December 21, 2022

The 19th recip­i­ent of the Philip Levine Prize for Poet­ry, Maya Pindy­ck­’s Impos­si­ble Belong­ing weaves per­son­al and fam­i­ly his­to­ries with con­tem­po­rary events and pol­i­tics in the U.S. and Israel/​Palestine, ask­ing what it means to belong―to our bod­ies, cul­tures, his­to­ries, and each oth­er. In vivid and lyri­cal lan­guage, Pindy­ck explores how we lay claim to and sur­ren­der iden­ti­ties shaped by his­tor­i­cal trau­ma, dias­po­ra, moth­er­hood, state­hood, and the Anthropocene.

Delv­ing into com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships between Jew­ish­ness and white­ness, the poems reck­on with feel­ings of cul­tur­al belong­ing and visu­al­ize shared hopes and long­ings. In this col­lec­tion, every­thing is inter­re­lat­ed and spir­i­tu­al­ly equal: human, moth, pear, linoleum tile, lan­guage, memory.

At once pro­found, play­ful, and rebel­lious, Impos­si­ble Belong­ing col­laps­es dis­tances between peo­ple, species, times, and places, open­ing up dif­fi­cult ques­tions and fresh, rev­e­la­to­ry connections.

Discussion Questions

Maya Pindyck’s Impos­si­ble Belong­ing explores the speaker’s com­plex rela­tion­ships with ances­try, Israel, and par­ent­hood. The part of the speaker’s fam­i­ly that’s from Boy­berik nev­er made it. // I once walked a field / cov­er­ing their bod­ies.” The oth­er part of the fam­i­ly is from Alep­po, a coun­try / I am not allowed to vis­it // even though its spices fill my cab­i­net.” The speaker’s fam­i­ly immi­grates to Israel, a place treat­ed with ambiva­lence through­out the col­lec­tion. The poem The Israeli Woman Who Wor­ried Her Daughter’s Doll Spoke Ara­bic” doc­u­ments how the speaker’s fam­i­ly iron­i­cal­ly dis­crim­i­nates against Arabs despite their own Syr­i­an her­itage: And though my grand­fa­ther arrived / to Pales­tine from Alep­po, you said he would cry / if I even mar­ried an Arab.” In The Pho­to­graph,” the speak­er cri­tiques her for­mer val­oriza­tion of her mother’s Israeli army ser­vice. This cri­tique car­ries over to the speaker’s home in Amer­i­ca, where a teacher once stuck a Band-Aid / on my right point­er fin­ger / to help me remem­ber” which hand to place over her heart for the Pledge of Alle­giance — a pierc­ing image that invokes the vio­lence per­pe­trat­ed by nation­al­ism. In Amer­i­ca, the speak­er strives to raise chil­dren who will dis­man­tle pow­er and white priv­i­lege. Pindy­ck cov­ers all of this dif­fi­cult ground in com­pact poems full of humor and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty — a feat she accom­plish­es with seem­ing ease.