Book Review: “Solecism” by Rosebud Ben-Oni

Reviewed by Katie Cantwell

Virtual Artists Collective | 2013 | 80 pages | $15.00 | Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Nobles

Solecism is Rosebud Ben-Oni’s first published poetry collection. Playwright, poet, and a valued contributor to Niche, Ben-Oni’s poetry is sharp, honest, and beautifully sculpted. The collection takes the reader from Mexico to Jerusalem, from bombsites to abandoned playgrounds, and from the insensitive comments of an academic to the fierce love of her niece. Solecism is a witness account to Ben-Oni’s life and experience pulled between the identities of a Mexican mother and a Jewish father.

Ben-Oni uses the collection to record the push, pull, and mix of her shared Mexican and Jewish heritage. She writes both as a woman living her life in the present, and as a girl growing up and trying to harness her family history: “In Hebrew school you could not hide/ your mother’s tongue, the trilling Rs / and dragging intonations”

The conflict is internal, external, and constant. “Nothing sings how there is never unity for you” is a trial in claiming her heritage, only to find it being appropriated by a professor who “disdains / your poems about a Mexican border town / where she got drunk and bought pain pills during college.” Her poems fulfill the definition of Solecism; she is seen as a “breach of good manners” by so many professors, and is battling the feeling of “inconsistency” herself. Ben-Oni likens herself to the sparrow, growing strong and surviving under larger and more powerful birds, as she turns around and bluntly, directly challenges those who would seek to categorize her or to stereotype. She does it again in The Reply of Sal Si Puedes: “I’m not a foreshadow of the divine,/Quit photographing my children for/exposés of The Second Coming,/I am not in your worldly terms.”

Her poems challenge her teachers who say, “race is no longer taboo,” and question, “ . . . why did you assume you could write a poem?” She bites back, as so many writers have wanted to do, “I learned / your words, but not you, mine?” She advises her niece, “So here’s to asking / WHY – then WHY a second time” when she herself has been asking ‘why’ the whole time, to questions of heritage learned and left out, to poverty and violence, and to the denial of her race and craft. The tone of her last few poems softens to suggest that Ben-Oni has found some peace, as illustrated when she writes about an apartment building next to train tracks: “Even deep within I hear the rumble of the train/ and for that reason I’m moved to believe/ that Jesus might very well love me,”

Her poems can be violent, harsh, in images and words. However, that harshness is always honest and on point. Solecism as a whole is intense, brutally honest, and a rewarding read from a talented poet.

About the Author

Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni graduated from New York University, where she won the Seth Barkas Prize for Best Short Story and The Thomas Wolfe/Phi Beta Kappa Prize for Best Poetry Collection. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan where she earned a Master of the Fine Arts in Poetry, and was a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where she completed post-graduate research. A graduate of the 2010 Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater, her plays have been produced in New York City, Washington DC and Toronto. Rosebud is a co-editor for HER KIND at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her work appears in Arts & Letters, B O D Y, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and Puerto del Sol. She writes the series “On 7 Train Love” for the blog of Sundog Lit. Find out more about her at http://rosebudbenoni.com.

This review was originally published on Niche’s website on September 9th, 2014.

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