||March Street Press
The poems in Discovering Mortality are all focused on the most significant subject any poet can engage with: down-to-earth, day-to-day lived human experiences.
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The author uses crystal clear language and subtle craftsmanship to dramatize family, marriage, sex, death, war, and social concerns. The poems are imbued with Lader's reverence and unsentimental love for his subjects as well as the mystery of our interactions with the natural world.
author of From a Person Sitting in Darkness. Emeritus Professor of English at North Carolina State University
From "Doing Time":
"I would have killed Hitler," he said,/ clenched fists holding back tears of rage,/
the few times we squared off in a game./ To avoid the violent sorrow, I didn't salute/
the subject of his alliance with the soldier./
And yet I wonder about their mutual interests./
Did he help other prisoners? Bargain/
whiskey, beer, chocolate? Was the soldier/
an officer? Did anyone find out?--/
Pieces my father stowed away for good,/
prejudice in checkmate, kindness redeemed."
Entry into Private Lives
In Discovering Mortality, Bruce Lader gives the reader an entry into private lives and their familiar dealings, told in vivid language that resonates because of the commonality, as in the poem "Testamentary." It is his war poems, such as "Empty" or "Fragments of War" that stay with the reader: "The gunman aims,/ a bullet screams/ and faster than the gods/ guided Achilles,/ a body enters earth,/ silent on impact/ as the echo of an asteroid."
--Robert L. Giron, editor of Poetic Voices Without Borders
A Book You Should Read
The first of Discovering Mortality's four sections deals largely with memories from Lader's own childhood, beginning with "Trespasser," a poem about his father and him as a young child. Most of the rest of the poems in this section contain memories of Lader's family: father, mother, grandfather, and boyhood experiences ranging from getting caught with friends while spying on a woman in a wheelchair, "Spies," to playing baseball into twilight in "Emperor of Baseball." Especially poignant is "Sabotage," a short but complicated poem about Lader's relationship with his father, framed by Lader's first time leading the Seder ceremony at Passover. The lessons the father must pass on to his son have less to do with the precise order of actions at the Seder meal than with "teaching me/ to value a drop of his sweat, so I would/ understand even bitter roots can yield/
a garden, the hard earned righteousness of study."
Section II starts off with an interesting trio of poems about a love triangle, one each from the woman, "Vibes," the married lover, "Liar," and the would-be boyfriend who can't compete with the womanizer he despises, "In Between." All three are effective, but perhaps the most interesting is the one from the two-timer's point of view, which gives a real insight into what it must be like to know you're in the wrong but still want to do things without cruelty, "I didn't know what to say/ that was true and wouldn't hurt her." Much of section two is devoted to relationships, even as much of the third section of the book looks into teen street culture, which one guesses Lader gleans from his time with "students from diverse cultures," through his work running Bridges Tutoring services. Also in this section is the title poem, "Discovering Mortality," an almost surrealistic look at a personified death's attack on a young boy. Death's decision about the boy, "Your head is dust, nobody lives forever," seems to be countermanded by the mother calling the boy into a party, but as he walks back into the house, "blood leaks from the ceiling,/ snakes over walls, he follows a trail of red footprints."
In the final section Lader returns inside too, to more poems about family, though more about the present than what he had brought to us from memory earlier in the book. And the volume ends with the same son mentioned in the first poem, again, as in the beginning, bringing his father news of snowfall. In this final piece, "The Claim," the son is planting his own footsteps, even as the father awakens to another day closer to his own mortality, a mortality made poignant and often bearable by family.
What this fine collection has most is a willingness to face life as it is, while still hoping against hope that writing can and will matter. After experiencing the poetry of Bruce Lader, readers will be encouraged to believe that such honest and artful work has not been in vain.
--Joe Benevento, Poetry Editor, Green Hills Literary Lantern.
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