Page 31 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

Basic HTML Version

Contemporary Jewish poets seem to be telling us that perhaps
it is time to move beyond post-Holocaust paranoia; to dispense
with “ . . . an endless night/Endlessly fleeing a Torah written in
flame” (Robert Pinsky,
The Want Bone,
1990); to release ourselves
from the sensibilities o f “ . . . Moment / by yellow moment
(when) the day ticks into/the past, and no one tries anything”
(Philip Levine,
A Walk with Tom Jefferson,
1988). Like many other
contemporary cross-cultural products o f Jewish America, Hol­
lander, Pinsky and Levine have opted to shed the shtetl psychosis;
acknowledging it as an endangering species that has packaged
spiritual commitment either as threat in the form of a punishing
teutonic war monger, or as a gaberdined remnant o f nostalgia
that bears little or no relationship to the suburban picket-fenced
lifestyle in which crises o f survival are not gas chambers, but failed
marriages and careers, life-threatening co-dependencies, and fu­
tility o f paying lip service to an indifferent god.
By releasing the angst o f spiritual estrangement and achieving
a “global I-T hou” o f heightened consciousness, yet not without
destroying the necessary tension o f art in which the conveyance
o f wonder o r awe can only be achieved in terms o f the ineffable,
the ultimate goal o f poetry is, to paraphrase Grossman, the
achievement o f a telescopic immediacy, o r experience o f holi­
ness. Object or Person — the Otherness o f Buber’s I-It that
has been traditionally rep roduced o r represen ted in mimetic
terms as symbol, reference, or analogue — is dissolved by tran ­
scendence o f the words and their intent.
Like a yellow badge, nervous tics o f self-consciousness and
braided convolutions o f defensive hostility no longer serve as
ancestral logos, and are being shelved in museums o f arche­
typical antiquities in o rd e r to access and illumine, in Grossman’s
words, “the culture o f holiness in which things as they are die
to be reborn not as signs, but as facts, members indeed o f that
class o f facts o f which God is also a member.”
A good poet is a good humorist, particularly when laugh ter
is a mask for tears. In most o f these new works one finds Jewish
hum o r at its best; a nostalgic “tsimmes” o f sweet and sour mem­
ories linked to liturgy, literature and a 20th century mytholog­
ical playback o f both. In this vein, both the poet and his or
her fictive narra to rs reflect the confusion, despair, anxiety, fear,