The work of a poet springs from what surrounds her perceptions. Experiences trigger her awareness, and insight follows. Nancy Shiffrin’s ability to share her insights in a way that makes you feel as if you are watching a relative’s old reel of film is her best asset. The themes in The Holy Letters are simple but, like that reel of film, it captures the subtleties only a homemade work can. In her film, you are able relate to her description of her aunts and the amount of restless opinions they hold, most of them contradictory to her own. You also see your kin grow up throughout the years. Even her subtle inclusion of her cats’ adventures adds a distinctive depth.
In addition, there is a sense of world-weariness to many of Shiffrin’s themes. It works to her advantage in relating many of her deeper insights. In "Amnesty," for instance, she relates job worries through the frustrations of the foreign students in her class. "Special Relativity" details her longing for lost loved ones through the story of lost women, whose stories seem to have been forgotten in the midst of time.
Life works in cycles and Shiffrin’s insight is blessed with the ability to have seen many lives in her world come full circle. She shares many of these experiences in The Holy Letters and this collection is as heartfelt throughout it as it is in these stanzas from "Birthday Greetings:"
You ask to call me mother….
…..Last year I waited while you gave birth-
Girlfriends cheering-Husband delivering-
Today I play Airplane with a walking, talking great-nephew,
Whirl him round, fall on the floor in a cuddle,
Think about you in uniform and cap,
Blossoming into right work.
I consider my sister’s courageous young motherhood-
Applesauce on the rug, dragons in the bathroom-
And know, though my love for you transcends naming,
I am just your story-telling, pony-riding auntie.
I cannot accept the title without the labor.
In "Rebecca" Shiffrin notes, “I consult your spirit as I could never consult your flesh.” It sums up the same ability of films to evoke emotions when watched that could not have sprung at the time they were recorded. This collection brings forth a sense of reflection that could not come in any other unless you contemplate these pieces and how they relate to your own experiences.
Nancy Shiffrin PhD is the author of ,em>The Holy Letters (poems) and My Jewish Name (essays) both available from www.booksurge.com or the author herself. A major theme of her work is cultural diversity in Los Angeles. She has been published in the Los Angeles Times, New York Quarterly, Earth's Daughters, and numerous other periodicals. Through her creative writing services, Shiffrin offers writing instruction in the tradition of Anais Nin and helps aspiring writers achieve publication and professional and artistic growth.
The Holy Letters. www.greatunpublished.com. ISBN: I-58898-065-0. 2000. 86pp. Index.