Page 37 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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ANGOFF ----JEWISH-AMERICAN POETRY
29
But, strangely enough, not too many of these verses have been
Jewish, and many have often been more preachy than poetical.
A sermon in verse can be a fine and effective literary production,
but by its very nature it can seldom be called poetry in the
traditional sense.
The poetical situation in America is, however, not altogether
bleak. There have been poets blessed with more than a little
magic of their art. Alter Brody and Alter Abelson have both
written poems that seem to grow in enchantment with the years.
I have just re-read, after a lapse of some time, Alter Abelson’s
“The Outgoing of the Sabbath,” and was considerably moved.
I have also been moved by some of Alter Brody’s shorter lyrics,
especially the eight-line verse entitled, “The Morning Prayer,”
which manages to capture some of the sad glory of an early
morning in every pious Jewish dwelling across the land. Jessie
Sampter had a greater range of poetic vision and a firmer grasp of
the poetic technique than either of these two estimable poets. Yet
it begins to seem, on a re-reading of her verses, that her very com­
mendable fervor was not quite so profound as one had thought on
first reading; in other words, that she was more often facile than
truly impressive. But one must quickly add that many of her
verses can be read with much satisfaction, among them, “Ishmael,
My Brother,” “White Fire,” and “Sabbath Eve,” all to be found
in her volume of selected poems,
Brand Plucked From the Fire.
When we consider the work of Philip M. Raskin, we come to a
higher
madraigge
in the realm of Jewish-American poetry. It is
questionable whether Raskin may be called a Jewish-American,
for he was born in Russia in 1878 and lived for many years in
England, where he wrote his first English verses. He came to
this country in 1916, when he was almost forty, and lived here
until his death twenty-eight years later. But since he wrote most
of his English poems in this country, perhaps he may be included
within the scope of the present discussion. His literary range was
vast, nothing less than the whole Jewish experience in this world.
Brought up in the ghetto, he early was imbued with the most
authentic Jewish spirit, and for the rest of his life that spirit guided
every fibre of his being. And early, too, he caught the loneliness
of the Jewish soul and its dark pessimism and its resigned ironical
outlook on life; but he also caught its cosmic playfulness, its high
mockery of the vicissitudes of life, its impregnable pride in its
own integrity. His lyrical reach is sometimes limited, and occa­
sionally he is a bit careless in his phrasing, but there is genuine
Jewishness in virtually everything he ever wrote. Considering
that he was a late comer to the English language, his achievement