In The Book of Bells and Candles, Norman Jope adapts the Golem myth and places it in a modern setting. The poet expects a great deal from his readers; not only are they to follow the over-arching story, but he inserts references from several different European cultures into that ancient Jewish folklore. So, this is not simply a collection to be read through very quickly and lightly. The effort required, however, is most definitely justified, as Jope’s thought-provoking poetry, inspired by geographies and self-reflection ultimately succeeds.
One of two sets of three poems found in different places in this collection, A Reflexive Interlude (1-3) creates a dream world in which the narrator broods over his sense of self and also of his perception of the world around, tying in the two main themes of this book rather nicely. From A Reflexive Interlude (1):
How unseemly and camp, this dérive
In an age too replete for enchantment.
“I wanted this to be more than ‘this”
Says the prompter/puppet master,
the Joel Grey look-alike
marshalling tights and barstools.
Here Jope combines the idea of a dérive ,with a subconscious urge to travel, laced with the goal of experiencing something entirely new. That goal is grounded by the harsh reality that the new experience sometimes isn’t the hoped-for epiphany –perhaps rather akin to the old adage that you take your baggage with you – somewhat shattering the hope that a change in location will lead to an internal change .
As with most of works here, this poem is textured with undertones and references, as well as big ideas such as the duality of change. The reference to the Broadway production Cabaret (1966) is coupled with the reference to “Europe’s muscle-bound kid brother” expanding that musical’s metaphor comparing the Kit Kat Klub to post World War I Germany. The ability to intertwine references such as this and the conflicted character of the Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey) from the same production into his own ideas and that notion of the dérive is one of the things that really make Jope’s work stand out.
In A Reflexive Interlude (3) the previously expressed concept of geography changes. We are no longer dealing with physical geographies, but with the moment and the movement where dreaming turns to wakefulness.
Gods with nothing inside
The Baptist to Salome –
‘Du bist verflugt.’
In the middle of a dream, it becomes too clear
that the dream’s a dream and, shaking with the chill
of mortality, one wakes.
Here, the poet juxtaposes waking with dying, and illustrates that with a reference to Salome’s notorious request to have the head of John the Baptist, Unquestionably too, this furthers the trend of Jope’s self-reflection worked through this, and earlier collections. The use of the German ‘you are cursed’ takes this a step further, making the reader question what is happening. Is it the dreamer or the one who is actually awakening who is the one who is truly resigned to damnation? This kind of imagery is prevalent throughout the text, and Jope is exceedingly adept in using it to build a mood which fits that state somewhere between waking and sleeping.
This is a text which demands full attention from the reader. Jope conducts us on a tour of Europe, and perhaps the best way to enjoy this book is to read a little at a time , interspersing that reading with further research about the places and times which have inspired these poems. They deserve that time and respect, as the thought that their poet has put into them is astonishing.