American Yiddish Poetry

yiddish workmen's circleBefore we proceed with publishing our original verse, we’d like like to take a minute to plug one of American poetry’s lesser known schools: its Yiddish poets. A major volume, American Yiddish Poetry, edited by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav, has been republished recently by Stanford University Press. This is one of two important anthologies representing what has been called “probably the most coherent segment of twentieth-century American literature not written in English.”  The other, regrettably out of print, is called The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse. Here is an article by Harold Bloom that evaluates the achievements of both. Below is a sample poem (alas, from the Penguin volume) to whet your appetite.


Because the papers meanly ignore me—
They think my luncheon menu’s not fit to print—
Small wonder girls don’t give me a tumble
And day by day my stock goes down.

And every day my debts get higher.
Vainly my ten fingers stretch out for patrons.
It’s lucky Martel’s isn’t beyond my reach
And coffee—black—is still a nickel.

If coffee goes up, I’ll go and hang myself,
And how many poets are as classy as me?
But while the coffee’s cheap, my marvelous songs
Will bring happiness to our people and our tongue.

Zishe Landau, translated by Irving Feldman

4 Responses to “American Yiddish Poetry”

  1. 1 Esperimento October 28, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Can you really appreciate poetry in Yiddish? Do you speak it so well?

    Have a nice week 🙂

  2. 2 uspoetsabroad October 29, 2007 at 8:53 am

    Speaking a language has nothing to do with understanding its poetry. Does Robert Fagles speak ancient Greek? Did Ungaretti speak late 18th century English (he translated William Blake)? This is a common misconception. Reading is one thing, speaking quite another. There are even people who speak quite well who are illiterate.

  3. 3 Borja November 1, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    I think this is an interesting issue.
    My personal opinion is that it´s needed a deep knowledge of a language to translate someone´s fiction, and a deeper one to translate poetry.
    It´s poetry translatable?
    Can someone translate a Bambino song, and get the real sense of it?
    Yes, you can read poetry in a language you do not fully know, and enjoy it. A poem needs swing to be described as a good one, swing.

  4. 4 Borja November 4, 2007 at 12:07 am

    Bambino says: ay el poeta lloró, y el poeta lloró…

    Bambino era un poeta heroinómano de Sevilla, uno de los que cantan; con una vida dura y emocional, un gitano de raza.

    Gracias por llevar a cabo este proyecto señor Di Martino, espero disfruten ustedes esta bella melodía.

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Contrasting Views

"Literalism is a feature of boorish translators." Cicero "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase." Nabokov

The Faerie Queene

"John Ashbery said reading the Faerie Queene was like reading an endless beautiful comic strip." Kenneth Koch

Sigmund Freud

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."


October 2007

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