In Forgetting the Holocaust, Ron Charach reflects on his life as a Jew raised in post-Holocaust Canada. Charach’s poems look back on a life of accomplishment and reflect, sometimes with broad comedy, sometimes with great confessional power, on what it means, coming from such a beginning, to be a good Jew, a good son, a good man.
Forgetting the Holocaust has poems rich in history both familial and general – “Synagogue,” alive with the hoofbeats of Polish cavalry, “Hecla Island” with its memorably powerful ending, and, in a change of scale, a bunch of lovely lines on a 12-year-old Lab. Among these and many others runs a skein of bodily humour worthy of “The Two Ronnies,” a comparison which, let me insist, is (as they say) no small compliment.
Ron Charach is a poet with a storyteller’s gift for characterization and anecdote. His new poems resonate with memorable personalities: Bandler, the caustic school janitor; Clifton, the gruff handyman; and Ludochka, the seductress. Charach reaches his poetic height in the evocative “Jewish Grain,” and the heartbreaking “March of the Innocents.” His work is stylistically varied yet consistent in its devotion to humanism and in its moral objective – rare qualities in poetry these days.
Ron Charach…demonstrates how contemporary Canadian life is nuanced by the lingering presence of the Holocaust. Charach’s poems focus on a humanist and often-anecdotal engagement with Jewish culture and tradition, locality and place, his professional relationships as psychiatrist, and his role as poet. Yet, in many of his poems, through metaphor or peripherally, the Holocaust resurfaces, illustrating its ever-present haunting. For example, Cancer of the Vulva offers a sad and intimate portrait of a patient whose medically performed genital mutilation has left her sexless, reminiscent of Nazi experimentation. And Tattoos questions the contemporary cultural value of marking one’s body with ink, leaving the reader to extend the comparison to prisoners numbered in concentration camps. Charach seamlessly interweaves Holocaust signifiers into personal episodes so that their intrusion becomes almost subconscious. Thus, he attests to the Holocaust’s presence even amidst the act of Forgetting the Holocaust and attempting to carry on life in contemporary Canada. In For the Polish Poets, Charach writes, If history isn’t over until its effects are gone, / God knows this story isn’t done. His collection of poetry is positioned as an exploration of the resurfacing of the Holocaust in contemporary Canadian consciousness.
Charach’s poetry is complex and detailed, straddling the personal and the universal. Through his well-tuned storytelling, he reveals a diverse cast of characters who share different relationships to the Holocaust.
Characters he meets in childhood include his melancholic Holocaust-survivor choirmaster and the bombastic Turkish Jew, Joe Bendit. French Holocaust-survivor Jacques in Caesarea is a figure of resistance and self-assurance, while Dov and Daouda Feltzner, the Israeli/Palestinian couple, share an electric idealism and love that is enough to reshape the world.
About the Author
Winnipeg-born Ron Charach is the author of eight books of poetry, among them Dungenessque, winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Poetry in 2003. His work is widely published in national and international journals and anthologies of writing by doctors about their craft. He was contributing editor of The Naked Physician, the sole anthology of poetry by Canadian medical practitioners. A practicing psychiatrist now residing in Toronto, Charach combines a physician’s candid eye for the foibles and betrayals of the body with a psychiatrist’s compassion for the suffering of the mind. He creates poems around the memorable image, the anecdote that, on the surface, seems to say little, yet opens to reveal a great deal about the human condition. Ron’s humanistic convictions regularly find voice in the letters pages of Canadian and American newspapers. Essays that define and elaborate on his liberal humanist views are found in his 2009 collection, Cowboys and Bleeding Hearts, from Wolsak & Wynn.