“Rochelle Ratner explores the forgotten corners of one’s life, the bits of nourishment one finds but is not given, or is given only to hunger for more... The effect of this narrative in prose poems is unsettling, as if the cobwebs in the corners of our own lives had been pulled aside.”—Jessica Treat
“Ben Casey Days is a landscape of moments in which headlines from news media are transformed into psychological snapshots with the power of lucid dreams. We watch a man whose wife is about to have a mastectomy haunt a department store exhibiting a wall of silicon breasts; the growing anxiety of a clown attempting to entertain a child succumbing to anesthesia; a group of would-be brides battling cancer suspect their real groom might be the Angel of Death. The five sections of the book, MAN, WOMAN, BIRTH, DEATH and INFINITY, taken from the 1960's TV series, Ben Casey, suggest the tensions of opposites as a condition of life. The author, battling terminal cancer, locates on Ebay a Ken doll in a Ben Casey suit. Conflating the healer, Ben, with her husband, Ken, she reaches out to both. Ben Casey Days is a parting gift. It is a work of quiet genius, a cocoon that contains Ben and Ken, you and me, and the author herself, who emerges from it like a rare butterfly, one of a kind; read it and glimpse the colors of a remarkable soul.”—Paul Pines, from the "Afterword"
"The presiding genius of Ben Casey Days, Rochelle Ratner’s collection of prose poems published posthumously by Marsh Hawk Press, is the eponymous hero of the 1960s television series, an heroic doctor with leonine good looks, played by Vince Edwards, who saved the lives of desperate people with regularity. In Ratner’s blackly humorous reformulations, Ben Casey is reduced to a fetish-like Ken doll dressed as the television character, whom the author wins at auction on eBay, and who becomes conflated in her mind with her husband and tender caregiver, whose actual name is Ken and to whom the book is dedicated.
She also bids on a Ken doll in a Ben Casey doctor suit (made in Hong Kong and still shrink-wrapped). Four days, seven hours left before she wins. She increases her bid. She needs Ken not Ben tonight. And he’ll stay home with her tomorrow. Ken. Ben. Ken. Ben. Then.
That final “then,” with heartbreaking sadness, speaks to us beyond the grave. There is no hope for this patient.
"The five sections of Ben Casey Days correspond to the headers of the actual television series, once intoned with portentous gravity at the beginning of each episode: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity. In the individual prose poems of each series, Ratner achieves a surrealistic sensibility, in which objects—physical, sexual, material—take on totemic significance. Patients are allowed no modesty. To doctors, patients become their illnesses. Their bodies are objectified in a very real sense. And yet, through it all—as these poems assert—the flicker of self remains. These poems give voice to the damaged and injured in body, mind, and spirit and at the same time take on our political culture and our contemporary policies of waging war and peace. For example,"Insentives,"
1. Right out of school, can’t get a job, and now the Army’s offering $20,000 just to ship out quickly. Well, it’s working—nearly 4,000 recruits in just three weeks. Except he and his friends go out drinking. His vision’s too blurry for the fine print. First comes basic training, then comes more training, then comes $10,000. The rest is doled out over time. Get killed and it stops right there. Lose an arm or leg and forfeit twenty percent. Fingers and toes barely matter. If the head is lost, the remaining bonus is forfeited. Here is a soldier no longer fit to serve.
2.No one defines what losing your head means.
"These poems have a fearful intensity and embrace a span of humanity. Many of their details will ring true to anyone who has ever been a patient, as in this vision of death experienced by Woman Left in CT Scanner for Hours after Clinic Closes:
Don’t move, they told her, weighing her down with a heavy blanket, strapping her arms in, locking the machine. Or maybe just closing it. She loses track of time in the dark. There doesn’t seem to be anyone out there. Twenty-five minutes, they said. Bone cancer. Pain. Metastatic. And those were the last words she remembers hearing. It seems like hours ago now. She’s starting to fear the dark. Nobody told her she could go home. Ever.
