Even the most happily married couples have rare occasions on which they don’t work well together. Miriam and Ronald Schulman are no exception: “When I’m driving we don’t do well, because you’re telling me what to do the whole time,” Miriam joked. Ronald agreed. “Not my finest moment,” he said.
But when the Scarsdale couple does work in harmony — which is basically the rest of the time — the results can be amazing. Case in point: “A Writer’s Sketch,” their new collaborative book of exquisite poetry (Ronald’s) and stunning artwork (Miriam’s).
“I hope it provokes some thinking about the world and society,” said Ron of the self-published, 64-poem collection. “And maybe the poems will trigger memories in readers’ own lives.”
The Schulmans will be hosting a book launch party Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. at Bronx River Books in Scarsdale Village.
The verses in “A Writer’s Sketch” represent a life’s work: “I have 40 years of poetry basically going back to high school — I first started writing poems in 11th-grade English class,” said Ronald, who has made his career in affordable housing and owns Best Development in Hartsdale. “These poems basically span my adult life. They talk about places and people and the human condition and the things we need to focus on, like keeping our eyes open to people in need of housing, food and clothing, and issues of racial and social justice.” Still, he insisted, “This is not a political book. It’s about things you see, my observations in the world.”
These observations are both nuanced and moving, as in the seasonally apropos poem Fall View:
Chilled air blows its sharp warnings.
in stretching resistance.
And squirrels dance —
treats in mouth.
Jingling laughter echoes from the streets.
Children sing in the park.
Birds chirp loudly —
though soon they say
The book’s artwork, too — which consists exclusively of watercolors — is wide-ranging.
“I didn’t create any imagery specific to the book, but I decided to put an emphasis on farms and nature,” said Miriam, who is a professional artist (Art.Schulmanart.com) and hosts a podcast, “The Inspiration Place,” which ranks in the Top 30 in iTunes visual arts category. “There are a lot of metaphors about farming and gardening because Ron grew up the son of a farmer, and that was a major influence on him.”
The cover of the book depicts Yasgur’s farm, where the original Woodstock music festival took place 50 years ago. It holds special meaning for Ronald, who lived close by. “People stopped by as they were leaving the festival and swam in our pond with us,” he recalled.
There are also images within “A Writer’s Sketch” that will spark sentimentality in any Scarsdalian — depictions of Wilson & Son Jewelers and the Dark Horse, for example, along with scenes from Metro-North. Lest readers linger too long in cozy familiarity, though, the book is interspersed with poems that cast a critical eye on society. Take, for instance, the mini-tragedy that unfolds in Take Down:
Eight to one.
The number of cops to the one homeless man
Who was screaming at the top of his lungs in Grand Central Terminal
For help at ten in the morning.
The homeless man?
Have we learned much of anything in the past 50 years?
Ugly conflict in such a beautiful place…
Makes me say to myself,
“We have not yet got it right.”
We have so much more work to do
because locking up a shoeless
African American man who took Grand Central as his temporary
is not the answer for all answers.
Disconnection, and the way it affects how we treat others, is a theme Ronald Schulman repeatedly touches upon in his poetry. “I just think that in our society, with the phones and all, we’ve lost a little bit of our touch, and we’ve lost the personal interactions with people and kids,” he said. “I have a poem in my book called ‘Invisible Society,’ and it begins ‘Please go away’!”
“Ron embraces the tangible things in our lives,” said his wife. “He collects vinyl records, not iTunes. And just the fact that we’re even having this poetry book launch party at a local bookstore, which we want to support rather than just having everything being online and virtual, shows our dedication to the tangible. We love the concept of having a bookstore in town. We think it’s a vital piece of the village.”
The two drew upon numerous influences in creating the book. Ronald has long looked up to Robert Frost, he said, along with the writing of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Hemingway, he said, is a particular idol: “My poetry is pretty straightforward. It reads more like prose. So Hemingway influenced my writing — his simplicity, his directness, and getting to the point.”
Miriam, for her part, said she admires the artists Helen Frankenthaler and Mary Cassat, along with Berthe Morisot, the unsung mother of the Impressionist movement.
Just as these creative icons inspired the Schulmans, they hope that they, too, will inspire others with “A Writer’s Sketch.”
“Poetry,” Ronald said, “expresses important moments and captures a vision we can come back to and look at. Poems are little literary photographs of short pieces of time. It’s essential to our lives.”