Catastroika by Charles Rammelkamp

By Lynette G. Esposito
Published by Apprentice House Press, Charles Rammelkamp’s Catastroika presents clear visions of Russian history in poetic form presented with fictional scenarios that reflect truths.  Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Border Crossings says:  These poems will open your eyes to rulers, revolutionaries, and the people caught between them,
For example, In Kiev Pogrom, 1905 on page fifteena graphic picture of circumstance is presented.  The four-stanza poem details the brutal unrest in Russia.
             The killing and destruction lasted three days
             as many as a hundred Jews killed,
             property destroyed—factories, shops, homes
             The historian, Simon Dubnow, called it
             Russia’s Bartholomew’s Night.
After setting the scene of destruction, the last two lines personalize the situation by switching from a general picture to a personal narrative.
            For me, just about to turn eleven,
           both beaten by mobs to bloody pulp and bone,
           it was the death of Uncle Lev and Papa
           that made up my mind to flee to St. Petersburg.
This technique of going from the general situation to a specific one, brings the reader into the situation of real fear.
Strannik on page twenty, opens with a calm tone but progresses almost into insane anxiety as the narrator prays before the mother of Jesus.
               Papa settled down, built a house
               on the family farm
               for his growing family,
               Praskovia giving birth to four
               in rapid succession
              though the first, a boy,
              only lived a few months,
              reminding Papa
              of his own brother, Mischa,
              making him wonder
              if he were being punished
              for not obeying the Virgin.
At the end of the poem, the wife, weeping with her husband, tells him to do what is right; to find his soul. He must go.  Where is he to go?  The poem does not answer.
Catastroika on page one hundred fourteen brings together the voice of the book in dealing with anti-semantic issues.  The poem talks of the exodus of talented Jews to Israel, The United States and elsewhere from Gorbachev’s Russia.  The last stanza of four clarifies.
                   But if life is improved under Gorbachev,
                   the general situation’s deteriorated,
                  Jewish leaders fearing Jews will be blamed,
                  the usual scapegoats.
The volume is divided into nine sections alternating with the names Sasha a fictional person and Maria, a real one. It contains one hundred and seventeen pages of poems that vary in length.  The subjects appear to be well researched and an acknowledgement page and glossary is included for those who want to fact check.
Rammelkamp has a remarkable ability to humanize dire situations with a clear insight into message.  The poems are not an easy read, but I enjoyed the view Rammelkamp presented even if it wasn’t pretty.
The book is available from
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

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