The Survival Rate of Butterflies In The Wild by Murray Reiss is a hauntingly beautiful book of poetry, influenced largely by Reiss’ childhood memories of his Jewish family’s struggles – not only with their new life in Canada, but with living with the knowledge that they survived the horrors of the holocaust in Poland, while family members perished.
Sadness and an aching longing are sewn into the themes in Reiss’ poems. His work depicts the emptiness felt by his grief-riddled father, shown by the silence that existed in their relationship. This silence held the pain and guilt that Reiss’ father could not bear.
Unanswered letters and postcards that never came are recurring themes that illustrate the profound sense of loss his father felt; but more dramatic still is the sense of Reiss’ shame at having survived at all.
In the title poem, “The Survival Rate Of Butterflies In The Wild”, Reiss uses a walk through a butterfly park as an analogy to the life of a Jewish person, and in particular, his own life. Reiss writes of opting for the quiet, peaceful solitude of suspended animation to ensure that he, as taught by his father, can go unnoticed as it’s better than being dead, much like the butterfly in distress..
Reiss’ brilliant poetry is simple and yet deeply complex, inciting the feelings of profound sadness that he bears as a survivor in a home where pain was akin to breathing. This pain, passed down like a well-worn stone, from generation to generation, carries with it a solid weight. Reiss uses words, like stones, and weighs down his poems with meaningful sorrow.
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