The Arty Semite

National Poetry Month: New Fugue to Sing

By Jake Marmer

French Jewish poet and writer Emmanuel Moses is well known and recognized overseas, as his Nelly Sachs Prize for translation, the Max Jacob Prize for poetry and the Ploquin-Caunan Academie Française prize attest. Fortunately, his work has also been steadily reaching American audiences. A retrospective poetry collection “Last News of Mr. Nobody” came out in 2005, featuring translations of Moses’s work by such luminaries as Marilyn Hacker, C.K. Williams, and others. In 2009 Hacker translated Emmanuel’s new collection “He and I,” the title of which hints at poet’s relationship with his father, as well as perhaps a larger, Buberian I-Thou angle. One of Moses’ character, Mr. Nobody, is prominently featured in the collection, a product of self-deprecation, dark humor, displacement, and other such exilic joys.

Today, we’re featuring two of the poet’s works, both in Marilyn Hacker’s translation. The first, “Fugue I,” responds to conceptual make up of a fugue, a classical composition in which a theme is repeated in multi-layered ways throughout the piece. Here, too, certain phrases and key images emerge, gradually intensifying throughout the work. There also appears to be a lifeline to another famous fugue-poem — Paul Celan’s “Todesfuge,” as both walk and blur the tenuous line between life and death, and both use the word “ash” as the recurring image.

Read more


The Origin of Russian for Lovers

By Marina Biltshteyn

Marina Biltshteyn is the author of the new poetry chapbook “Russian for Lovers.” Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


It was my first semester in the MFA program and I was having a hard time, as can be the case. I was in the shower one day and it occurred to me I wanted to write an alphabet book to help my American lover learn Russian faster.

He’d been expressing interest in the language, picking up some words and phrases here and there, so I figured I could work out a little side-project from all the MFA work I was supposed to be doing. I planned on going letter by letter, making each poem revolve around the sound of that letter so he could learn it better.

Read more


'Close to the Sun'

By Daniel Rauchwerger

Crossposted from Haaretz

Tali Mayer

Last Friday, a day before the opening of his solo show, “NU,” at the Dvir Gallery (Hangar 2, the Jaffa port), Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed looked relatively calm. His works, which arrived last week, had been carefully and slowly unboxed and set up, one behind the other, in the large, darkened space.

One video piece, two neon graffiti and a glass installation are what he chose to exhibit here now. They are fragments: He’s not seeking to build a narrative, but rather to display “acts,” as he calls them. In the future, art critics may classify them by comfortable and clear categories, such as migration, the exploitation of women and one world catastrophe or another.

Read more at Haaretz.com


National Poetry Month: Kabbalah and the Eagles

By Jake Marmer

Poets eat defiance for breakfast — rule-breaking, language-bending, Houdini-like wriggling out of cliché’s confines comes with the territory. In the works of poet-performer-professor Adeena Karasick such poetic freedom-seeking is manifest by dancing between complex academic concepts, pop culture, and shtick. She oscillates from poetics to social commentary in a manner that is darkly funny, parodic, over the top, and wonderfully challenging. Just see her infamous “I got a Crush on Osama” YouTube video, and check out some of the audience comments that went along with it.

Read more


Overlooking Henry Mayhew's 'Street-Jews' in Dickensian London

By Benjamin Ivry

The vivid scenes of a bustling and brutally poor metropolis at the heart of Empire make Henry Mayhew’s masterpiece “London Labour and the London Poor,” first published in 1851 compelling reading. With or without Jews.

The Victorian social researcher originally published his work in three volumes and augmented it to four volumes in 1861 so reprints, apart from a long-unavailable complete version from Dover Publications decades ago, and current print-on-demand services, are by necessity abridgements. One such, in 1968, evoked a rave review from poet W. H. Auden, later collected in his “Forewords and Afterwords” lauding Mayhew’s “amazing ear for speech”; establishing that even the most caricature-like of Dickens’ characters seem to be inspired by reality as notated by Mayhew; and for giving a voice to the voiceless. (Even the stone-hearted poet Philip Larkin was moved by one of the monologues of misfortune in Mayhew to write a 1950 poem, “Deceptions.”)

Read more


Slideshow: New Moon as Meaning and Metaphor

By Renee Ghert-Zand

‘Rosh Hodesh Reflection’ by Elizheva Hurvich

“Rosh Hodesh: Beginning and Renewal,” a community art exhibition on view at the San Francisco Bureau of Jewish Education’s Jewish Community Library until July 31, begins and ends with an egg.

