Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: World Literature

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 »

Lobbyist for Tenderness

I first read Allen Ginsberg’s City Lights paperback Howl and Other Poems late one autumn night 1980 with friends at the White Castle at the corner of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway.  A few months after Mev Puleo died, I read most of Ginsberg’s work over a couple of months. And here it is, 2017, and I recently finished with appreciation the latest publication  from the American bard (who died in 1997), interviews selected by Ginsberg biographer Michael Schumacher.  This volume, First Thought: Conversations with Allen Ginsberg, is not as large and jewel-saturated as David Carter’s Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996, but I  still found helpful reminders, avuncular advice, and serene encouragement.

Here are a few of the ways  interviewers and others saw Allen Ginsberg:  “poet, prophet, teacher”; “surrealist folk-hero”; “lobbyist for tenderness”; a man with a “friendly intermingling of smile and solemnity”; a lifelong learner with “a curiosity without boundaries”;  a person “seemingness fearless of the consequences of exposing his mind.”  What follows are a few samples of Ginsberg’s candor to his various interviewers over nearly four decades… Read the rest of this entry »

Liz, Here’s Another Work to Add to the Wisdom Literature List

But the whole teaching, the “way” contained in these anecdotes, poems, and meditations, is characteristic of a certain mentality found everywhere in the world, a certain taste for simplicity, for humility, self-effacement, silence, and in general a refusal to take seriously the aggressivity, the ambition, the push, and the self-importance which one must display in order to get along in society.
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

Remember–Longing, Too, Is Impermanent

To a man who said we should meet, 
even if it were only for a single time
Even if I now saw you
Only once,
I would long for you
Through worlds,
Worlds.

–Izumi Shikibu

trans. Jane Hirshfield w/ Mariko Artani, The Ink Dark Moon

 

The Best Minds of My Generation: For Rob Trousdale and Lindsey Trout Hughes

Re: Allen Ginsberg, The Best Minds of My Generation:A Literary History  of the Beats, edited by Bill Morgan

Dear Rob and Lindsey,

I’m grateful to you both for sharing your writing  with me and through me, to others—may these poems and pieces continue to animate  “Mayahana bodhisattvic compassionate empathy” (A. Ginsberg) in the years to come, ever reverberating through world wide web.

I recently finished Allen’s personal history of  his generation of writing comrades put together from his lectures at Naropa and Brooklyn College. I particularly enjoyed the many chapters on jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso, and want to share with you some passages that may offer you stimulation/encouragement/anamnesis for your own writing practice.

As prof, his method was “to read from the texts, read my favorite fragments or things that were important to us as a group at the time. Big sentences that knocked everybody out, that turned everybody on…. [the] gists [that were] historical epiphanies for us.” [11] Lindsey, as actor, think of the tens of thousands of lines you learned for your roles—you could regale us with  so many that would knock us out.

In commenting on Kerouac’s first novel, Ginsberg observed, “I think Kerouac was reading The Brothers Karamazov at the time, and so divided himself up somewhat similarly into Dostoevsky’s characters.”  I’m currently editing 400+ pages of manuscript material and find myself doing something similar.  [93]

Maybe you both have your versions of Kerouac’s scribbling away in notebooks: “These little notebooks provided raw materials of two kinds: diaristic details, like a reporter’s notes, about events at hand and an endless retracing in memory of all the events in his life, reaching back to his earliest childhood memories in Lowell.” [266]  I never tire of mentioning the exuberant text along these lines, Joe Brainard’s I Remember. Read the rest of this entry »

Call Me by My True Names

35 years ago today, I participated in the mass demonstration in New York City against nuclear arms. While there, I heard Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh read aloud this English translation of one of his poems.

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow–
even today I am still arriving. Read the rest of this entry »