No more kiddush wine poems, no more challah, no more herring! Enough with the Jewish grandmothers blessing shabbes candles, and no more poetic trips to Auschwitz, please, no more awe-filled, sad looks at numbers on arms. No more poems about Miriam. Please release all the Jewish grandmothers trapped inside the nostalgic Jewish poems and send them on their way so they can take up marathon running, or go to the races, or move to Croatia, or Texas, or ride around in taxis in foreign cities and you don’t know them.
We barely gather in cafes; we sometimes hate the sight of each other. We don’t like being labeled “Jewish poets.” Our skin crawls when we are told to write poems on “the Jewish experience.” A poem can wander–undercover, unrecognizable. We wonder if walking through the old central bus station in Tel Aviv, with its Sudanese refugees, male Filipino prostitutes and refurbished refrigerators, counts as a “Jewish Experience.”
Each poem doesn’t need to carry a passport anymore, announcing itself anxiously at the border: “I come from here.” And your mother doesn’t need to understand your poetry. Tell the truth, but tell it slant. Learn to stutter, like Moses.
Metalepsis, metaphor, metonymy. Partly like Isaac Luria, partly like Paul Celan—our language stretches the limits of the canon: new forms, new hybrids— receding toward a divinity that refuses full disclosure. And there is no closure. The new poem writes its layered tropes with idiosyncratic resistance, engraving its antiquity with the tools of post-contemporaneity.
It is only by attacking the language, getting tricky with it, tickling it, getting into bed with it and stroking its toes that redemption will come.
We are the new Diaspora. We live in Rome, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, Paris, New York, West Virginia. We read Hebrew, Yiddish, Persian, Greek, Russian, Aramaic, Urdu. We translate because we live in translation, not to create fetish objects. A translated poem, a translated poet, is not an animal at the zoo.
We mind the lines of transmission like black crows on telephone wires, like magpies looking for treasure. Why Yiddish poetry from the past, but Hebrew poetry from the present? And why do we care to read Israeli poetry more than poetry in Judeo-Persian?
Our sacred texts include patricide, incest, molestation, murder, sacrifice, beauty contests, conversion, wild dancing, caves, lions, pillars of salt, spies, magic spells, columns of smoke, vermin, and some very deeply flawed “heroes.” We come from some dark, weird shit. Celebrate it.
O textual tradition, O Jewish bookcase. We don’t need to explain you, like docents at the museum of the dead. We live in you, we love you and hate you. Our Jewish grandmothers serve us cake, or they don’t serve us cake. They lie in dark rooms and stare at the wall, and we keep writing in the margins and in the middle of the page.
Zeek seeks new poems, new translations, new essays on poetry to blast open the possibility of what a Jewish poem can be. Bring them on.
Get a print copy of this poetry manifesto, along with poems by Raz and a translation by Thorpe, in the new Zeek summer 2010 issue. Buy your copy now at zeek.forward.com/subscribe
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