Ekaterinoslav: One Family's Passage to America: A Memoir in Verse

Holy Cow! Press  2012

 

Jane Yolen’s new work combines her talents as a poet with her skill as a storyteller. In thirty-five poems, organized by stages of the journey—shtetl, voyage, and new life in the United States—Ekaterinaoslav: One Family’s Passage to America recreates the voices of the past through a consciousness uniquely Yolen’s own. Many of the most effective poems are in the first section, where life in the shtetl is vividly evoked: “Here schools are Jew schools, the learning/ honey sweet on the lips of the boys/...but philosophy...takes place on the shtetl streets/...when men/ touched by the cosmos, find their own words.” The poems, including the occasional one in prose, are a mix of stories, description, and Yolen’s commentary, and though most are effective, some fall into a language that doesn’t seem quite the stuff of poetry. This is particularly true of the prose poems, though occasionally the other pieces are affected as well: “In America [Lou] needs to curb a nature that lurches toward the unruly,” doesn’t fit in a poem that also includes an evocative line that calls the horizon at sea “a careful line drawn under his future.” 

Though not every poem succeeds equally, Ekaterinoslav is worth reading as a statement of love for an extended family Yolen has gone to great lengths to discover, understand, and make real for others. “‘Forgive me,’ I whisper to my past,” Yolen says. “I did not know./I did not understand.” With a Caldecott Medal, a Christopher Medal, and a National Book Award nomination among her accomplishments, Jane Yolen again finds a theme that will resonate for many: “[We] are now much richer/ than grandfather ever dreamed of/and somehow poorer as well.”



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