The gift of being Jewish

Yiddish-poet empathy often defines the Jewishness in Philip Terman’s poetry.

By ROBERT HIRSCHFIELD
April 17, 2012 14:39
Philip Terman 521

Philip Terman 521. (photo credit: Philip Terman)

As a third generation American who knows less than a smattering of Hebrew and Yiddish, who rarely attends synagogue, why do I insist that I am a Jewish poet, first and foremost? Philip Terman posed that question to himself in his essay, “Writing Jewish.” The author of four volumes of poetry, including his latest book, The Torah Garden, Terman, 53, belongs to an intriguing subcaste of American Jewish poets who find in Jewish subjects a defining world for their art. It consists most prominently of Yehoshua November, Eve Grubin, David Caplan, Jacqueline Osherow and Roger Kamenetz.

America’s prominent Jewish poets, most of them now aging or dead, have to varying degrees, filtered their Jewishness through their volatile families. Philip Schultz immortalizes its anarchy. Philip Levine casts it in red soil, along with Allen Ginsberg, Alicia Ostriker and Grace Paley. The left wing strain in their poetry is strong.

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