Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: World Literature

On the New York Literary Establishment in the Fifties

“There’s no room for youth and vitality in New York. It is a city full of guilty academicians.”
–Gregory Corso

“Too big, too multiple, too jaded.”
–Jack Kerouac

“We want everyone to know that we had to leave the Village to find fulfillment and recognition.”
–Allen Ginsberg

— Interview in Village Voice; in Allen Ginsberg, Journals Mid-Fifties 1954-1958, edited by Gordon Ball

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A Poem, a History, a Novel

This fall Dianne, Lynette and I are reading the following books:


Read the rest of this entry »

“I’ll Never Know, in the Silence You Don’t Know, You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On”

Working on a kind of sequel to Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I am imagining a character named Bella Levenshteyn, who in her twenties devotes herself to learning Yiddish, the language of her ancestors.  At one point, she confides to Perry that she once went on a  five-week reading binge of the essays, poems, articles, and reviews by  Yankev Glatshteyn, the foremost U.S.Yiddish writer in the middle of the 20th century.

I’ve been reading several recent works of scholarship on that period, and found some stimulating provocations in Anita Norich’s work, Discovering Exile:  Yiddish and Jewish American Culture during the Holocaust.

The following  passages may inform, or work themselves—somehow— into my story.

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People are quite familiar with the conventional label for the Nazi genocide of the Jews, “the Holocaust.”  Norich considers the period well before that word assumed its ascendancy: “Under increasing pressure of news from the war front and silence from home, Yiddish writers re-imagined modernism, the Enlightenment, political engagement, literary conventions, and symbolic language.  The destruction of European Jewry was called by its Yiddish name, khurbn, before it was known as the Holocaust, before the numbers of dead were revealed, even before the concentration camps were built. What Yiddish-speaking Jews meant by khurbn … was a long history of disasters into which the rise of Hitler, the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and a host of other disastrous events could fit.  The particularities of Nazism’s rise were not, at the time, perceived as unique, unparalleled, or apocalyptic by the people against whom they were directed.” Read the rest of this entry »

Yiddish Writers/5

I have often felt the instead of writing my autobiography I would like to write the biography of my poems. I mean, tell the life story of some of my poems…

–H. Leivick

A Briiliant Bit of Victor Hugo

My friend Andrew Wimmer has taken on a translation of Hugo’s Les Misérables. He shared the following in this morning’s email…

“If it had not rained on the night of June 17, 1815, the future of Europe would have been different. A few drops more or less tipped the balance against Napoleon. For Waterloo to be the end of Austerlitz, Providence needed only a little rain, and an unseasonable cloud crossing the sky was enough for the collapse of a world.”

Hugo goes on to say that since Napolean’s strategy relied on artillery, and since it had rained the night before and they had to wait until late in the morning for the ground to dry enough to support the cannon, the course of the battle, and so, history, was changed.

I can only imagine what he would have to say about global climate change.

 

Yiddish Writers/3

Isaac Bashevis Singer was the only Yiddish writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (Elie Wiesel, whose first book, And the World Remained Silent, was in Yiddish, was awarded the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.) Admitting his penchant for reading masters like Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, Singer didn’t particularly identify with the Yiddish literary tradition: “I consider myself a writer in the Jewish tradition but not exactly the Yiddish tradition…. The Yiddish tradition, in my mind, is a tradition of sentimentality and social justice.” Swearing off any such social ideology, Singer believed that “the basic function of literature, as far as I can say, is to entertain the spirit in a very big way. I mean small literature entertains small spirits and great literature entertains greater spirits.”

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If we reach the time when Yiddish and Yiddish customs and folklore are forgotten, Hitler will have succeeded not only physically but also spiritually.

I’m sure that millions of Yiddish-speaking ghosts will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be, “Is there any new book in Yiddish to read?” Read the rest of this entry »

Yiddish Writers/2

I tried in my book Kiddush Hashem to picture Auschwitz in seventy pages. But I wrote the book over a period of six years, in pain and agony. And writing it I became a changed man. I didn’t sleep night after night.  I lived through everyone’s separate torment. I experienced  over again every happening I described. I was back in Auschwitz.  When I did fall asleep I woke, screaming. I had dreamed I was in the ghetto or in Auschwitz. —Rachmil Bryks

Yiddish Writers/1

If you’re looking to buy something, I’m afraid I’m all out of stock, unless I can interest you in some fine hunger pains, a week’s supply of heartache, or a head full of scrambled brains.

Oh, my dear Lord, I thought: they say you’re a long-suffering God, a good God, a great God; they say You’re merciful and fair; perhaps you can explain to me, then, why is it that some folk have everything and others have nothing twice over? Why does one Jew get to eat butter rolls while another gets to eat dirt?

… unless, that is, the Almighty looks down on us and says, “Guess what, children! I’ve decided to send you my Messiah!” I don’t even care if he does it just to spite us, as long as He’s quick about it, that old God of ours!

–Sholem Aleichem, Tevye the Dairyman
Translated by Hillel Halkin

Living Beats

I received an email from New Directions today and found a link to this The Washington Post profile  of Ferlinghetti, McClure, di Prima, Gold, and Snyder.  Enjoy!

A Thousand Letters Behind

Marcel Proust, Selected Letters, volume 4: 1918-1922
Edited by Philip Kolb, translated and with an introduction for Joanna Kilmartin

Months ago, I read volume 4 of Proust’s selected letters translated into English.  As the Buddhists highlight the power of an incalculable number of seeds (both positive and negative)  that find their way into our being, I think my very recent resumption of In Search of Lost Time (Proust’s seven novels, which I first read twenty years ago)  may be the fruit of  reading those several hundred pages of correspondence in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election. Like Darren Crews in the novel Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, I took refuge in Proust, who fortified me amid vexing  vicissitudes.

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Some one-liners from Proust the correspondent:

“You’ve written me an adorable letter.”

“You’re a thousand times too good, but you greatly exaggerate.”

“Letters!  I must be over a thousand behind, alas.”

“I thank you, I admire you, I like you.”

“My health forbids my writing a single letter by hand.”

“Dear friend, I have a million things to say to you.” Read the rest of this entry »