Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture

Just published by the University of Alabama Press: Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture, edited by Stephen Paul Miller and Daniel Morris.

Both Miller and Morris edited earlier volumes for the NPF. Miller — with Terence Diggory — prepared The Scene of My Selves: New Work on New York School Poets (2001). Morris assembled a special issue of Sagetrieb dedicated to the work of Allen Grossman (link here), which is also available as a freestanding book: Poetry’s Poet: Essays on the Poetry, Pedgagogy, and Poetics of Allen Grossman (2004).

Here’s what the back cover says about the new book:

“What have I in common with Jews? I hardly have anything in common with myself!”
— Franz Kafka

Kafka’s quip — paradoxical, self-questioning, ironic — highlights vividly some of the key issues of identity and self-representation for Jewish writers in the 20th century. No group of writers better represents the problems of Jewish identity than Jewish poets writing in the American modernist tradition — specifically secular Jews: those disdainful or suspicious of organized religion, yet forever shaped by those traditions.

This collection of essays is the first to address this often obscured dimension of modern and contemporary poetry: the secular Jewish dimension. Editors Daniel Morris and Stephen Paul Miller asked their contributors to address what constitutes radical poetry written by Jews defined as “secular,” and whether or not there is a Jewish component or dimension to radical and modernist poetic practice in general. These poets and critics address these questions by exploring the legacy of those poets who preceded and influenced them — Stein, Zukofsky, Reznikoff, Oppen, and Ginsberg, among others.

While there is no easy answer for these writers about what it means to be a Jew, in their responses there is a rich sense of how being Jewish reflects on their aesthetics and practices as poets, and how the tradition of the avant-garde informs their identities as Jews. Fragmented identities, irony, skepticism, a sense of self as “other” or “outsider,” distrust of the literal, and belief in a tradition that questions rather than answers — these are some of the qualities these poets see as common to themselves, the poetry they make, and the tradition they work within.

The book’s contributors include many “NPF Alumni” — and one contributor who is also a member of the NPF Editorial Collective. Here’s the complete table of contents, with NPF-related folk in boldface:

Stephen Paul Miller, “Meet the Preface”

Daniel Morris, “Introduction”

Charles Bernstein, “Radical Jewish Culture / Secular Jewish Practice”

Hank Lazer, “Who or What Is a Jewish American Poet, with Specifi c Reference to David Antin, Charles Bernstein, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, and Jerome Rothenberg”

Jerome Rothenberg, “The House of Jews: Experimental Modernism and Traditional Jewish Practice”

Bob Perelman, “Zukofsky at 100: Zukofsky as a Body of Work”

Bob Perelman, “Addendum: On “The Jewish Question”: Three Perspectives”

Norman Fischer, “Light(silence)word”

Kathryn Hellerstein, “On Yiddish Poetry and Translation of Yiddish Poetry”

Merle Bachman, “An “Exotic” on East Broadway: Mikhl Likht and the Paradoxes of Yiddish Modernist Poetry”

Ranen Omer-Sherman, “Revisiting Charles Reznikoff ’s Urban Poetics of Diaspora and Contingency”

Joshua Schuster, “Looking at Louis Zukofsky’s Poetics through Spinozist Glasses”

Amy Feinstein, ““Can a Jew be wild”: The Radical Jewish Grammar of Gertrude Stein’s Voices Poems”

Michael Heller, “Remains of the Diaspora: A Personal Meditation”

Alicia Ostriker, “Secular and Sacred: Returning (to) the Repressed”

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “Midrashic Sensibilities: Secular Judaism and Radical Poetics (A personal essay in several chapters)”

Norman Finkelstein, “Secular Jewish Culture and Its Radical Poetic Discontents”

Meg Schoerke, “Radical Relation: Jewish Identity and the Power of Contradictions in the Poetics of Muriel Rukeyser and George Oppen”

Daniel Morris, ““Yes and No, Not Either/Or”: Aesthetics, Identity, and Marjorie Perloff ’s Vienna Paradox

Marjorie Perloff, ““Sound Scraps, Vision Scraps”: Paul Celan’s Poetic Practice”

Charlie Bertsch, “Language in the Dark: The Legacy of Walter Benjamin in the Opera Shadowtime

Thomas Fink, “Danger, Skepticism, and Democratic Longing: Five Contemporary Secular Jewish American Poets”

Stephen Paul Miller, “Relentlessly Going On and On: How Jews Remade Modern Poetry without Even Trying”

Eric Murphy Selinger, “Azoy Toot a Yid: Secular Poetics and “The Jewish Way””

Bob Holman, “A Jew in New York”

Maria Damon, “Imp/penetrable Archive: Adeena Karasick’s Wall of Sound”

Adeena Karasick, “In the Shadow of Desire: Charles Bernstein’s Shadowtime and Its Kabbalistic Trajectories”

Adeena Karasick, “Hijacking Language: Kabbalistic Trajectories”

Benjamin Friedlander, “Letter to the Romans”

Paul Auster, “White”

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