Eyes, Stones is the winner of the Academy of American Poets’ 2011 Walt Whitman Award, an honor given to American poets who have not previously published a book of poems.
In her debut collection, Elana Bell examines the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the voices of different characters. Among them is Zosha, Bell’s grandmother and a survivor of the Holocaust. Another is Amal, a Palestinian girl who lives on the land where her father was born, and his father,/so that the shoots he planted before her birth/now sweep over her head. Against a backdrop of natural elements that have sustained life for generations, Bell’s poems underscore the significance of homeland as a source of identity, spiritual and physical stability.
To enter the world of any poem in Eyes, Stones is to look into a mirror that simultaneously reflects beauty and tragedy. Amidst the tumult, we find moments of respite, as in the poem, In Another Country It Could Have Been Love:
When her fingers swooped in like wrens
to pluck the fattest dates
from Father’s bin and lay them
on the scale, I wanted
to kiss those quick brown hands.
Bell shows us how quickly a tender image can dissolve into strife, for in the following stanza, she writes:
The next time I saw her, a rifle
strapped her shoulder. The tip
of it fingered my ribs, my hips,
the inside of my thighs,
cold metal instead of her hands,
The poet navigates sharp turns with economic language. Bell’s images are dense, such that a quick brushstroke of detail unveils an intimate truth about pain and longing.
Eyes, Stones is a collection that reflects on the impact of conflict at all levels. Specific as the cultural and historical context may be, these poems culminate with a universal legacy in Your Village: …if you do not look because it is not your village/it is still your village… Elana Bell’s lyrical verse empowers her audience to engage with the work not only as an observer but an active participant. We experience a global ripple effect in a complex reality where one person’s bounty is another’s longing, and survival hinges on hope for change.