It’s high time I gave a shoutout to Amateur Reader (Tom) and his literary blog Wuthering Expectations. What impelled me to post at this particular time was his series on Benjamin and Barbara Harshav’s American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology (1986), which I now want a copy of; in this post he focuses on Jacob Glatstein and Moishe-Leib Halpern, and in this one on H. Leivick (“the Russian among the American Yiddish poets”). I was barely aware of these poets (really just their names), but look at these snippets! From Glatstein’s “We the Wordproletariat” (1937):
The sky, the blue hazard, went out.
You still sit and seek the shadows of a word
And scrape the mold off meanings.
Words take on sadder and purer tones.
The cursed night has got into your bones.
From Moishe-Leib Halpern’s “My Restlessness Is of a Wolf” (1919):
My restlessness is of a wolf, and of a bear my rest,
Riot shouts in me, and boredom listens.
I am not what I want, I am not what I think,
I am the magician and I’m the magic-trick.
And from Leivick’s “Yiddish Poets” (1930s?):
Sometimes, like frazzled cats, dragging
Their kittens around, distraught,
We drag our poems between our teeth
By the neck through the streets of New York.
In all of these excerpts, the poetry shines through the translations and makes me want to delve deeper. But this is just a side journey; he’s been reading late-nineteenth-century prose and early-twentieth-century Russian poetry, among other things, and no matter what he writes about I always find my understanding deepened. I first realized his excellence when reading his posts on Flaubert; I think the one that hooked me was this one from 2015, about the framework of metaphors in Sentimental Education, but this one is also amazing:
Flaubert, though, considers the novel to be beautiful all the way through. Any surface dullness is of no consequence because he can see the hidden patterns he has carefully constructed underneath the flat surface. They are always there somewhere, they are beautiful.
But hell, just scan down the list of “Labels” in the right margin and click on anything that piques your interest. Then subscribe to the RSS feed. Your time will not be wasted.