"These modest poems pack a big punch. They live up to their large themes." --Anne Whitehouse, Gently Read Literature
ISBN-10: 0-9792416-7-7 $15.00
On House and Home:
“In writing as in life, this poet seems to have no use for undue exuberance but is plainly too strong to let herself get bogged down in the maudlin... The result is honest and unaffected writing refreshingly free of the self-conscious angst that mars the writing of some of her colleagues.”—Library Journal
“The writing's great virtue is its physicality of place and time—a fusion of word and map of nature drawn by a uniquely original poet. House and Home represents a maturity of mind and voice rare among contemporary poets.” —Rochelle Owens
“Here are the private musings of a seasoned poet, most often over domestic realities uttered matter-of-factly, However, these lyrics are elevated into a poetry of metaphoric potential, with a most moving selection of love poems that include the trials of love and the fears of its lack. There is a calm center to these carefully observed poems.”—Barry Wallenstein
“A very highly recommended addition to any poetry shelf, the images evoked are as compellingly universal as they are memorably unique.” —Midwest Book Review
“Finding the telling detail of quotidian experiences and pinning them into permanence with the least number of just-right words is Rochelle Ratner's forte as a poet.” —Bob Grumman, Small Press Review
“Although the ordinary and everyday subject matter is usually treated in an accessible and sometimes flat manner, the metaphoric implications resonate. After all, Home is a four letter word on par with Love and it is fraught with that most famous ‘F’ word: Family. These are some of the seminal archetypes of the human psyche… Throughout House and Home there is poignancy between the illusionary ideal and the less perfect, but more honest, real. One of Ratner’s fortes is her portrayal, as sharply focused as a Diane Arbus photograph, of unsparing reality”. —Lee Bellevance, Café Review
“The central idea is the way that place, rural or urban, influences and defines a family while a family endows place with emotional associations… There is a ‘dream’ of holding a life together, making it comprehensible, seeing implications of events separated by time. The ‘self’ of these poems, often in solitude, never gives up on family, spouse, or love.” —Frank Allen, One Trick Pony
“The burden of these poems does not rest as much on the specific issues they deal with as discrete events, but on the sensitivity with which they become worked out or incorporated into life over time. In this, Ratner shows her major leap ahead of the earlier poems that simply coped with loneliness, alienation, and related themes. And this is precisely where she goes beyond most ‘domestic poetry’ written in recent years… A significant part of what she seems to have been moving toward has more to do with establishing and maintaining her independence as an adult using the more easily recognizable models and icons of childhood and adolescent alienation.”—Karl Young, Sugar Mule
“This is deeply personal poetry that analyses that very fragile bond of marriage that could either withstand a sudden disease or infidelity.”—Chris Mansel, The Muse-Apprentice Guild
On Someday Songs:
“Painful and witty at the same time, the poems are simple in structure and give the reader a warm feeling for family, changing tradition, friendship, and an understanding of the pain of alienation and loss. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal
“Personal and religious encounters provide the raw material for Ratner's 13th collection of poetry. And the poems, which evoke Jewish ritual and communal life, are remarkable for their simplicity, clarity and depth of feeling. They are not so much ‘about’ religious experience as they are moments of it…. The poems are declared imitations, representations, and as such gain their power from their exactness of observation and from the poet's use of language as a mimetic tool”—Publishers Weekly
Rochelle Ratner's the author of more than fourteen previous poetry collections, including Practicing to Be A Woman: New and Selected Poems (Scarecrow Press, 1982) and Someday Songs (BkMk Press, 1992). A novelist as well as a poet, Coffee House Press has published two novels: Bobby's Girl (1986) and The Lion's Share (1991). An anthology she edited, Bearing Life: Women's Writings on Childlessness, was published in January 2000 by The Feminist Press. More information is available at www.rochelleratner.com
Two Poems by Rochelle Ratner
Sundown, the sun in control, the earth responsive. She climbs out the window onto a little ledge, not wanting to miss a moment. She closes her eyes, tries to hold steady. But she was always a nervous child, couldn't even stand on a chair without her mother shrieking. Later she had a cat that could fall off bookshelves. Still later she bought her own house with an honest to God balcony, then later still lived in an apartment on the 20th floor, also with a balcony. Often when she's saddest about her mother's death she'll tiptoe out there. Just to think, she says. Just to reflect, like the sunset in windows. Then all of a sudden it's gone. Darkness, except for streetlights far below. The night, they say, has fallen.
FIRST DREAM, SECOND CANCER
It’s ID day at the senior center – not only free photos, but hairstyling as well. Even though she’s too young, they invite her. The nurse at the door whispers to come back, the only volunteers free right now have no sense of style, but she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. They sit her down, place the tabby cat on her head and he starts kneading with his claws, carefully, tightly curling. As a child, she despised her curly hair, like the rest of her body. It feels good, the cat massaging the back of her head, but then he moves around to do the front, full belly draped across her face, warm penis just about nose level. Still, she doesn’t move. And her hair ends up in wonderful ringlets, except on the top, where what little is left lies limpid. This cat needs to keep others warm, you know.