Bintel Blog

Joy Ladin and Her Transmigration Poems

By Jake Marmer

  • Print
  • Share Share

“The author is dead!” has been a consistent postmodernist refrain discouraging readers from reducing meanings of literary works to mere biographical outlines of their authors.

Joy Ladin’s “Transmigration Poems,” published this summer, goes against such a worldview, as the poems of the collection are intensely personal, confessional. The poems bring autobiography to the heart of the collection. They are the memoir of transition of Jay Ladin — father of two children, professor of English literature at Yeshiva University’s Stern College — to Joy. The story has, unsurprisingly, captured media attention, garnering the “Ye-She-Va” heading as well as more sympathetic notes.

The immense force of Joy’s writing is in the ability to calmly hold up the inevitabilities of the trade-off, unknowing, and confusion — and sculpt them into poetry. The consistently calm, steady tone of voice (marked through the usage of short lines and complete absence of exclamation points and question marks) given the context, seems impossible, intuitively self-contradictory, and thus wrought, pumped with tension and power that upholds it.

An immigrant — between continents or sexes — all too often uproots the old identity for the sake of the new one, or else gets hopelessly bogged down in the mire of nostalgia. To walk in the margins is hard enough; but to also retain the presence of mind (and spirit) to document the experience of transition is like trying to breathe in the cosmic vacuum. The rhythms of Ladin’s poetry are such cosmic breaths.

With one identity shed and the other not quite yet assimilated, at times, Ladin’s poetry trims off all matter of the physical existence, holding up to readers nothing but the frail, stark, metaphysical essence of the in-between.

Somewhere Between Male and Female

Somewhere between male and female

The soul gets lost
Where are you calls the mother of the soul
But the soul never had a mother

get back here this instant the father demands
But somewhere between male and female
The soul failed to be fathered

Male and female
Split at the seams
Leaving the soul naked

Criss-crossed with scars
Male scars and female scars
Breast scars and testicle scars

Scars like doors
And scars like fingers
Fingers point at the naked soul

Doors slam in its face
No
The soul is still alone

It is only dreaming
It’s been discovered
In the space between male and female

Where no one will ever find it

When You Leave Your Children

When you leave your children
To become yourself,
Your self leaves

To become a child. Calls to ask
When you’ll come home.
Sobs when you answer.

Your self will never understand
The emptiness
You couldn’t bear

Was the only life
You had to give her.
The self you thought

You would never have
Sobs on the other end of the line
Like a child who knows

Without being told
You are never coming back.

The Soul at 14th and 2nd

Cold but happy among the hundreds
Of other souls

Wreathed in the haze
Of roasting chestnuts

Souls buying socks souls buying chestnuts
Souls consumed by various hungers

And souls who drift beyond hunger
Each soul naked to the others

Revealed to the least
Metaphysical fold

By the shadowless light
That flares and glimmers

Like flame beneath chestnuts
When soul brushes soul


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Joy Ladin, Stern College, Yeshiva University

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
randi stein Fri. Oct 16, 2009

Oh, joy. If this is a dsample, I will have to read the entire collection. I didn't know you as Jay, but I am moved by you as joy, and happy we are part of the same Jewish Community in amherst. You were amazingly tranquil, kind, and clear in your responses to another member in the sukkah-- considerably moreso thatn i know i would have been. I look forward to your d'var, and hearing more of your words in any context.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.