Friday, June 03, 2005

Adam Schonbrun

One of the best things about this blog has been the way it's put me in contact with poets and teachers around the Jewish world. A few days ago, for example, I got this email, which the author has allowed me to post:

Dear Eric, I enjoy reading your blog and I have learned a lot about the writers you discuss. I would like to draw your attention to a Jewish American poet who now lives in Zfat, Israel. His name is Adam Schonbrun. I have included his poetry in an online course I teach about Voices of Diversity in American Literature.

My students are a true microcosm of Israeli society: Moslem-- (Bedouin, Arab), Jewish--(Sabra, new immigrantsfrom Ethiopia and Russia), devoutly religious and secular. The students find the poem I'm attaching very interesting and they exchange email with Adam. Some of these exchanges show that the poem opens a window for them on being a Jew living in the diaspora -- something they know very little about.

Here's the poem:

My Last Year in Graduate School
Adam Schonbrun

Strange thrill downtown
seeing a bright-eyed
cheerleader smile-

During the basketball game
I'd watched her thrown up
in the air caught a glimpse
of the babyfat thighs,
her hands lowered to pull
the mini down-

A modest gesture
that excites me;
all that energy
displayed with hips
shaking back & forth.

Maybe it's because
I lived in an all boys
Rabbinical school
& then got my degree
in a foreign country-

I now appreciate
The plain woman playing
The flute in the 2nd
row of the band,
seated with her Collegiate
braces & freckles & oily curls,
I adore the cheerleaders
& the brassy sounds of the tuba,
maybe I just want to belong
& feel that I'm not always
the outsider, the jewboy
who hears the closed teeth grind:
"Jew me down, Jewboy," and yet

the team spirit's in me,
I want to belong
& shout: Go state, go.
And, I do. The milky
shiksas turn me on.
A breathless chill
overtakes me
when the band plays
& they sway, all firm and full
of Appalachian tradition.

* rabbinical: of rabbis, of Jewish doctrine or law
* state: a state college [university] team
* shiksa: a non-Jewish woman
* Appalachian: Eastern U.S. mountain chain

The notes on the poem are either hers or the poet's, I'm not sure which. (Let me know, and I'll edit this post accordingly.)

It strikes me, wryly, that there's a pun in this poem that the footnotes elide. "Go, state, go" doesn't just call to mind the US cheers for a state college or university team; it also hearkens back to the Jewish desire to have a "state" like everyone else does--which is to say, in Biblical terms, a king like all the other kingdoms, no? Which is to say, if the poem is overtly about Jewish life in Diaspora, that is to say, it may also be an interesting commentary, somewhat covertly, on the "team spirit" longings (and maybe the sexual politics) of Zionism, too.

Thanks for passing this along, Dr. Kolan!


cOOLit said...

A very perceptive Professor Selinger points out that the hidden "go state go" was on purpose, but in fact,Mr. Schonbrun's fine hand expresses the now and the tomorrow as did all the poets in their eras and gives him an air of longevity in the life of contemporary poetry. I am from England where Mr. Schonbrun's poetry has been more distributed and have found him to be prophetic and religious, sexualy aware, but more than that a builder of images as in his publication "An Image of an Angel".
He will be at our university in Oxford 15 Sept.-15 Oct. as Visiting Scholar @ the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Yarnton Manor. And I must say his fine oratory is so rare and entertaining nowadays,I have been told that the great mind will see greater things in the poet's work than the poet himself so I take Professor Selinger's point as a compliment worthy of Mr. Schonbrun.

Mr. David Cohen

chessdad64 said...

i remember hanging out w/ adam ben adam back at Haifa U in '81..

good to see your cyberspace footprints.

ayfoh ha bacharote levonote adam?