Review: This Room In The Sunlight
Saint Bernard’s lines on love and life
Bernard Kops: head and heart
By Bernard Kops
David Paul, £9.99
I know of few writer-prophets as undeservedly unhonoured in their country as the extraordinarily prolific playwright, novelist, autobiographer, poet and teacher Bernard Kops. Though he will be turning 84 in a few months, he is as hard at work today as he's always been. This new collection is a salutary reminder for fans and a substantial showcase for new readers of his originality, sincerity, lyric rages and good humours, and unblinking confrontations with the shadow side as well as unfettered celebrations of the counterweight, humankind's potential for good.
There are Kops classics including the ecstatic Shalom Bomb; his unsparing trip "round the bend and back again" in An Anemone for Antigone; the eloquent elegy for failed revolutions and spiritual community in Whatever Happened to Isaac Babel; deceptively diminutive notations like Skyman, which succinctly conveys the life-story of a Second World War paratrooper in 10 short lines ("My God I'm dead/the young man said/when he saw his battered head/petalled on the bleeding sand./Oh Mother, come and meet me now/and take my hand"); and perfect song-poems like The Sad Boys: "The sad boys of the afternoon/are wandering through the town,/looking for some lonely girls/to lay their bodies down."
The collection also includes many poems (and many not published until now) inspired by and dedicated to Erica, Kops's wife and muse of the past half-century, and by and to their many talented children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
His hard-earned craftsmanship in other literary media has always served Kops's verse well, keeping it pared down to essentials. He has occasionally been accused of clumsiness and sentimentality by critics and rivals patently envious of his detachment from (pseudo-)intellectual preconceptions and his fearlessness in wearing his warm heart up front - none of which is to suggest for a moment that a clear head is not constantly overseeing the words.
This infinitely loving and lovable book's closing pages consist of the incisively revealing dramatic monologue Anne Frank's Fragments from Nowhere, and the title poem.
The Anne Frank reconstruction should be a permanent exhibit in any anthology of writings on the ever challenging subject of man's inhumanities to man.
The 30 lines of This Room in the Sunlight could be read as a supranational hymn to the universal kosher consciousness most of Bernard Kops's works keep signalling as at hand for one and all, had we but the wit to embrace it: "This room in the sunlight./And music weaving,/imploring from the other room.//And Erica! Her silhouette perched/over the newspaper;/sighing for the woes of the world./Then she turns, her sadness, her smiles/coalesce, dance together/in those deep dark eyes.//This room in the morning./And birds, the other side of glass,/darting through bare branches… This room in the morning./And my heart full of loving;/and the calling laughter/of children not here./And their lingering, echoing.//And Erica there, haloed by sunlight,/pouring gold into this space called/home; into this room in the sunlight/and the joy of living."
Sing on St Bernard! The optimal survival of planet earth hath need of thee.
Michael Horovitz is a poet and performer