My Little Book of Exiles

In what ways are we exiled? In which moments are we allowed to come home?  With musical language and lyric intensity, the poems of LBE wrestle with exile and separation, and sift through layers of diaspora and return. Grandfathers and fathers leave their homes and work to build new ones; poetic fathers such as Ezra Pound are interrogated for how their work was derailed into hate.

The diasporas of the collection take place in history, family, and the privacy of a mind navigating its work day. In a set of “Labor Poems,” Alter turns his lens on working in the snow of Wisconsin, under floodlights on the Kenai bay of Alaska, or in the machine-roar of construction sites in the Bay Area. Another set of poems confront the vision of the Jewish people’s homecoming to their own land. A philosopher of the “religion of labor” and an assassinated Prime Minister appear alongside hopes and heartbreaks of friends and loves whose lives were drawn into this larger story.

Coming from a home where the Hebrew Bible was a book of bedtime stories, Alter’s work is at ease drawing a breadth of source texts into its conversations, from Psalms to Keats. A twelfth century Hebrew poet of Muslim Spain, Bob Marley, or the unknown poet of Song of Songs are among the voices called on to account for how families and friends come together and apart. In its final section the collection turns to the little homeland of family made through marriage and fatherhood. All the strands of the book weave together possibilities of hope, as the poems ask, what lasts? What can withstand the onslaught of distance, the forces from outside and inside that want to pull us apart?