Pondering poetry

Adam Kirsch explores the unanswerable: Is there such a thing as Jewish literature?

March 28, 2019 14:21
4 minute read.
Pondering poetry

‘AS LITERATURE became freer, it became less dangerous – and less powerful.’. (photo credit: WES BAUSMITH/LOS ANGELES TIMES/MCT)


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Adam Kirsch, born in 1976 in Los Angeles, the son of a lawyer and biblical scholar, is a prolific poet and literary critic. Kirsch’s reviews and feature articles have appeared in The New Republic, The New Yorker, and The Times Literary Supplement; his poems in The Paris Review, The Partisan Review and The New Criterion. He has published two books of poems and eight volumes of nonfiction, including biographies of Benjamin Disraeli and Lionel Trilling.

Kirsch’s new book contains 13 essays, most of them previously published, divided almost equally between reflections on the work of contemporary poets for whom religion “is a live issue,” and assessments of the ways in which Jewish writers have dealt with Judaism and Jewish identity. A clear and cogent, if not always original, thinker, and an accomplished stylist, Kirsch is especially adept at giving his writers their innings before asking important questions about the relationship between literature, spirituality, morality and politics.
Kirsch provides close readings of the poetry of the Book of Psalms, Seamus Heaney, Kay Ryan and Christian Wiman. Psalms, he points out, removes the Christian drama from sin and redemption and places it in the here and now. The vengefulness and violence, self-righteousness and reassurance of Psalms’ poems, he argues, help explain their appeal to a wide array of believers.


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