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Headstone cover

Poetry | Soft cover | 112 pages | $18

2022 Henry Morgenthau III Poetry Prize Winner
2023 Massachusetts Book Awards Poetry Honors

“While its title suggests a world already past and fixed behind us in memory, Headstone is an illustration, rather, of the aliveness of the past as it courses in us, and we are its walking, talking monument.” 

David Keplinger, Henry Morgenthau III Poetry Prize Judge

Praise for Headstone

“Gala upon gala” Mark Elber declares in his sumptuous, expansive volume of elegies, Headstone. Poignant, candid, fearless (and funny) odes and laments for the poet’s father – and the poet’s own life – come tumbling from this splendid book. Elber’s tapestry of generations and culture begins in Eastern Europe, unfolds through the Holocaust, and finishes in New York and Israel, spanning births, marriages, and deaths. “An epigram wishing I were an epic . . . a narrative wading in a stream of consciousness,” Elber draws us in with wordplay, long Ginsbergian lines, angst, and charm. The miraculous story of how his father saved his life – and how it ultimately saves the poet’s own – makes this book a treasure.

Molly Peacock, author of The Analyst: Poems

Mark Elber’s tender-hearted and incantatory Whitmanian poems catapult us into his Jewish past with fierce determination and loving detail. Headstone is a rescue operation, a book of lost worlds, a memorial of grief that turns into praise.

Ed Hirsch, author of Gabriel: A Poem

As this stunning collection begins, it glances backwards on the speaker’s 35th year, a kind of Dantean journey issuing forth. “If I could,” the voice states, “I’d revive the sound of his voice barely caught on a few bargain cassettes,” and perhaps it is this compulsion to look back, to gather up the artifacts of the past, stories and voices in memoriam, that charges the electrifying language of this poetry, so full of emergency and details that spur details and more details. The work reminds me of the great poet Gerald Stern, who wrote of his ancestors in pre-war Europe and of America after the war, the poems floating from thought to thought, often one sentence in length, the lines crafted elegantly in long strands he inherited from Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman. This poet, too, is of that same lineage, Mark Elber’s debut a sustained study of engaged intelligence and marveling. While its title suggests a world already past and fixed behind us in memory, Headstone is an illustration, rather, of the aliveness of the past as it courses in us, and we are its walking, talking monument.

David Keplinger, Henry Morgenthau III Poetry Prize Judge, author of The World to Come

Mark Elber is a poet who holds nothing back, a poet of profound connectiveness, who has the ambition to write “These are love letters to the dead” and “The future was yesterday” and the humility to balance that ambition with, “Stop writing poetry and start waxing the car.” There will be no question about it. Here is the poem and here is the man. Throughout Headstone there are lines that insist I stop and read them aloud, and whole poems of heroic compassion and tenderness toward existence. With one book Mark Elber has given us both an elegy and a hosanna to what it is to be fully human.

Rodney Jones, author of Village Prodigies

Among these fragments reassembled from his life, from the recklessness of an American youth in Queens, from the struggle to understand parents who have endured the Holocaust, and later, in gratitude for a second marriage and for a son, Mark Elber makes poems shimmer with the incandescence of a lifetime.

Brooks Haxton, author of Mister Toebones

“What stitched together sounds can I offer?” Mark Elber asks in this moving collection. Eloquent through their gritty particulars, the poems of Headstone reclaim a Jewish past that, in Elber’s hands, precipitates a resonant present. At their frequent and animated best, they convince with their textures, their rhythms, their emotional precision, and in their relentless, disarming attempt to account for what Coleridge called “the whole ad hominem.”

Peter Cole, author of Hymns & Qualms: New and Selected Poems and Translations

Age-old questions – What are we from? Where are we going? 

In Elber’s sometimes Whitmanic, sometimes Ginsbergian, always Elberian poems, in their alert detail and distances of time and place contained in spreading lines, in their mingling of catalogue and prayer, ode and anecdote, these questions feel urgent all over again. Elber makes the historic personal; the personal becomes myth and song. There’s great mourning in this book – both collective and individual – but Elber also knows that “the tongue will sing its sweetness” – maybe even in darkness.

Daisy Fried, author of The Year the City Emptied

Mark Elber smiles

About the Author

Mark Elber was born and raised in Queens, New York City to Holocaust survivors and grew up hearing Polish, Yiddish, German, Russian, and English spoken at home. Rather than following his father’s and brother’s path into the medical profession, Mark pursued philosophy, Jewish mysticism, poetry, and music. He studied philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, Kabbalah at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and years later received his MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. In the intervening years, Mark was involved with forming two rock bands, songwriting, and becoming a rabbi. He is the author of The Everything Kabbalah Book and The Sacred Now: Cultivating Jewish Spiritual Consciousness. Mark lives with his wife, Shoshana Brown, and their son, Lev, in Fall River, MA, where Mark and Shoshana are the rabbi and cantor at Temple Beth El.

Watch an interview with Elber on YouTube.

The Henry Morgenthau lll First Book Poetry Prize for a poet 70 or older

The prize honors Henry Morgenthau III, author of A Sunday in Purgatory, his first collection of poems at age 99. After a distinguished career as a writer and producer for public television, Mr. Morgenthau began writing poetry in his nineties, pursuing it with great seriousness and passion. He gave readings and book signings, enthralling audiences of all ages with his intelligence and wit, and fielded correspondence from people inspired by his poems. His audience was changed by him and he in turn by them. As he said, “to finally, in my nineties, after such a long and public life, be able to write and publish poems – to connect with other people from my deepest, truest self – was a gift. To be open to others in this way . . . I don’t know why I waited so long.”

Mark Elber is the 2022 recipient of this award.

Reseller Ordering Information

Download a copy of the book’s press kit:

Headstone by Mark Elber
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Passager Books
ISBN 978-1-7355148-5-7
Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.325 x 7.75 inches

Bookstores: Order through Small Press Distribution at spdbooks.org. For consignment sales, order directly from Passager Books at christine@passagerbooks.com.

Questions: editors@passagerbooks.com

An online celebration and reading featuring Mark Elber, and conversation with Morgenthau contest judge and poet David Keplinger. Recorded January 29, 2023.

Moments from the launch of Headstone at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. October 30, 2022.

Poet and Morgenthau prize recipient Mark Elber describes his personal history and writing process that formed his winning manuscript Headstone. From “Of Some Renown,” a video series.

Upcoming Events

Watch recordings of Mark’s past readings under the “Video” tab.