Book Review: Imperfect Beginnings

Imperfect Beginnings

“The art of re-membering for me is a coming back to that which once belonged, that may have been cut off from us – or dis-membered. In our busy, defended and urban lives, we are often complicit in this – separating our selves, our bodies and our hearts from what sustains and nourishes us”

Viv Fogel was forcibly removed from her birth mother and adopted by two refugee holocaust survivors when she was ten months old. Her adoptive mother was bi-polar. Now a grandmother, the author writes of the challenges a family faces when collective memory and personal experience harbours such darknesses. In this stunning, new poetry collection she explores themes of displacement and trauma, and how art and nature have helped her cope.

Divided into five sections, the first examines exile and rootlessness, the effects of poverty – material and emotional.

“Cuckoo’s first call is heard on April 14th,
my birth date. Taken to another’s nest,
with name and feathers I could not keep,
I became the strange one who did not fit.”

In the second section Vogel writes of the horrific memories her adoptive parents carried, the shadows these cast over her and their relationship.

“I wasn’t meant to hear about the officer’s
leather belt, his polished boots,

of the baby tossed
into the air, skull
cracking beneath the boot.”

For anyone who has visited the Jewish Museum in Berlin with its memorial installation, ‘Salekhet’, the cover of this book will be familiar. The author reflects movingly on what this represents.

“There are other holocausts
other stories      other memories
but this      this is what I know
is what I came from”

Practical UnEnglish is an incredibly powerful poem about her deeply damaged and flawed adoptive mother. Although the reader may baulk at the cruelties inflicted, there is an element of forgiveness, an acceptance that much of the abhorrent behaviour was due to her illness and history.

Vogel goes on to write of her own challenges as a parent. And then there is a softening as she spends time with her grandchildren. Two For Joy recounts a day spent at a playground with the youngsters and offers a sunbeam of happiness.

What Remains (a conversation) demonstrates the beauty of small details when time is taken to notice them.

“the leaving and the return
as the tide comes and goes
the breathing in      the breathing out”

These more hopeful themes carry on into the final section in which a new partner brings unexpected love to the author’s life. Night Drive provides a reminder that, despite how man has denuded the natural world, beauty remains in such moments as a darkening sky, a rising moon.

The final poem, How It Is, offers both acceptance and deliverance. The impressive and lingering imagery delivers a fitting ending.

An emotive collection but one written with such poise and precision it may be savoured despite elements of bitterness. Fogel delves without dwelling, offers honesty without resentment. This is poetry at its most accessible and yet profound.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly on the Wall Press.