Her Birth and Lat­er Years: New and Col­lect­ed Poems, 1971 – 2021

January 2, 2021

A trail­blaz­ing les­bian poet, child Holo­caust sur­vivor, and polit­i­cal activist whose work is deeply informed by social­ist val­ues, Ire­na Klep­fisz is a vital and indi­vid­ual Amer­i­can voice. This book is the first com­plete col­lec­tion of her work. For fifty years, Klep­fisz has writ­ten pow­er­ful, search­ing poems about rel­a­tives mur­dered dur­ing the war, recent immi­grants, a lost Yid­dish writer, a Pales­tin­ian boy in Gaza, and var­i­ous peo­ple in her life. In her intro­duc­tion to Klep­fisz’s A Few Words in the Moth­er Tongue, Adri­enne Rich wrote: “[Klep­fisz’s] sense of phrase, of line, of the shift of tone, is almost flawless.”

Discussion Questions

Ire­na Klepfisz’s mon­u­men­tal Her Birth and Lat­er Years: New and Col­lect­ed Poems spans half a cen­tu­ry and con­tains a body of work that is remark­able for its pre­science, vari­ety, and longevi­ty. Every aspect of Klepfisz’s iden­ti­ty is inte­grat­ed across the work. She writes as a Jew, a les­bian, a Yid­dish speak­er, an activist, and a Holo­caust sur­vivor — the themes and events that have shaped her mind and heart. Her voice is unmis­tak­able, with a grace­ful and lilt­ing syn­tax that is bro­ken through frag­men­ta­tion and pause. Her sub­ject mat­ter is stun­ning­ly broad, writ­ing in the voic­es of zoo ani­mals and lost poets, but she always returns to her mem­o­ries of hav­ing been hid­den as a child dur­ing the Holo­caust, and that sep­a­ra­tion from and reunion with fam­i­ly endures as a cen­tral theme across her life and poems. In pre­sent­ing the his­to­ry and devel­op­ment of Klepfisz’s work, this col­lec­tion also shows us the evo­lu­tion and devel­op­ment of Jew­ish poet­ry itself.