Monday, October 16, 2006

Jewish Graphic Novels: a Call for Papers

This showed up in my in-box this morning. If you're interested, send in a proposal; if you know someone interested, pass it on!

The Jewish Graphic Novel

Essays sought for an interdisciplinary collection co-edited by an art
historian and literary scholar. The growing subgenre of Jewish literary
and graphic culture contains a number of significantly innovative
aesthetic works that are increasingly recognized by literary critics as
an exciting form of alternative narrative that may also represent the
inception of a new visual literacy that has significant implications for
the future of Jewish literary and artistic expression. As the catalogue
of a recent art exhibit devoted to this cultural phenomenon states,
"Jewish Graphic novels represent an important genre in artistic
expression and assert the intensity of word and image in conveying
narratives that speak eloquently to the contemporary viewer. [They]
offer intense visual elucidation of Jewish historic and literary events
by combining intense illustration with searing social issues." Works to
be addressed may include graphic novels by Will Eisner (A Contract With
God: and Other Tenement Stories, Fagin the Jew, The Plot: The Secret
Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) Czech writer Vittorio
Giardino's trilogy of volumes about Jewish life under the shadow of
totalitarianism: A Jew in Communist Prague: Loss of Innocence, A Jew in
Communist Prague: Adolescence, and A Jew in Communist Prague: Rebellion;
Ben Katchor's The Jew of New York; Miriam Katin's memoir of WWII
survival, We Are On Our Own; Neil Kleid's portrayal of mobsters in
Brownsville; Etgar Keret's surreal tales, Jetlag: Five Graphic Novellas;
Joe Kubert's stunning account of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in Yossel:
April 14, 1943; Joann Sfar's whimsically philosophical The Rabbi's Cat,
James Strum's disturbing parable of American racism, The Golem's Mighty
Swing; and J.T. Waldman's recent bold retelling of the essential Jewish
myth of power and powerlessness in Megillat Esther. The editors also
hope to include an essay or two on the impact of Art Spiegelman's
seminal works of Holocaust oral history in Maus: A Survivor's Tale: My
Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My
Troubles Began, which crystallized the acceptance of the graphic novel
as a legitimate literary form. This collection aspires to fill an
important gap in existing scholarship by offering the first collection
of critical discussions to solely address the way that Jewish graphic
novels grapple with Jewish history, cultural politics, antisemitism,
portrayals of Ashkenazi and Sephardic identities, the role of the
Holocaust in the artist's cultural and moral imagination, political
controversy, literature, sacred texts, and myth through these
captivating works that render image and text in hitherto unimagined
forms. Other essays might consider the important role of autobiography
in the graphic novel and the role of the graphic novel in the Jewish
Studies classroom. This list is by no means exhaustive; other relevant
theoretical, pedagogical, or cultural approaches will be considered.
Authors are encouraged to use images whenever appropriate but they are
individually responsible for all necessary permissions. Papers from all
disciplines, or interdisciplinary submissions (whether focused on single
works or comparative discussions), are welcomed. Send brief bios along
with abstracts (300 words) or complete essays that follow the current
edition of the MLA Style Manual to both Ranen Omer-Sherman and Samantha Baskind by

Monday, October 09, 2006

Poetry and Prayer, 2

Hi, everyone. More of those "Poetry and Prayer" poems on their way to you.

Psalm, --Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch

A psalm on the day
a building contractor cheated me. A psalm of praise.
Plaster falls from the ceiling, the wall is sick, paint
cracking like lips.
The vines I've sat under, the fig tree-
it's all just words. The rustling of the trees
creates an illusion of God and Justice.

I dip my dry glance like bread
into the death that softens it,
always on the table in front of me.
Years ago, my life
turned my life into a revolving door.
I think about those who, in joy and success,
have gotten far ahead of me,
carried between two men for all to see
like that bunch of shiny pampered grapes
from the Promised Land,
and those who are carried off, also
between two men: wounded or dead. A psalm.

When I was a child I sang in the synagogue choir,
I sang till my voice broke. I sang
first voice and second voice. And I'll go on singing
till my heart breaks, first heart and second heart.
A psalm.

From Book of Mercy (by Leonard Cohen, he of the "golden voice"):

I Stopped to Listen

I stopped to listen, but he did not come. I began again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams of golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.

Sit Down, Master

Sit down, master, on this rude chair of praises, and rule my nervous heart with your great decrees of freedom. Out of time you have taken me to do my daily task. Out of mist and dust you have fashioned me to know the numberless worlds between the crown and the kingdom. In utter defeat I came to you and you received me with a sweetness I had not dared to remember. Tonight I come to you again, soiled by strategies and trapped in the loneliness of my tiny domain. Establish your law in this walled place. Let nine men come to lift me into their prayer so that I may whisper with them: Blessed be the name of the glory of the kingdom forever and ever.

