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Menke: The Complete Yiddish Poems of Menke Katz Hardcover – April, 2005

5 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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About the Author

Menke Katz (1906-1991) is the only Yiddish poet to become a major poet in English as well.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 779 pages
  • Publisher: The Smith (April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882986210
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882986217
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 2.2 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,966,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Henry Berry on July 5, 2005
Two of the people who knew Menke Katz (1906-1991) best write introductory essays to the hundreds of pages of collected poems--the poet's son and his long-time publishers. Dovid Katz's biographical and literary introduction is over 100 pages. In Harry Smith's seven-page Preface, he notes that Menke Katz's poems "spanned the alleys of Michaleshik [in Katz's homeland of Lithuania] and the streets of New York--folklore and factories, the Hill of Svir and skyscraper, the Kabbalah's mysticism and the Talmud's reaching, against the horrors and wonders of the 20th century." Katz was a lifelong refugee, not only from the mid 20th-century troubles of Europe in which Jews bore the brunt, but also from many of the trends and conventions of modernism. Although Katz's poems are unmistakably modernist, they maintain a pronounced singular touch. Because he was a freethinker who would, for example, begin experimenting in his late poems, Katz cannot be pigeonholed with any school, style, or group; although he was a friend or associate of many writers and artists who were. The restlessness, ambivalences, yearnings, and disappointments of this status of being an outsider of history and nationalities surface in the poems--e. g., "In my alleys--the gray houses/clamor for light/Like blind crows with shorn wings..." [from Night in Downtown}; "Lest you cry recall/That a stray spark of light goes out somewhere/Lully-lully-lullaby, my orphan,/Lully-lullaby." [from "A Kind of a Lullaby] The course of Katz's long poetic career embraces the horrors, sadnesses, and hopes of the 20th century, the pains and perspectives of the Jewish emigre crystallizing those of multitudes of moderns in the conflicts and the rush of the 20th century, and the particular wisdom, wit, and expression of Yiddish culture. Comprehension and appreciation of 20th-century Jewish and Yiddish literature, and of poetry in particular, without familiarity with Menke Katz's poetry is incomplete.
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WE WERE OVERWHELMED BY THE ORIGINALITY OF CONTENT AND STYLE....MENKE KATZ IS A MAGNIFICENT POET AND THE BOOK MAKES AVAILABLE HIS WORK IN EXCELLENT TRANSLATIONS BY THE HARSHAVS. THE INTRODUCTION BY PROF. DOVID KATZ IS A TREASURE UNTO ITSELF. FRANK HANDLER
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Poets tend to travel, thee days at least, in cliques. They gain friends, stroke and promote one another, and decide which writers are "in" and which writers are "out." And very often, though not always, the determinants rest on politics rather than skill. I had believed this was mostly a contemporary American problem, albeit one that also afflicted the salons on Great Britain in the first half of the 20th century. But I was wrong. Politics, it seems, has been a determinant of the success and fame of poets in other languages as well.

Menke Katz, for example, was the only major Yiddish poet to become a major poet in English too, but I had never heard of him until a friend kindly donated this book to my shelves. His work is not contained in any major collections of Yiddish poets.

The reason I had never heard of him, it turns out, is political. Menke Katz was at the outset a part of the far left Yiddish poets' scene on the Lower East Side in the 1920s and '30s, but the far left did not appreciate his poetry, which described many things other than the workers of the world-from bums on the Bowery in New York, to the sometimes terrible emotional fallout of abortion. For this, and his many other "sins," Menke was castigated by the Yiddish American poetry mainstream for most of his life.

His first poem, Bowery, elicited howls of horror from the Yiddish journal, Frayhet, for example. "Not even the camouflage tactic of invoking the Citizens of the Bowery and its prostitutes can help the writer of this poem," wrote Frayhet editor M. Olgin after its publication.
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