Review from Image Journal

To Die Next to You by Rodger Kamenetz and Michael Hafftka

To Die Next to YouTo Die Next to You is a hybrid creature—but a strange and miraculous one, a sphinx, or a flock of cherubim. A project of ten years’ production, the volume combines the poetry of Rodger Kamenetz and the visual art of Michael Hafftka, “brothers in art.” There is indeed a deep kinship between word and image in the book, the art offering a close reading of each poem that enfleshes and expands it. Or: are the poems written in reflective response to the art (those “fabulous anti-illustrations,” in the words of critic David Shapiro)? It’s impossible to tell—such is the balance of the collaboration between poet and painter. Kamenetz, whose poems were inspired in part by his dream life, crafts spare and lucid vessels traversing love, death, birth, joy, and despair. (Read The History of Last Night’s Dream, Kamenetz’s 2008 spiritual memoir, for more on how Kamenetz connects his Jewish faith and his work as a dream therapist.) Hafftka’s paintings, which curator John Caldwell has described as “taking on the character of myth,” are solemn and evocative, almost runic, next to Kamenetz’s verse. You’d be tempted to remove them from the book and frame them if they weren’t so perfectly suited to the poems they accompany. We have to concur with the reaction of poet Laura Mullen: “There’s a powerful sense, in this book, of someone starting again. What did we want to do with language? What did we think it was for? To trade with or in? ‘How can you you live like that,’ the author asks—it’s…an urgent question, posed here with an openness to the largest, strangest answers, and with an extraordinary dignity. In To Die Next to You poetry works to find its way back to prayer.”

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