Curator Elayne Grossbard selected Amy Kassiola’s colorful mixed media “One Cycle of the Moon,” which depicts the egg of a woman’s menstrual cycle, as the starting point for viewing the 30 works by 27 local artists (25 women and two men), some of whom have participated in this annual show since the 1990s.

Kassiola’s piece, one of the strongest in the show, is followed by a variety of interpretations of the celebration of the New Month. Inspired by a variety of traditional and modern texts and commentaries provided by Grossbard, the artists took off in a myriad directions in terms of both message and media.

Read more


National Poetry Month: Old Men, Scattered

By Dan Friedman

Alicia Ostriker is a major American poet, critic and teacher. Recently a participant in the Forward’s “3 Alicias 3” event (part of our Jewish Art for the New Millennium series) and a judge for our Triangle Fire Poetry competition, Ostriker has twice been nominated for a National Book Award.

An emeritus professor of Rutgers Ostriker has taught across the world and has been published in many major periodicals (The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Nation, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Atlantic). In recent years she has shown increasing interest in her Jewish heritage, culminating (thus far) in winning the Jewish Book Award for Poetry in 2009 for “The Book of Seventy.”

The two poems below come twenty years apart but show a similar oscillation between metaphor and subject, between foreground and background, between the context and the observation. In the earlier one, forebears (the “old men” of the title) are compared to a God, for the purpose, it later seems of showing why old men evoke the idea of a God that stretches into a vast kindly past.

Read more


Monday Music: Let's Talk About Love

By Eileen Reynolds

Is there a grouch in the world who can maintain a proper scowl while listening to French swing? There is something about the sound of this music (is it the sweet, kaleidoscopic chord changes, or the bouncy, peripatetic bass lines?) that seems to rob even the devout pessimist of any meaningful sense of gloom. Wistfulness is possible, yes: One sighs with vague nostalgia for some half-forgotten past, but it’s difficult to concentrate on the horrors of the present or the hopelessness of the future with all those guitars and ukuleles thrumming in one’s ears.

The New York-based band Les Chauds Lapins, led by Meg Reichardt and Forward art director Kurt Hoffman, specializes in this sort of mood-lifting music, and their new album, “Amourettes,” is a repository of hits from the French pop charts of the 1920s, ‘30, and ‘40s re-imagined and rearranged to maximum grin-inducing effect. Love is the subject of this collection, of course, but we sense — even before glancing at the English translations of the French lyrics — that these aren’t, for the most part, songs about pining, whining, or serious regret. Here is ardor at its most cheerily casual: We picture couples dancing on breezy evenings after too much wine, or whiling away sunny afternoons with books and teasing and naps.

Read more


Friday Film: In 'The Calling,' the Mysteries of Faith Stay Mysterious

By Curt Schleier

African Methodist Episcopal pastor Jeneeen Robinson in ‘The Calling.’ Image courtesy of The Kindling Group.

“The Calling,” a four-hour documentary that aired on PBS in December and screens this month in San Francisco and at Knesseth Israel Congregation in Birmingham, Al., profiles seven young Americans who have chosen to become leaders of their faiths. While the film’s intentions are good and it has interesting moments, seven lives are too many to examine in a meaningful way.

As might be expected, “The Calling” is balanced in a politically correct way, with two Muslims, three Christians (two Protestants and a Catholic) and two Modern Orthodox Jews. It is largely a fascinating group: Catholic priest Steven Gamez admits to reservations about celibacy. Jeneen Robinson, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, seems more interested in preaching than ministering. Rob Pene, a Samoan, is caught between two worlds. His father, a chief back home, dies, and Rob is elected to take his place — though it’s not clear what that entails.

Read more


'Photograph 51' Puts Science Onstage

By Menachem Wecker

Elizabeth Rich as Rosalind Franklin in ‘Photograph 51.’ Photo by Stan Barouh.

Watching the current production at Washington D.C.’s Theater J of Anna Ziegler’s “Photograph 51,” which tells the tragic tale of Jewish scientist and almost Nobel laureate Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), I was reminded of Walt Whitman’s poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” (1900).

Whitman’s narrator, who finds himself “tired” and “sick” of all the proofs and figures in the academic astronomy lecture he is attending, decides to glide out of the room and look up in rapture at the “perfect silence of the stars.”

Just as Whitman’s narrator chooses life over science (as if it is the case that never the twain shall meet), “Photograph 51’s” distinguished cast, directed by Daniella Topol, are forced into a Nietzschean choice between the Dionysian and the Apollonian — between fun and math.

