Tuesday, April 14, 2009

With Everything We've Got: A Personal Anthology of Yiddish Poetry

From Amazon's website:

With Everything We’ve Got: A Personal Anthology of Yiddish PoetryEdited and translated by Richard J. Fein. Host Publications, 218 pages

The book is a novel and intriguing hybrid that combines a selection of Yiddish poetry in bilingual presentation with a number of Fein's own poems in English that he suggests may be viewed as a 'responsa' to the Yiddish poems. This combination not only makes some great Yiddish poetry accessible to English-speaking readers, it also illuminates the art of translation, as well as the creative process. [Fein] provides a wide-ranging sampling that demonstrates the scope and power of Yiddish poetry...Sean Wolitz provides a thorough, scholarly introduction...and also supplies extensive, detailed biographical notes that resonate with a passionate appreciation for the subjects. This entire book is...an affirmation that Yiddish poetry is necessary and useful...The phrase 'with everything we've got' is...an apt title for this book, which holds out hope that despite the dwindling of its native readership, Yiddish poetry will live on as a creative force.

In The Dance of Leah, a book of essays exploring his preoccupation with Yiddish and the fate of its literature, Fein writes:

When I am involved in Yiddish I sense I am in touch with a world and a language vanishing bit by bit at the same time that I gather my energies and abilities to apprehend them. My contact with Yiddish yields new intensities to my life in the face of our shared mortality. I play out a personal fear in terms of my relationship to Yiddish language and culture. I touch the dying and return to my thoughts, to English. This is the origin of my impetus to Yiddish.

And from a review of the work:

Having spent his boyhood avoiding Yiddish and the strange, Old World claims it exerted on his soul, Fein found himself lured back into Yiddish decades later, as if the language were a woman whose charms he had failed to appreciate as a younger man, but whom he now found irresistible. This reunion, however, only took place after the World War II, in the world where Jewish life had been disfigured by the Holocaust. Yiddish, a thriving language in a phase of literary experimentation and rapid enrichment in the pre-war years, emerged after the war as a dying language.

Fein admits that his collected translations are not representative of either Yiddish poetry at large or the individual poets he has selected. But his treatment of the poets included in the volume—Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Perets Markish, Jacob Glatstein, Abraham Sutzkever, to name several—rewards the reader by the richness of the translator’s response to the original. The volume is as much a collection of translated verse as a chronicle of the poet-translator’s engagement with his material.

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