All My Life

All my life is broken unto you, and all my glory soiled unto you. Do not let the spark of my soul go out in the even sadness. Let me raise the brokenness to you, to the world where the breaking is for love. Do not let the words be mine, but change them into truth. With these lips instruct my heart, and let us fall into the world what is broken in the world. Lift me up to the wrestling of faith. Do not leave me where the sparks go out, and the jokes are told in the dark, and new things are called forth and appraised in the scale of the terror. Face me to the rays of love, O source of light, or face me to the majesty of your darkness, but not here, do not leave me here, where death is forgotten, and the new thing grins.

And finally this, which stuns me freshly every time I read it, by Arielle Greenberg:


I will martyr myself at the stake, singing Hear.
A snake knew my name and caressed me.
The bush burned with ideas.
I was speechless; I was a ruby.
Every generation fashions an enemy.
I hid under a trapdoor in Spain, crying half-language.
Coveting, coveting, yes, no, like a jezebel on a rooftop terrace.
I eat nothing containing cartilage.
The oven is full of rock salt.
I went with my brother to interpret his stammering.
The first-born son must fast all morning.
I entered a beauty contest of strangers.
The rains lasted forever, like white dresses.
A dove came by with a postcard.
I killed my brother and hid.
There were dreams of stars and wheat.
The graves are decorated with only stones.
I took a literal train to my death. It was on time.
Boys are plied with wine and snipped.
I pray according to daylight.
Next year will return to the city of gold.
I shield my eyes from the priests’ blessing.
Girls get two candles each.
I stood at the bottom of a mountain with my soul.
A very small parcel of real estate was promised.
I was taken for a fool by my village to make a story.
He offered the angels his most finely sifted flour.
I hid in an attic with my diary.
The tents are goodly.
I was a lost tribe and came out black.
Each breastplate held a dozen precious gems.
The sea boiled and horses drowned.
I hope not to be inscribed in the book of the damned.
A drop of oil burned for eight days.
I win money made of bitter chocolate.
The cat swallows the chicken, and the reaper swift behind.
I made love to my king like a sibling in a cave.
Three, four, eight, eighteen, forty, one hundred and twenty.
Trees are planted like children there.
I pretended to be my younger sister under the veil.
Manna rained down and tasted like muffins.
I looked back and was turned to salt.
Rams, bulls, lambs and billy goats.
I offered you something clean from a well.
A prophet slips in the door to drink from his cup.
I hid from God and was found.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Poetry and Prayer

It's hard for me to explain, even to myself, why I'm finding it so hard to blog here recently. Something about that last stupid war--the "you kidnap my soldiers, I bomb your cities, and then I negotiate" war--has soured me deeply on official Jewish life, even public Jewish life. Even my rabbi's deeply torn, obviously heartfelt sermon on the war left me shaking my head, since every word he said that was critical of the Israeli bombing campaign was met with a smirk and a snort and a cynical aside from some jerk behind me...who turned out to be an old acquaintance, a funny, wonderful guy, except on this particular occasion.

What place is there for me in all of this? Why do I bother?

On the other hand, I had a lovely time buying my last-minute lulav and etrog last week. And my son says to me, two nights ago, "I love this holiday." Such a peaceful one (no one tries to kill us, but fails, so we eat); such a silly one (you shake it to the east, you shake it to the west, you shake it to the God that you love best); such a respite after the faked-up communal atonement (which again changed nothing, as far as I can see) of the Hi-Ho season.


Anyway, on Yom Kippur, I led what was actually a very pleasant, even delightful discussion group on poetry and prayer at JRC, and in lieu of an actual blog blog, I thought I'd put those poems up and into circulation. They've been lingering in draft form here for a week, but your very nice note, Cheryl, spurs me to get the job done now, before everyone wakes up. Here goes, then--and if you have any thoughts to cheer me in this endeavor, do send them along. Feeling rather lonely at the moment, out here in left field.

Poetry and Prayer

they dug.
They dug and dug, and so
their day went past, their night. And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, witnessed all this.

They dug and heard nothing more;
they did not grow wise, invented no song
devised for themselves no sort of language.
They dug.

There came then a stillness, there came also storm,
all the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and the worm also digs,
and the singing there says: They dig.

O one, o none, o no one, o you.
Where did it go, when it went nowhere at all?
O you dig and I dig, and I dig through to you,
and the ring on our finger awakes.

--Paul Celan


No stab in these hands.
No thorns. No myrrh.
No swing low.

No jubilee.
No abide with me
not in this hymnal.

But blow me open, God.
No song in this throat,
just blow me open.

--Arielle Greenberg

O Many Named Beloved
Listen to my praise
Various as the seasons
Different as the days
All my treasons cease
When I see your face

--Samuel Manashe

You whose name I know
As well as my own
You whose name I know
But not to tell
You whose name I know
But do not say
Even to myself—
You whose name I know
Know that I came
Here to name you
Whose name I know

--Samuel Manashe


sleep, little beansprout
don’t be scared
the night is simply the true sky

sleep, little dillseed
don’t be afraid
the moon is the sunlight

sleep, little button
don’t make a fuss
we make up the gods
so they can make us

sleep, little nubbin
don’t you stir
this sky smiled down
on Atlantis and Ur

--Albert Goldbarth

Kids are stirring. More poems and prayers tomorrow, I hope, and a happier note to begin them.