Blume Lempel’s work is noteworthy for its unflinching examination of erotic themes and gender relations, its psychological acuity, and its technical virtuosity. Mirroring the dislocation of her women protagonists, her stories move between present and past, Old World and New, dream and reality. Lempel did not hesitate to take up subjects only rarely explored by writers in Yiddish–including incest, abortion, feminism, and madness. This story–the tale of a blind date–is no exception.
In “The Little Red Umbrella,” Janet Silver accepts an invitation from an eccentric poet who was badly disfigured during the Holocaust. We learn of the erotic imaginings of this middle-aged woman, her preparations for the date, her flustered travel to meet the unknown poet, and finally, the awkward, challenging, and combative nature of the date itself. In the end, Janet finds herself feeling an unexpected compassion for her new acquaintance.
– Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
These five translations are all taken from Anna Margolin’s first and only book of poetry, published in 1929 and simply titled Lider, which means both “poems” and “songs” in Yiddish. While this book was well received by Yiddish readers and critics, following its publication Anna Margolin stopped publishing poetry and eventually became a recluse. Nevertheless, Lider has gone on to become a classic of Yiddish-language literature, with some of its poems even being set to music.
– Maia Evrona
Though Abraham Sutzkever is largely known for the poems he wrote during the Holocaust, Yiddish readers and experts consider the collection Poems from My Diary, which was published in 1977 as a collection of roughly 75 poems but later expanded to around 190 in the 1985 volume Twin Brother, to be his masterpiece. These poems range from musings on his daily life in Israel and memories of life in Vilna, to highly imaginative lyrics. They are much like what they sound like they would be from their title, while they are also much more: unlike diary entries, they are polished and mature. Most of the poems in the volume are sixteen lines long, divided into four quatrains–though there are exceptions, such as the collection’s most famous poem “Who Will Remain, What Will Remain.” Poems from My Diary is a remarkably consistent collection–it led to Sutzkever being awarded the Israel Prize in 1985, the only time the prize has been awarded for original literature written in Yiddish rather than Hebrew.
– Maia Evrona
Avrom Sutzkever, who died on January 20, 2010 at the age of 96, was the greatest postwar Yiddish poet, a prophetic survivor whose fate paralleled the tragedies and joys of Jews in the twentieth century. Raised in the brief but intense literary flowering of Vilna, he melted the printing plates of the city’s most famous press into bullets for the guns of ghetto fighters. He witnessed the ghetto’s destruction, helped to salvage the remains of the city’s Jewish treasures, testified at Nuremberg, and immigrated to Israel, where he was at the center of rapidly waning high Yiddish literary culture. He founded and edited for some four decades the premier Yiddish literary magazine, Di Goldene Keyt. His poems depict his life not autobiographically, but auto-epically.
The dove of the Ode serves as a spiritual mentor to the boy-poet. The poem ends with the impassioned declaration of a secular-literary neomessianist: “Build, build the temple, build it with the sense of the sun!” It is a measure of the complexity of Sutzkever’s Jewish poetics that he calls it a templ (a rarely used word in Yiddish), not a beyt-hamikdash. The third temple will be nothing at all like the first two.
Boris Karloff is the pen name of Dov-Ber Kerler, the polylingual and peripatetic son of the refusenik Yiddish poet Yosef Kerler. The two Kerlers are probably the only father-son team in postwar Yiddish poetry. The younger Kerler is known for his poetic and Yiddishist heterodoxy, his wit, and his openness to young talent. He is a scholar of Yiddish literary history at Indiana University.
Yonia Fain‘s odyssey is also emblematic of recent Jewish history. Born in Russia in 1914, he fled to Vilna, where he studied art and decided to be a painter. In 1939, the Soviets occupied the city; he fled again to Warsaw but was captured and imprisoned by the Soviets. He escaped to Japan via Siberia in 1941; the Japanese deported him to Shanghai, where he spent the rest of the war. After liberation he went to Mexico City, where he worked on murals with Diego Rivera. He has lived and painted in New York since 1953, publishing two books of poetry (the latest in 2008) and one book of short stories. His preoccupations are bleak and unsparing but offer the possibility of resurrection.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).