Creative, explorative and very personal: Beatriz Copello reviews ‘Looking In’ by Michael Leibowitz

Looking In by Michael Leibowitz, Sydney Jewish Museum Publishing, 2022, 

When I received Michael Leibowitz’s book of poetry I paniced, why? Because the book contains 159 pages or poetry. All these questions came rushing in: how long was I going to take to read it? What if it was boring, was I going to read it all and abandon the task? Would I have the patience to read it all? Well, I read it all, yes, the whole 159 pages and enjoyed it very much. Looking In, is entertaining, written in a rich and cultural language, creative, explorative and in parts very personal.

In the Preface of Looking  In Leibowitz says:

What I have produced is compilation, a smorgasbord, a collage of thoughts, some from the last year and most from a lifetime. My poems in a word, can be seen as a self-portrait or a portrait of the inner universe and history of a person new to writing poetry but old to the world.

And he is right.

Leibowitz is a Medical Dermatologist and had never written a poem until the pandemic force him into a rest from his medical practice and the spirit of poetry took over.

The just born poet, with a long life well lived divided his book into various sections, namely: ‘Preface’, ‘Prologue’, 1. ‘Looking In’, 2. ‘Looking Out’, 3. ‘Looking at Love’, 4. ‘On Being God’, 5. ‘Bestiary and the Garden’ and  ‘Epilogue’.

In the ‘Preface’ the poet explains how he started to write, what drove his poetry and how, as he wrote, a pattern started to appear. He saw that many of his poems were contemplative in the relationship between himself and others, others were introspective and extrospective.

The ‘Prologue’ contains only one very poignant and beautiful poem which very well alerts the reader of what is yet to come, here is the poem titled ‘back to the beginning’:

I cupped a conch to my ear to hear
The fitful sea’s sometimes soporific
Sound or its clamorous bellow all around.
The brine’s capricious – fickle as ice.

And the beach once seen is never
The same beach twice. I heard not

The sea’s mysterious voice but a mermaid
Murmur in mermaid tongue – a tongue

So obscure and so antique, it sounds
Were older than stones themselves.

‘To truly understand life,’ she said: ‘You must
Go back to the beginning of all things.’

‘And where might that be?’ ‘Back
To amniotic waters. Back to the sea.

 The section ‘Looking In’ contains not only poetry but also short pieces of poetic narratives exploring ‘the good old times’, what it means to be human, the body and the mind, aging and death, as well as belonging and regrets. The poet is very philosophical, he ponders sometimes with humour others with irony. Many of Leibowitz’s poems will lead the reader to mull over the issues that he so eloquently raises.

Many poems in the next section titled ‘Looking out’ are political, intellectual and funny, the writer comments on everyday issues as well as those in the ‘big picture’.

In the section titled ‘Looking at Love’ Leibowitz delves into love and relationships, some poems are about his wife and his bond with her, again his humour and his flair for irony are demonstrated. The following poem titled “paean to love’ will give you a hint about his journey into this emotional behaviour:

WHEN THE Lord God created us
He wove in our own mortality.

Age that thief, creeps up on us,
But disease burst in at noon

With braggadocio and a dagger
Set with jewels of malicious intent.

Of all the forms that love takes,
Liquid love suits me best. Love
That flows with ease. And envelops
Me. And intoxicates like wine

And purifies like water. Love’s liquid
Immersion stems from a shared life.

Why only yesterday, before I had even
Entered our home, my wife called from

Upstairs: ‘Yes, what went wrong at work
Today?’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘From your

Footstep!’ That’s liquid love. It tempers
All ills, in particular that of un-creation

That bides its ineluctable time in the umbras
Of the body and the shoals of the mind.

 ‘On being God’ is the next section of the book and contains a fascinating and often comic analysis of god and religion (Note: I don’t write god with capital g). I am not sure if he is irreverent, but I can assure you that if you read these poems you will laugh or at least smile. I, in the past, have analysed similar issues to what Leibowitz raises with regards to god and religion. Leibowitz is Jewish and in some of his poems he comments on practices and beliefs of his/not his faith.

‘Bestiary’, ‘The Garden’ and the ‘Epilogue’ are short sections. In ‘Bestiary’ some of the poems are born from his experience in Africa, his country of birth. Here the poet writes about herds and elephants but also about cats not the big felines but domestic cats. Sprinkles of the poet’s scientific knowledge are spread all over this section and the whole book. ‘The Garden’ the title informs is all about the plants and flowers. Most of the poems in the book lean toward a traditional style but in this last section the poet experiments with form.

Looking In is a well-written book, Leibowitz has a very original voice, he moves from harsh words to tender ones, from the serious to the banal, from skepticism to certitude. It was exciting to read a book with such originality in terms of topics and style. A great book to take on your hollidays. Highly recommended.

 – Beatriz Copello


Dr Beatriz Copello, is an award-winning writer and a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee. She writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. Her poetry books include Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, Witches Women and Words and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon and Renacer en Azul (In Spanish). Other books include Copello are: A Call to the Stars, Forbidden Steps Under the Wisteria and Beyond the Moons of August (Her Doctoral Thesis). Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many others journals and she has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival and various events in Spain, Italy and Argentina. She also reviews extensively and her critical work has appeared in The Compulsive Reader, NSW Writers Centre, Australian Society of Women Writers and Rochford Street Review.

Looking In is available from