Heaven and Other Poems by Israel Horovitz

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One entertainment news flash in August was that sexagenarian Larry David will make his Broadway debut in his first play, opening at a Shubert theater in NYC on March 5th, 2015. This announcement, along with the publication of Heaven and Other Poems by multi-award-winning septuagenarian Israel Horovitz (“the most-produced American playwright in French theatre history”) looks like evidence of a bucket list zeitgeist and/or a call to sing along to “Too Much of a Good Thing.” Both David and Horovitz have had lifetime superabundance of good things goin’ on, though not with Alan Jackson’s country twang.

This first full length authorized collection of seventy-eight poems written throughout Horovitz’s life includes three from an earlier publication titled Spider Poems and Other Writings (1973). Like Horovitz’s Heaven and Other Poems, Jack Kerouac’s 2001 collection with the same title isn’t listed at the Poetry Foundation among 1210 entries for ‘heaven’. For 75 year old playwright-screenwriter Horovitz (Sunshine, James Dean, Author! Author! starring Al Pacino, The Strawberry Statement, and coming-soon, My Old Lady starring Maggie Smith & Kevin Kline), the word ‘heaven’ doesn’t come up as often as others like ‘giggle’, ‘heart’, ‘love’, ‘hopeful’, ‘hairy’, ‘running’ and ‘God’, but when it does, it appears with characteristic revelation, here at the French cultural center north of Paris:

L’Abbaye de Royaumont

…I wake and force a geezer-run from Royaumont
along a duck-filled weir.

I pass a pair of married geese…
as though they need a hit of morning Sartre.
I’m told Bonnard saw Marthe a scant two hours
before proposing marriage.

I’d marry Royaumont in less.

…In that spot ‘twixt hot and not,
there lives no higher beauty.

It was there we found each other.

…I’ll not forget this toss of God,
or irony of barefoot monks in prayer
on Royaumont’s stone floor,
in hope of finding Heaven,

not know they had long ago

arrived. (30-31)

Horovitz saves ‘heaven’ for last in the love poem that closes in the collection:


There is much I’ve touched in Heaven
That cannot be surpassed
Your lips, for two,
The smiles of my five children,
My feet on any street in Paris,
The sandbar at Niles Pond,
The raspberry cache on Salt Island
Off Good Harbor Beach,
The lucky 7th Green on Jubilee,
Or any one of Mme. Salmon’s
Fifty confitures des fruits.

Each memory now defines my worth,
And vanishes, like our time on earth,
Never to be touched again
In this precious life called Heaven. (96)

Blurbs on the back of the paperback poetry collection were written by Michael Douglas, Neil Labute, Gay Talese, Kevin Kline, and for readers who will recognize his name, Russell Banks. Deserved no doubt as are all the accolades in Israel Horovitz’s biography (which reads like a four star general’s chest of medals), they tend to distract from the poems which display erudition, bilingual fluency (lovely, how en francais in “Royaumont”, ‘Marthe’ echoes ‘Sartre’), celebrity cadre, and panache. “Angry Arachnid (A Cross Tick)” is a 1982 birthday poem written for and in the style of his friend Samuel Beckett. (23) Below, another ends sounding like Matthew McConaughey’s signature drawl, but in French:

Gide, Walking His Lobster

He, was, alright,
Pickled, bombed; tight
As a gangland mobster.
Andre Gide
At le Flore, last night,
Was sighted
Walking a lobster.

Proust was
Juiced on
Pernod mousse;
But not too pissed
To plot”
“Regard, mes frères,
Indeed, ‘cest Gide!—
With his lobster
Tout droit, tout droit,
Tout droit.”

Israel Horovitz Horovitz charms throughout this memoir-in-poetry. The Who’s Who includes his remarkable family. He is married to Gillian Adams, former English national marathon champion and record-holder. His son Oliver, who at 15 on 9/11 was a sophomore at a NYC primo magnet school, Stuyvesant High, across the West Side Highway from the Twin Towers, inspired Horovitz’s (Best Documentary – Back East Picture Show) 3 Weeks After Paradise. Oliver graduated from Harvard ’08 and authored “An American Caddie in St. Andrews”. Other dynastic Horovitz productions include: daughter Rachael Horovitz, film producer known for Moneyball, About Schmidt, and State and Main; son Matthew Horovitz television producer-director-actor, known for Lords of War, Tyler’s Ultimate, and History Detectives (2003), and son Adam Horovitz, aka Ad Rock, composer/performer of the Beastie Boys.

It’s hard not to sound sour grapesy about the Horovitz oeuvre. But while it’s understandable and laudable that family, friends, and colleagues would treasure the publication of his poems, it’s less clear whether it’s only voyeuristically that the rest of us far from the red carpet at Cannes can share in his experiences. Here’s one of martial intimacy that ends oddly in Beckett’s voice:

My Beard

…After I die
My beard will continue
Beyond any questions
Beyond any doubt.

But my love poems?
Will you happen upon a cache of six or seven
Hundred of the things
And worry-wet a cheek or two?
Were the wordies worth the wastie? (46)

Rembrandt, who died at 63 in 1669, created nearly one hundred selfies over his lifetime including approximately fifty paintings, thirty-two etchings, and seven drawings. The portraits create a visual diary of the artist over a span of forty years. Heaven and Other Poems does much the same for Israel Horovitz in an eloquent but lesser way. I am looking forward to seeing Maggie Smith (et al) in Horovitz’s film directorial debut in the upcoming My Old Lady, revised from his play about which Bruce Weber at the New York Times wrote in 2002, “The feeling you get from My Old Lady [is] that the playwright, Israel Horovitz, is answering some kind of challenge, fulfilling an academic requirement or maybe entering a contest. That the play, which had its New York premiere on Thursday night at the Promenade Theater, is formulaic and manipulative is indisputable. But Mr. Horovitz is more than an A student; he could be the crafty professor doling out the assignment to himself.”

In 2009, L.S. Bassen was the winner of the Atlantic Pacific Press Drama Prize. She has won a Mary Roberts Rinehart Fellowship, and over two decades has been published (poetry/fiction) in many lit magazines and zines. Recently moved from NYC to RI. She is a prizewinning, produced, and published playwright, and commissioned co-author of a WWII memoir by the Scottish bride of Baron Kawasaki. More from this author →