by Robert D. Grappel

This is my second book of original poetry. The first one, GIFTS, was published nine years ago in 2007. As I said then, I seldom (if ever) sit down to write a poem intentionally. Poems come to me out of the blue – like presents in the mail from far-off friends. I can edit and polish them, rewrapping and refining the original idea, but the real source of the inspiration is always a mysterious gift. Sometimes it comes from interactions with friends and family, other times from my religious or musical families. Sometimes it comes during trips to far-off places, and other times during quiet moments. In this book I pass along these gifts to you. I hope you enjoy them.

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The U.S Review of Books
by Robert Grappel
Olympus Story House


"We can only hope to be ready
When the chance for significance occurs "

Instead of setting out to write, Grappel says that poems come to him. In his second collection of poems (with illustrations), Grappel avails himself of poetic inspiration in religious and domestic settings, as he engages in recreational music and travel, and in his work as a physicist and programmer. His love for family and friends, his curiosity piqued by sermons at his synagogue, and his awe at the musical and visual beauty he experiences close to home and far away are all expressed in his poems.

These poems do not come across as overly complex or crafted works but rather as spontaneous and immediate ones. Grappel’s poetry explains scientific or religious concepts in an understandable layman's language. Many pieces capture a single moment or image. For example, in one of the poems, Grappel recalls his first solo drive. Another poem captures the moment his cruise ship leaves port. The bookends of setting up and cleaning up before and after a music festival summarize the care devoted to a significant event. In the final poem, a finishing touch to a painting reflects God’s pronouncement, “It is good.” The point succeeds in coming across that whether or not a moment is comprehended, giving thanks is still an appropriate response.

Although the overall tone is casual and informal—as in short poems about sharing music at gatherings or commenting to a friend on a passing scene—more reflective poems flesh these out. “Missing the Mark” is about atonement. “A Losing Battle” refers to failures in Israel’s past. “Hannibal’s Elephants” looks at adding pages to the Book of Life. All of these connect an ancient faith tradition to everyday occurrences. Some poems go further with a call to action in response to these meditations. For instance, “Laws of Love” and “Logic of Terrorism” both reiterate the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. The poems’ variety of contents sets a balanced pace between short poems about a moment in time and longer ones associating moments and convictions.

The arc of the collection builds the trust necessary for these ending call-to-action poems to convince. Starting with wonder and inquisition (as in the poems celebrating Seder questions) invites readers in. The colorful illustrations, which include photographs, graphics, as well as drawings and paintings, are playful and appeal beyond the intellectual sense. Poems like “Manzanar'' set symbols alongside one another, spurring further thought as to how they relate. The quote at the top comes from the poem "Fields of Greatness”—a piece on the battlefield at Gettysburg—and encapsulates the collection’s best trait. Its ordinariness belies the extraordinary feats that happened upon it. So, too, do the poems feature big topics, such as faith and love, in small prose. These can only be written by a man who acknowledges his place in the world as a grateful recipient of the Creator’s grace. Poems about Grappel’s Jewish identity are confident. Grappel reveals his leadership capacity in poems commemorating, and in some cases addressing, specific musical and faith mentors and friends. His thanks to these figures, to those illustrating his poems, and to God give evidence of his community’s trust in him that is extended to readers. Grappel’s reminders to follow God’s laws, like his poems, are gifts he receives and passes on for the gratification of anyone who listens.

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