'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.
Stephen Paul Miller is a professor at St. John's University. He is the author of five books of poems: The Bee Flies in May, Fort Dad, Being with a Bullet, Skinny Eighth Avenue and Art is Boring for the Same Reason We Stayed in Vietnam. He is also the author of The Seventies Now: Culture as Surveillance, and coeditor of Scene of My Selves: New Work on the New York School Poets. Daniel Morris is the author of The Poetry of Louise Gluck: A Thematic Introduction, Poetry's Poet: Essays on the Poetry and Poetics of Allen Grossman, Remarkable Modernisms: Contemporary American Authors Write on Modern Art, and The Writings of William Carlos Williams: Publicity for the Self. He is also editor of Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies. Contributors: Paul Auster / Merle L. Bachman / Charles Bernstein / Charlie Bertsch / Maria Damon/ Rachel Blau DuPlessis / Amy Feinstein / Thomas Fink / Norman Finkelstein / Norman Fischer / Benjamin Friedlander / Michael Heller / Kathryn Hellerstein / Bob Holman / Adeena Karasick / Hank Lazer / Stephen Paul Miller / Daniel Morris / Ranen Omer-Sherman / Alicia Ostriker / Bob Perelman / Marjorie Perloff / Jerome Rothenberg / Meg Schoerke / Joshua Schuster / Eric Murphy Selinger