The Blooms­bury Anthol­o­gy of Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Amer­i­can Poetry

Deb­o­rah Ager & M. E. Sil­ver­man, eds.
  • Review
By – January 15, 2015

More than one hun­dred and ten poets are includ­ed in this sur­vey of Jew­ish Amer­i­can poet­ry from the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry onwards, reflect­ing the real­i­ties of Amer­i­can Jew­ish life both in the var­ied biogra­phies of the poets and in the themes of their poems. The collection’s breadth is astound­ing, with some famil­iar names and many less­er known as well. The edi­tors are inten­tion­al­ly gen­er­ous in their def­i­n­i­tion of what it means to be a Jew­ish poet, and this open­ness is reflect­ed in the selec­tion of the poet­ry itself, not all of which deals with overt­ly Jew­ish motifs. The power­ful, well cho­sen poems form a strong whole. This anthol­o­gy is a rich feast of imagery and lan­guage, from the for­mal to the inventive. 

There is no one over­all theme and some poems are more obvi­ous­ly Jew­ish than oth­ers. Some deal with lost worlds, like the fleet­ing glances of Jew­ish life that was in Poland in Bruce Lader’s Ode to Klezmer Musi­cians” or Afghanistan in M.E. Silverman’s The Last Jew.” Some touch on mem­o­ries of grand­par­ents and par­ents, like Lori Desrosiers’s Grand­mother’s Hands” or Ira Sadoff’s My Mother’s Funer­al.” There are Bib­li­cal ref­er­ences, as in Eve Grubin’s The Buried Rib Cage” about Eve, or Dan Bellm’s Prac­tice,” based on a line from Deuteron­o­my. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, some poems are about grow­ing up Jew­ish in Amer­i­ca, like Robert Coop­er­man Plant­i­ng Trees in Israel: 1956,” and nos­tal­gia for the Jew­ish Amer­i­can past (Eri­ka Meit­ner Yid­dish­land”) but many are root­ed firm­ly in the present day Jew­ish expe­ri­ence, as in Yvette Neiss­er Moreno’s Rosh Hashanah 1998/5759,” Yehoshua November’s Baal Teshu­vas at the Mik­vah,” and Leslie Neustadt’s The First to Go” about chil­dren inter­mar­ry­ing. Some play with the weav­ing of Bib­li­cal and con­tem­po­rary, cre­at­ing a mod­ern midrash, as in Lynn Levin’s Eve and Lilith Go to Macy’s” which imag­ines a sex­u­al rela­tion­ship between the two women. Israel fea­tures in a num­ber of the poems, includ­ing Liat Mayer’s evoca­tive Jerusalem Desert.” And it wouldn’t be a col­lec­tion of Jew­ish poems with­out the pres­ence of rab­bis and God as both char­ac­ters and motifs, as in Jane Shore’s Last Words,” and in Rachel Zucker’s Allu­vial.”

Includ­ing an essay on Amer­i­can Jew­ish poet­ry and a glos­sary, this col­lec­tion of poems veers from sad­ness to hope, from the sen­su­al to the prayer­ful, from deep long­ing to cel­e­bra­tion. It is a rich, sig­nif­i­cant anthol­o­gy full of discoveries. 

Relat­ed content:

Hara E. Per­son was ordained by Hebrew Union Col­lege-Jew­ish Insti­tute of Reli­gion. She is a writer and editor.

Discussion Questions