Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More Welcomes, More Thanks

Eric Selinger

A welcome, belatedly, from me as well! I've been busy teaching a new Jewish poetry course--a four-week "Lunch and Learn" course at the Spertus Institute here in Chicago--focused on the question of "What's Jewish About Jewish American Poetry?" Not that I actually answer the question, mind you, other than in some pretty roundabout ways. As an investigatory tool, though, it's serving quite nicely.

My first session looked at some poems that are not overtly "Jewish" in any way, but which open up in remarkable ways when you look at them as Jewish poems. My main examples were "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus, and "Night Terrors," by Alan Shapiro, although the handout I'd prepared included a half-dozen additional texts. (What can I say? They're a talkative bunch, my students.) I didn't get into the tonal issues you frame so nicely, Alan, but I should have; the Shapiro, in particular, draws on the sentimental side of that Yiddishe tam, and could be read quite nicely as some kind of allegory about Jewish poetics and the voice of the mother (a Grossman idea, yes, Norman?):

Alan Shapiro, “Night Terrors”

Whose voice is it in mine when the child cries,
terrified in sleep, and half asleep myself I'm there
beside him saying, shh, now easy, shh,

whose voice?--too intimate with all the ways
of solace to be merely mine; so prodigal
in desiring to give, yet so exact in giving

that even before I reach the little bed,
before I touch him, as I do anyway,
already he is breathing quietly again.

Is it my mother's voice in mine, the memory
no memory at all but just the vocal trace,
sheer bodily sensation on the lips and tongue,

of what I may have heard once in the pre-
remembering of infancy, heard once and then
forgot entirely till it was wakened by the cry,

brought back, as if from exile, by the child's cry--
here to the father's voice, where the son again
can ask the mother, and the mother, too, the son:

why has it taken you so long to come?


Jehanne Dubrow said...

Eric--I've always loved this blog, and the larger number of contributors has made A Big Jewish Blog even more of a favorite of mine. But I have one plaintive question: Where are the women?!

Norman Finkelstein said...


We recently invited Alicia Ostriker and Maeera Shrieber to join us, and we'd be happy to entertain other suggestions.


Jehanne Dubrow said...

Norman--That's wonderful to hear; I think Alicia and Maeera will be very lively additions to the group. I look forward to reading their blog entries along with everyone else's.