Page 279 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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everyone in the world, is to be happy. It is to cherish life. The Jew
has suffered for his faith and therefore has been compelled to be
curious about the purpose of life, to find a justifying design in
experience. His happiness consists in seeing that justifying de­
sign. He believes that life is lived to some purpose, and that it is
good. The Jew believes that ultimately there is a community of
man and God.
My poems reflect these ideas — my feelings about being a Jew
and my criticisms of society, especially where it fails to show a
sense of community and purposive life. My poems are therefore
an anomaly in the present literary scene. At the present time
American poetry has very little to say about the world we live in.
The American poet is content to have a style that sets him apart, to
produce a unique sound, to create unusual images. But in my
poems I have been attempting to explore ordinary, everyday life
with the aim of showing that it can be deep, that though the life
itself may not be poetic and, in fact, can be banal and sordid, yet it
is the stuff of poetry, and the kind of poetry I believe to be most
important — that which shows our common humanity. . . .
Jews have no exclusive claim on writing with a sense of purpose,
of design, a feeling for the hidden meaning of experience, and
they have no monopoly on humor. But they have preserved these
qualities, as they themselves have been preserved.
Five years ago, when my first book was honored with the Jewish
Book Council’s William and Janice Epstein Award, I talked about
all those strands within the Jewish tradition and in my particular
Jewish upbringing which had led me to become a writer. I would
like to turn today to what is for a writer the thornier side of that
rich and complex belonging: that you live always in the shadow of
your people’s history, and that this history, being so filled with
suffering, struggle, and acts of impassioned heroism, even as it
has formed your values and sensibility, can act as a kind of
restraint, a kind of unintended interior brake on the life of the
imagination. In other words, it’s not just that there’s an area of
tension between the Jewish reader and the Jewish writer — the
Jewish reader wishing, hoping to see Jewish life reflected in
fiction in its more ennobling aspects — but that the Jewish writer,