Review: Solecism by Rosebud Ben-Oni

Review by Sarah Rae:

Solecism. Virtual Artists’ Collective, 2013

Sometimes there is no place for identity to hang its hat. Instead of a neat space, it finds layers of memories, emotions, cultures and ideals that twist and coil their way up the wall like a mass of vines with no beginning and no end. Rosebud Ben-Oni’s new collection of poetry Solecism is an expression of both rootlessness and the deepest ties that bind us to our heritage.

     The word 
solecism itself has many meanings: nonstandard or ungrammatical usage; breach of good manners or etiquette; or any error, impropriety of inconsistency. You can quickly see this aversive “nonstandard” in “The Reply of Sal Si Puedes”:

               What if I said
               What if I experience—
               Linguistic momentum
               to earn Webster worth?
               Would you call it broken then
               In its 4th edition?

     The daughter of a Mexican mother and a Jewish father, spending much of her life on the Gulf Coast, and studying in New York City, Michigan, and Jerusalem, the poet has a many-sided heritage and a great deal of cultural influences that wash over her work. 

     Belonging to so much and yet being denied membership to all. “For the Mixed Child with Pale Skin” says it best, “your parts don’t look the part in anything.” This existential dilemma leaves us stray, flitting around like birds,
sparrows to be exact.

     It’s difficult to accept, at first, the range of voices in the collection. Then the reader realizes it’s not the voice that changes, it’s only the place. From In essence, Ben-Oni’s work is an example of what a profound affect place has on the psyche. 

     In “Lives of Carrion” we see the poet long for an indelible, identifying mark.

               Later I’ll peel the scab over,

               wanting to scar, and try to tell
               time from patches on the ground.

     It’s incredibly easy to forget we hail from many places, when the melting pot boils us down to something neutral. Ben-Oni doesn’t fall prey to this. And yet, at the same time, her work helps us to zoom out and truly see the cultural repetition, the social pitfalls, and more joyous similarities that make us all one.

See more on the poet here:

Rosebud Ben-Oni

Solecism (80 page) was published by Virtual Artists Collective in February 2013



In absentia, he holds — you,
tichel-crumpled, bare-legged
and humbled, shown your hair
in the shuq, shorn of husband.

Alone, the shuq is a sudden holding:
Flies and bees abandon the sweets seller.
Fish leap, cut open themselves open
at your feet. Who sways behind you,

but the kind of men who pluck them
from the dust and still hawk
sloppy-fleshed, the blood
already too many days old.

How long can the faded-rose gills
hold that last gasp,
long enough to read such dull eyes,
past their prime and most peculiar?

*A halachic term for a woman who, in this case, has been abandoned by her husband.

About the Author: Rosebud Ben-Oni is a playwright at New Perspectives Theater, where she's currently developing a new play, Shamhat, as part of their 20th Anniversary Season. Recently, her short story “A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor's Prize at Camera Obscura: A Journal of Contemporary Literature and Photography. In Fall 2011, she spoke at the Women in the Arts conference as a playwright negotiating space and homosexual identity in the Middle East; the lecture, now titled as “Semaphore Toward Emptiness: A Meditation on Women and Jerusalem," has been accepted for publication by Trans-Portal: The Hub of Trans-formation Studies for its upcoming Winter 2012 issue. This past summer, VIDA selected her essay “On Writing Quimera and other Fears,” also based on her work for New Perspectives, for their State of the Art Feature.