What Makes a Jewish Poet?

By Schneider, Ada Jill | Midstream, January 2004 | Go to article overview

What Makes a Jewish Poet?


Schneider, Ada Jill, Midstream


Meaning & Memory: Interviews with Fourteen Jewish Poets, by Gary Pacernick. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2001, 264 pp., $60 hardcover; $24 paperback.

When I first perused the table of contents in Meaning & Memory: Interviews with Fourteen Jewish Poets, I was so impressed with this list of widely acclaimed contemporary Jewish poets that I felt had to find a bookmark ceremonially worthy of the volume. Readers of Gary Pacernick's work will recognize his recurrent focus on the Jewish experience and Jewish identity reflected in poetry. A professor of English at Wright State University, Pacernick is the author of Memory and Fire: Ten American Jewish Poets; Sing a New Song: American Jewish Poetry since the Holocaust; and several books of his own poetry. For this new collection of essays, some of which were originally written for the American Poetry Review, Pacernick conducted impassioned interviews with fourteen 20th-century Jewish poets. These poets, diverse in age and gender, were asked not only about the ups and downs of being a poet and about craft, but also about the impact the Holocaust had on their lives and poetry. Finally, Pacernick asked them if they considered themselves Jewish poets.

In his introduction to Meaning & Memory, Pacernick contends that "Jewishness creates a core of meaning and memory to which Jewish poets respond and that this process deepens their art." And, indeed, this seems to be the case with all of the poets, but in varying degrees. There is, for instance, Stanley Kunitz, whose poetry is only slightly connected to Judaism. And although David Ignatow did not believe in God, his poetry often included a Yiddish comic voice or a Talmudic quality. Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet, wrote in the rhythm of Ecclesiastes. Marge Piercy and Alicia Ostriker are at the other end of the spectrum; they merge Judaism with feminism and place great emphasis on the Shechinah. Not until several years ago, when I read the work of two compassionate Jewish poets, Gerald Stern and Philip Levine, did I hear my own voice in poetry. It was like a homecoming, a feeling of belonging, like meeting landsmen. Stem writes with exuberance for life; he has a zeal for justice and pride in his Jewish heritage. Levine, a champion of the blue-collar worker, defends those who cannot speak for themselves. I recognized a Jewish sensibility--a combination of Yiddishkeit, gratitude, and the everyday struggle it takes to be a mentsh.

The religious backgrounds of the fourteen writers vary widely. Some were raised in a secular home, while others grew up totally immersed in Judaism. When I analyzed the information related in these interviews, I realized that the five oldest poets, Carl Rakosi (b. 1903), Stanley Kunitz (b. 1905), David Ignatow (1914-1997), Harvey Shapiro (b. 1924), and Dannie Abse (b. 1923), regardless of the amount of Jewish subject matter in their work, decidedly preferred the label "poet" to "Jewish poet." Abse, who is Welsh, did qualify his response by admitting, "If there were a new anthology of Jewish poets and I were not in it, I would feel very bad indeed." I strongly suspect the others would agree.

For Elaine Feinstein (b. 1930) and Ruth Fainlight (b. 1931), the other two British writers, the question is moot as far as they are concerned. They are, to their dismay, automatically pigeonholed as Jewish poets by their countrymen simply because of their Jewish names. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

What Makes a Jewish Poet?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.