Read more


National Poetry Month: 'Jew on Bridge' by C.K. Williams

By Jake Marmer

This year, the Forward is celebrating National Poetry Month in style. The Arty Semite will be featuring new poetry every weekday, and it is our great pleasure to kick off the series with “Jew on Bridge” by C.K. Williams, an American poet who has been awarded nearly every major poetry prize, including a Pulitzer in 2000, a National Book Award in 2003, and a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1987.

“Jew On Bridge” appears in Williams’s recent collection, “Wait.” The poem is an epic-length meditation, at the core of which lies the question, “How Jewish am I?” As the poet swirls between Dostoyevsky’s implicit anti-Semitism, the tragic fates of Paul Celan and Walter Benjamin, as well as his own vague, somewhat uncomfortable notion of Jewishness, he finally narrows in: “Your suffering is Jewish. Your resistant, resilient pleasure in living, too.”

That, but also, throughout the poem, the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism of the admired author colors Williams’s notion of Jewishness. Whether this sentiment appeals to you, or appears flat in its limitations, perhaps you’ll be compelled by the poem’s setting, perfect for such a discussion. The bridge, which is meant to join disparate sides and make transitions smooth, here becomes the opposite. The sight is a reminder of Celan’s suicide (he jumped off a bridge to his death in the Seine), triggering an identity crisis, and finally, a rupture.

Read more


First Jewish Collection for a 'Small Press Legend'

By Susie Davidson

Uprooted at age 9, abandoned into poverty, targeted by anti-Semitism, exposed to the horrors of World War II and finally confined to a wheelchair, Ed Galing’s life has been beset by ongoing difficulties. Yet he has never lacked dedication, perseverance, or imagination, in art or in life. In eloquently written work that defies his hardscrabble Lower East Side and South Philadelphia origins, Galing has chronicled his remarkable journey in poetry, cartooning, storytelling and journalism.

At 94, the harmonica-playing poet laureate of Hatboro, Pennsylvania has an ultimate wish. Although he has received numerous literary awards (including two Pushcart nominations), citations from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate, and has written over 70 chapbooks, he has long dreamed of seeing his Jewish poetry in a published collection. That wish was granted in February with “Pushcarts and Peddlers” from Poetica Publishing Company, an offshoot of the Judaica-themed Poetica Magazine.

Read more


Out and About: Stanley Kubrik's Unmade Holocaust Movie; A 19th-Century Female Cantor Remembered

By Ezra Glinter

Harvard Theater Collection

Read more


Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Company Makes Israeli Debut

By Ruth Eshel

Crossposted from Haaretz

Rosalie O’Connor

The Aspen Santa Fe ballet company is currently on its first visit to Israel, at the invitation of the Herzliya Performing Arts Center. The American repertory company, which consists of 12 dancers, uses classical ballet techniques to support solid modern dance. A refreshing troupe, Aspen Sante Fe exhibits refined taste, expressed in its choice of dances and the group’s stage presence — free of theatrical effects, allowing viewers to concentrate on the dancers’ bodies and the lucid compositions.

The common denominator in the first and third pieces, created especially for Aspen Santa Fe, is the emphasis put on the dancers’ capabilities: the long lines of the women with their lovely muscular legs, raised toes and arched heels; the pirouettes; and the pas de deux, featuring an abundance of lifts and perfected transitions. All the dancers are good, but this is especially true of the women.

Read more at Haaretz.com


A.B. Yehoshua Speaks His Mind at the New York Public Library

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

A.B. Yehoshua’s new novel was inspired by a painting of a woman breast-feeding her father. The 74-year-old literary luminary, who has published some 15 books, does not retreat from the provocative or the perverse.

Jori Klein

Yehoshua calls “Spanish Charity” a probing of the creative process, and Haaretz saw it as a retrospective of the author’s own work. English readers will have to wait to judge the novel’s contents, as it is currently only available in Hebrew. Yehoshua told me the English title, which likely won’t be available until late 2012, might change to something more suggestive, perhaps simply, “The Picture.”

Yehoshua appeared at the New York Public Library in conversation with Paul Holdengräber on March 28, and reminded his audience that he is of the rare breed of writer who relishes speaking his mind, even if it means upsetting people. In 2006, for example, at a meeting of the American Jewish Committee, he suggested that a Jew could not live a completely Jewish life outside of Israel, and he still believes this.

Read more


New Life for the American Jewish Year Book?

By Gary Shapiro

Gary Shapiro

“It’s a shanda (outrage)!” exclaimed Bruce A. Phillips of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles Campus. He was reacting to the cessation of the American Jewish Year Book after a successful run of more than a century by the American Jewish Committee.

