Another Word for Love by Sarah Stern


Love is ephemeral. To stop and appreciate each moment of our memories—the “now” moment—and the future of love in all its myriad forms describes Sarah Stern’s poetry. In “A Spring for Einstein,” for example, we read the personification of love, “All matter returns to energy/Faint light trolling through the universe/Open the window by your bed/Watch the curtains lift/That breeze was once you.” Yet amidst this beauty lies the juxtaposing, ever-looming presence of suffering and death that must be accepted as part of loving. In “From the Journal Entries of Sergeant Anthony Jones, Age 25,” Jones writes that he knows he will be killed due to inadequate equipment and no parts to fix the trucks while his grandmother stares at his picture with anger, thinking the right order is that she should have gone first, an age-old feeling that is no less potent with love no matter how often heard. A child’s questions in another poem focus on the possibility of an afterlife, quickly followed by the child’s total engagement in the wind and speed of a bike ride, a loving, thrilling experience in itself. Sarah Stern is a poet to watch and relish.

–Deborah Schoeneman

Rating: *****  [5 of 5 Stars!]


Poetics of Riverdale
By –Jake Marmer

When we think of great New York poets — Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and Laurie Anderson, among others — what they’ve immortalized and exalted have been the streets and energies of Manhattan or, on rare and less transcendent occasions, Brooklyn. The Bronx, when it did appear, has always been something of the old country — where immigrant parents and grandparents lived, a remote, provincial satellite. And certainly Riverdale, Bronx’s sleepy neighborhood with a large Jewish population, would appear to have nothing to offer to poetic imagination. Judith Baumel, featured on The Arty Semite last year, seem to have been the only exception.
And yet, Sarah Stern’s recent collection of poems, “Another Word for Love,” is profoundly grounded in Riverdale — in its subway stations and parks, buildings and streets. The first of the two poems featured today, “Morning Prayer,” takes place on the streets of the neighborhood, and features a curious juxtaposition of spiritual experiences, genders and visions. The second piece, “Reentry,” is an homage to exceptional character, evoked so vividly that he practically walks (or rather, waddles) off the lines of the poem.

Morning Prayer: Riverdale, July 2006

Saturday morning and the men
hurry to synagogue with their tallit bags,
I’m jogging past them
thinking about things the way you can
when you know your route,
a military maneuver,
played over in your mind’s eye again and again
until all you’re left with is the after-space,
your feet simply punctuation,
a line break
on the curve to nothing.
Pray for peace, that’s it.
Pray like the squirrel in the grass
with a crab apple in his mouth,
gooseberries barely visible in the thicket,
starlings splashing in pot holes,
the old woman who walks with a cane
to the market for the morning paper,
yellow blossoms turning into tomatoes,
green globes, new planets waiting,
waiting to be named.

Paul Cymerman, a local retired butcher, became the unofficial “Mayor of Henry Hudson Park” in 1989….
— City of New York Parks and Recreation Plaque, December 2000

Each morning Paul unlocks
the gates, swings the metal chain
over the top of the door and
opens the playground.
He makes sure the sand is clean,
turns the toy motorcycles
over before rain. On summer
days when the sun’s out,
you can see the numbers
up his arm frozen beneath
his skin like fish below ice,
almost alive. He still wears
a pin that reads “The Butcher.”
He says he’s got a good
connection with his Maker.
“Don’t jump on the park benches.
Don’t throw sand in the sprinkler,”
he tells the children
as he stands in his black shoes
and creates a periodic table of
his own elements. Toward evening
he walks with his wife beside him.
She holds on to his arm.
Eve, had she grown old in the garden.

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Rating:  ***** [5 of 5 Stars!]


Sarah Stern asks resonant questions, dropped like pebbles in a deep lake from a rock on which she balances with grace. Picture concentric circles— these are the fluid poems in Another Word for Love.

The opening poem, “A Spring for Einstein” floats a rather cosmic idea on a stream of images, arriving at “that breeze was once you” with remarkable clarity and a unique perspective.

Another switch of perspective yields the poet’s exploration of that irresistible urge to fly in verse, in “With Henry Hudson”: “I’m not cold, so light, effortless / then I wake and know // I’m no longer a child gliding // over telephone lines, / dogs on the hill,” soaring beyond dream-space.”
“Saw Mill River Bike Path”, an expertly paced poem, begins with a stark question: “My daughter asks when you die / do you stop feeling anything” then carries the reader back in time, to a very specific experience many of us have had—learning to ride a bike. As the wheels turn, Stern modestly yet deftly conjures the cycle of life.

Another poem which deals with mortality is “Riding the Bus from Manhattan”, crafting autumn’s waning light and “the Harlem River gulls” afloat through:

Yankee Stadium
The Auto Parts Store
The Providence Rug Company
Beato’s Professional Hair Braiding
St Matthew’s School

It’s a human world they glide through “like royalty.” The poet’s guileless (and very human) question is answered, as they “suddenly rise up / in unison and head for shore.”

There is sweetness to Sarah Stern’s gentle probing of life, including her poems about war. “From the Journal Entries of Sergeant Anthony Jones, age 25”:

Grieve little and move on.

Sergeant Jones knew he wouldn’t
return. Kelly found his diaries
after he had spent two weeks at home.

I shall be looking over you.

“Empty” is paradoxically filled with the unwieldy weight of sadness, beginning with the personal and domestic: “I’m empty like a spoon next to / a fork that’s beside a knife.” The knife as a symbol of violence begins to haunt, as the poem turns to a different daughter and mother as well as a husband killed in the war in Iraq.

Another Word for Love, Sarah Stern’s first chapbook, is filled with love for life and family, with a cultural Jewishness that I find warm and welcome, writing this on the first night of Chanukah. Its questions are fundamental and deep, woven into well-wrought poems.

–Ellen Miller-Mack, Verse Wisconsin, April 2012

Rating:  ***** [5 of 5 Stars!]


“In her first book of poems, Another Word for Love (Finishing Line Press), Sarah Stern looks at the big themes of love, loss and death with a creative and lyrical approach. In her poems, she often notices the angle of light and the passage of time, and reminds readers, “We have one life in this broken world.”
–Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Woman Magazine, Winter 2011

Rating: *****  [5 of 5 Stars!]



Another Word for Love

by Sarah Stern

$14, paper


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