Nineveh by Zohar Atkins
Nineveh takes its modernist bearings from Edmond Jabès, Paul Celan and Yehudah Amichai; but also, merrily, from John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara. Zohar Atkins’s poems offer humour and hospitality alongside deep learning and enigmatic, mystical theophany. The division between secular and religious is blurred, the two coexist in a generous exchange. The Bible is near at hand but rendered unfamiliar in the combination of anachronism with classical allusion. The poems produce jarring, contemporary Midrashim – interpretative retellings of canonical tales. Cain and Abel appear as business executives, Ishmael is a Palestinian dying in an Israeli hospital, Rachel and Leah are the projected identities of a demented Jacob, and God is a perfectionist who procrastinates by binge-watching TV. These poems are for intellectuals disenchanted with intellectualism and for seekers and sensualists in search of a renewing approach to language. Scholar and rabbi, Atkins has learned that poetry and not erudition offers a securer saving power.