Ira Sadoff’s ‘True Faith’
by Ira Sadoff
BOA Editions Ltd., $16.00 paperback, 96 pp.
In his newest collection of poetry True Faith, Ira Sadoff does some searching. He asks a lot of questions. He asks neighbors, friends, the reader, and the gods. There’s a hunger, a raving curiosity that lets him ask questions like “How can I embrace the spell-makers...the gods who should have looked after me?” without ever sounding dejected or wronged, without losing the energy to continue the search. The search for what? is a fair question, but the answer is whatever he can get. As he simply puts it, “we all want to know each other better.”
And rarely does a speaker feel so complete on the page. He operates with a clear confidence of a man who trusts his memory, yet is tempered with humility and a pointed self-awareness that includes an acute awareness of irony and humor as the profane and sacred coexist, not on the same planet or even city, but in the same room. There’s an honest volatility that makes these poems explode off the page, quickly leaping from lyric grace to a swagger and then back to a peaceful confession such as in the poem “Id” which opens, reflecting on its impetuous subject:
It comes from that voice dogs can hear, the glass-
breaking high C that makes life sylphlike.
Of course sylphlike’s
for pussies. If I say I want a dancer’s body,
I don’t want to dance: I want to be lithe,
lasting a little longer to take in
the traffic jams. I don’t want to look inward,
reflect on, stare at my reflection, nail
another deer to the mantle. Be indelible—
The nimbleness and contrast within individual poems is demonstrated throughout the book as a whole. Some poems have a strong narrative spine that turn a simple story into much more than an anecdote while others sparkle with lyric moments like a man standing within view of Granada holding “A few silver coins and the moon in his pocket” or a rose garden “blazed up, a flotilla of lips on the lawn.” These poems can be brief reflections or lengthy meditations. Some feel intimate and personal while others unleash a political fury. When images are employed, they are clear and lucid. Abstractions are used sparingly, but usually spare us the gory details of the speaker’s or our own shortcomings. Some of the poems are measured and reserved in their voice while others are irreverent, self-mocking as the speaker who had previously seemed so wise throws his hands up and shouts, “In the course of Human Events, I have no fucking idea.”
It’s the vulnerability that really gets to me. This is a man who cares about common people who “work late into the night,/ stack pants at Sam’s Club, they teach/ six-year-olds ‘Frère Jacques’” and could easily be the next person you pass on the street. They could be you, and when the speaker says “we,” we know who we are (or want to be). In “Heavens,” we’re told:
I suspect, deep down, we’re a good people,
easily humbled: we implore, fill with worry,
we try to sing to loved ones, shadow
their wishes, color their hair as they fly
into the great nothing: no more, that’s it.
before the poem turns to the flipside:
...In another world,
people would know exactly how bad we are,
how we seize a dance floor, how we shake
and sweat profusely, how we hum a few bars
through the dead spots, and since we have no idea
what comes next, we set the homestead
ablaze. We bargain, we finagle,
we comb the hair on the corpses, their beautiful hair.
What a range! What a closing line! The book culminates in a catharsis and a faith found in something as flawed as ourselves, both out of necessity and a cautious optimism. Early in the book, the speaker suggests “What a well the self would be/ if we could find it.” By the end, it feels like we’ve found it. Folks, this book is a stunner.