The Yearbook — a handy compendium of demographic and historical trends, global statistics on Jewry, obituaries, and exhaustive listings of Jewish organizations and publications — has lined the bookshelves of major Jewish community executives for decades, immediately recognizable by its candy color-striped covers. The last volume was published in 2008.

But new hope for the publication came in December at the Association for Jewish Studies conference in Washington, D.C., when Ira Sheskin, a University of Miami professor, declared that he and colleague Arnold Dashefsky, a professor of sociology and Judaic studies at the University of Connecticut, were in discussions with the German-founded Springer publishing company to resurrect the Year Book.

Read more


Baytown, Texas Celebrates Historic Synagogue Restoration

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Samuel D. Gruber

On March 27, residents of Baytown, Texas celebrated the restoration of their 80-year-old synagogue, Congregation K’nesseth Israel. The building was designed by Houston architect Lenard Gabert in 1930, and after suffering limited damage in the destructive Hurricane Ike of 2008, has now been repaired and restored. The community center was much more heavily damaged by the storm, and that, too, has been repaired and renamed the Jewish Community Center.

Baytown resulted as a consolidation of Goose Creek, Pelly and Baytown in 1948. It is located at the eastern end of Harris County, 22 miles from Houston, and Jews first settled in Goose Creek after 1915 mostly to provide retail and commercial services to the booming oil and gas facilities. This is hardly a unique situation in the Jewish world. Jewish merchants flocked to Gold rush towns in the 19th century, and they involved themselves in service industries for the oil and gas business in the 20th. I’m reminded of how Jewish retailers moved to Drohobych (now Ukraine), when oil was discovered there in the mid-19th century. My grandfather Joseph Moskowitz was a surveyor the oil companies, especially in the interwar period.

Read more


Walter Benjamin, Book Collector Redivivus

By Benjamin Ivry

Enthused readers of the German Jewish intellectual Walter Benjamin are impatiently awaiting the announced May 9 publication date of a landmark translation of Benjamin’s “Early Writings” from Harvard University Press. Until then, readers afflicted with Benjamania can delight in a catalog published by the Kunstmuseum Solingen in Germany, “Stellar Immortality” (Die Unsterblichkeit der Sterne, to accompany an exhibit on display at the end of 2010.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Benjamin’s suicide in 1940 at the Spanish-French border, while fleeing the Nazis, “Stellar Immortality” comprises a remarkable project in which the Stuttgart antiquarian book dealer Herbert Blank reassembled a library for Benjamin, based on book titles mentioned in his writings. Blank took over 30 years to gather the more than 2500 books, many of them depicted and described in “Stellar Immortality.”

Read more


On the Kibbutz, No Straight Line to the Past

By Abby Margulies

“Do you think we told a good story?” filmmaker Sharone Lifschitz asks her mother at the end of her video installation “The Line and the Circle.” “Yes, we talked about all sorts of things,” her mother responds. “You will now have to edit it.” The installation, a short film tucked away from the main galleries in New York’s Jewish Museum, where it is showing until August 21, is a small yet sweeping film that beautifully weaves together narratives about what it means to be a child, a daughter, a kibbutznik and an Israeli — and what it means to preserve memories while also embracing and forgiving the past.

Just under 20 minutes long, “The Line and the Circle” was filmed over a two week period in 2009, and documents a conversation between Lifschitz and her aging mother. The movie follows the two as they return to the darkroom for the first time in over 20 years to develop black and white photographs taken on Kibbutz Nir Oz, where Lifschitz was born and raised. Throughout the film the camera remains fixed on the developing solution where the blank photo papers crystallize into images. Framed by a circle and a line, the development of the images is the only action seen through the camera’s unmoving lens. The photos, taken between 1959 and the early 1980s, depict day-to-day activities on the kibbutz, as well as celebrations and the occasional photo of Lifschitz and her mother. Watching the video, however, it is not the images or even one event that stands out. Rather, it is the sometimes disjointed conversation between Lifschitz and her mother that makes for the film’s narrative pull.

Read more


A View to a School

By Noam Dvir

Crossposed from Haaretz

The University of Haifa has in the past two years undergone a dramatic facelift. Its main building, a modernist icon common in the mid-1960s in the work of noted Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, underwent an essential and comprehensive refurbishment after years of neglect.

Amit Garon

Over the coming year, the university’s central library will undergo similar renovations, according to the plans of architect Asaf Lerman. In addition to the welcome investment in refurbishing the original buildings, all over the campus several new buildings have recently been dedicated, the most notable among them the Hatter Student Building, named for Sir Maurice Hatter.

Read more at Haaretz.com


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.