs, leftover brisket and homeless encampments. Gerry’s elegant yet gritty wordsmithing makes me feel simultaneously like I’m in the front row of history and back seat of his Ford Starliner. This shaman embraces the whole spirit and the holy spirit in a real and imagined solar system whose alchemy of orbiting planets comes together in something gorgeous.
We cannot equate poetry with reality, but the hero in this book, while grieving the loss of his father, also shows us that grieving is the highest expression of love. When I read Gerard Sarnat’s Ice King, I pondered -- will these short poems, to use Gerry’s metaphor, be the painful splinters of a broken mirror in which his father used to look and now reflects the poet himself? But the more I proceeded I saw also lollipops of the grownup child with splashes of humor, and very precise observations about the nature of his father, his surrounding and belongings, lightening the texture of the poetry. Meanwhile I imagined Gerry playing the Russian game of biryulki (a form of pick-up sticks using actual physical objects), managing to pull from the bottom of his life some little precious objects, events and curious details, and not bring down the whole edifice. He even introduces a little bit of eroticism in what started out as a mourning book, giving good contrasts between life and death, between particular moments and eternity. Gerry finishes the book with an impressionistic, almost abstract poem engulfing himself in one of those moments at the Redondo Beach shore, describing the colors, smells and movements mixed together in the swirl of life. It's his way of overcoming grief, breaking big stones into little pieces, learning the big picture by looking attentively at the details until the stones turn into grains of sand, which, over time, will be blown away too. In other words, one more wonderful Sarnat book giving us the opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirrors of his poetry, seeing similar moments in our lives, to grieve, and to enjoy life fully.
I recently had the pleasure of reading Gerard Sarnat's latest poetry collection Melting the Ice King, published this year by Pessoa Press, San Francisco… Most of the poems are elegies to the poet's father, who at least in this telling died of lung cancer just shy of 100 years of age. The irony and satire found throughout the collection begin right away with the cover photo, which features a romantic shot of the poet's rugged looking, movie star handsome father smoking a cigarette while on horseback and holding hands with his similarly mounted beauty of a wife (pictured). Readers familiar with my personal biases know that I am not a fan of vignette style poetry. Thus, it will come as a surprise to learn that I actually enjoyed Dr. Sarnat's poems...The poems contain a Kerouac-ian rhythm and flow I find compelling and pleasing to the ear. The raw honesty, while occasionally jarring, really sings…These poems, though sung by Dr. Sarnat's unique voice about his unique extended family dynamic, have a rich, universal appeal.