Published in the August 14, 2015 edition
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — “A poem, for me is personal and concise,” Israel Horovitz recently said when interviewed by fellow author and Wakefield High School graduate Russell Banks. “It’s a window into the poet’s heart.”
Horovitz returns to his hometown on Monday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. to do a reading at Beebe Library from his new book, “Heaven and Other Poems.”
A 1956 graduate of Wakefield High School, Horovitz has achieved world renown as a playwright, screenwriter and film director. His more than 70 plays have been translated and performed in as many as 30 languages worldwide. His early plays helped launch the acting careers of Al Pacino, John Cazale, Marsha Mason and Jill Clayburgh. He recently wrote and directed a feature film based on his stage play, My Old Lady, starring Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith.
“For me, a great play or film or novel is personal but not concise,” Horovitz says. “If it’s a great work, it’s also a window into the writer’s heart. But the writer is hiding behind characters of his creation. A poet is, by contrast, next to naked – something akin to standing on a street corner in a really skimpy bathing suit.”
Horovitz says that he’s written poems all his life. But he acknowledges that, compared to writing plays and films, writing poetry is a very different experience for him.
“I am painfully aware of the audience when I write plays and films,” he says. “I’m taking up people’s time, spending their babysitter money. I’d better have something to say about life that’s meaningful. When I write poetry, I never have any of these thoughts. I never imagine anyone actually sitting and reading the stuff. My poems are mostly me trying to figure out why I feel what I feel, why I do what I do.”
One of Horovitz’s favorite poems from his book is titled, “Heritage.”
“It represents me well,” he says.
A scream cuts the night,
A rushing stream cuts a valley.
The first, an instant;
The latter, sure as centuries.
Both rumblings stain an endless Time,
Children, and children’s children.
And when the terror takes me in the night,
I point my trembling fist at Hitler, and at
The 20 boys from Sister School, who told me
I killed Christ; and, more recent, at my
Father and his dread of Death and dark-skinned men.
His father beat him with a leather strap and
Made him kiss the thing.
Small wonder why my daughter’s fingers clench to fist.
I see my scream cut cross her like
A flood of sand maligns a mountain.
My body cringes with her gush of pain,
But, in the secret crannies of my brain,
A boiling rage continues, uncontained.
Writing a stage play or a screenplay, Horovitz says, is an all-consuming process, leaving “little time for eating or sleeping, much less writing something else.”
But writing poetry, he says, is the single exception to this self-imposed rule.
“I have always written poems in addition to whatever else I’ve been writing,” Horovitz says. “Writing a poem is a kind of holiday in sunshine – no matter how grim or adverse the verse. Writing poetry relaxes me. It’s literary Valium. I can work a week on a four-line poem and often have.”
Although it’s something he’s done all his life, Horovitz says that he never thought about writing poetry for publication and in fact, publishing “Heaven and Other Poems” wasn’t even his idea.
“I can’t even find half the poems I’ve written,” he says. “They’re mostly buried somewhere in stacks of notebooks. I write poetry for myself, really.”
His hometown of Wakefield has provided the setting for a number of Horovitz’ plays, notably The Widow’s Blind Date and the seven plays that comprise the cycles known collectively as the Quannapowitt Quartet and the Alfred Trilogy.
In his “adopted hometown” of Gloucester, Horovitz founded the Gloucester Stage Company 36 years ago. His play, Gloucester Blue, opens at Gloucester Stage on Sept. 17.
While his reading at the library on Aug. 17 will be a homecoming of sorts, Horovitz says that Wakefield is always with him.
“No matter where I travel in the world, Wakefield travels with me,” he says. “Wakefield, Massachusetts is where I’m from, Wakefield defines me and I welcome every memory, every influence. The writer Frank McCourt (”Angela’s Ashes”, etc.) famously said ‘My life saved my life’ – meaning the childhood he lived, however complicated, however difficult, gave him a setting for his work, gave him his essential subject — and ultimately gave him the life of his dreams. Me too.”
Reserve seats for Horovitz’ Aug. 17 reading at wakefieldlibrary.org or phone 781-246-6334.