With the rise of anti-Semitism, extremism, political polarization, mass shootings, the fraying of Black-Jewish-Asian alliances, and the loss of personal connections during the age of Covid, where is God, and how can we find the joy and wonder in our lives? How do we come to terms with loss? How can art and language help us to cope with life and honor the dead? How does one act responsibly in a world that is at once beautiful and full of suffering—balanced precariously on the edge of despair and ruin?
With humor, anger, and tenderness, Richard Michelson’s poems explore the boundaries between the personal and the political—and the deep connections between history and memory.
Growing up under the shadow of the Holocaust, in a Brooklyn neighborhood consumed by racial strife, Michelson’s experiences were far from ordinary, yet they remain too much a part of the greater circle of poverty and violence to be dismissed as merely private concerns. In these poems, Michelson pays tribute to his father, a victim of gun violence, and honors his mother’s surrender to dementia. Still, it is Michelson’s sense of humor and acute awareness of Jewish history, with its ancient emphasis on the fundamental worth of human existence, that makes this accessible book, finally, celebratory and life-affirming.
A high spirited romp with language and a tough spiritual struggle with suffering, violence, the text of the Old Testament, and a God who explains that “Heaven is everyone armed and open carry. Come on in.” Finishing this book I turned right around and started over—it was that rich, that good.
Alicia Ostriker, author of Waiting for the Light and The Volcano and After
Sleeping as Fast as I Can is a book where prayers are filled with history, and history is filled with the urgency of the present; a book that isn’t afraid of tragedy because it holds music as a shield. For me, Michelson’s poems deliver an unrelenting message, one unafraid to transport “home our holy, temporary hearts.”
Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa
Richard Michelson’s poems are easy to read and hard at the same time. With clarity and wit their honesty touches deep into pain: of a father lost long ago, of a mother now in her decline, of life, of contemporary history, of Jewish life, of Jewish history, of the violence that spoils it all. But then come the words of blessing in the midst of the dark that understands “Light is our only future.”
Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2022
Richard Michelson is a poet who understands the measure and music in the art of poetry. Sleeping as Fast as I Can brings prayers, rants, memoria, and rage against hatred, violence, racism, and anti-Semitism in a bitches brew of language on every page….
Patricia Spears Jones, Author, A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems