The pleasure here is how he takes hold of the language & images of traditional Jewish mysticism along with the darker shadows of diasporic life – what I once called ‘the world of Jewish mystics, thieves & madmen” — & how he constructs from them a still vibrant/living poetry & poetics. A triumph of the deep imagination & a joy to read.
—Jerome Rothenberg, author of Khurbn & Other Poems and editor of A Big Jewish Book
You may order The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2022 direct from the publisher.
How does Rodger Kamenetz manage to have so singular a voice and at the same time precisely encapsulate the world view of an entire generation (also mine) of text-hungry American Jews born in the middle of the twentieth century? Crammed into the copious, immersive, hypnotic, hilarious, wise and heartbreaking Missing Jew is the experience of the child of Eastern European immigrants (“what did gud yuntiv mean?/ it meant the clothes were new”) kabbala (“when God finally speaks/ each letter creates a star/ each star has ten worlds/ each world has ten men / each man has ten voices/ each voice has ten languages”), Chumash (“Isaac . .. lying on his back . .. /forgot his father/ in the presence of the Shekhinah”) Talmud (“Reb Arthur said, If a Jew is a verb/ — conditional/ Reb Toynbee said, Past perfect/Reb Yahtzik answered fiercely,/ Future perfect”) as well as secular cultural references from Walt Whitman to Dante to Mark Rothko, whom we experience both as an immigrant Jewish boy from Dvinsk and as God’s own mentor (“In his early work, God painted like Rothko.”). Among this collection’s abundant gems is this proverb: “the mind is a moment late to the movie of the world.” But Kamenetz’s mind – or at least is voice – strikes me as being, consistently, right on time.
—Jacqueline Osherow, author, Ultimatum from Paradise and My Lookalike at the Krishna Temple: Poems
In this marvelously augmented extension of The Missing Jew, Rodger Kamenetz doesn’t miss a trick. He writes with a Yiddish lilt, a rabbinic braininess and tenderness, a three thousand year memory of torah and suffering and exile, and a wild kabbalistic dreamlife, all wrapped up in our beautiful freethinking American idiom.
—Alicia Ostriker, author of For the Love of God: the Bible as an Open Book, and Waiting for the Light, winner of the 2017 National Jewish Book Award.
In The Missing Jew: 1976 – 2021, Rodger Kamenetz writes that “just as one mitzvah leads to another,” so does the making of one poem lead on to the next, poetry an act of continuity, of attempting to fill the spaces of our chipped, fragmented world. In a poem about Mark Rothko, for instance, Kamenetz observes, “You emptied your paintings, / made them huge, surrounded us in a field, till we too / stripped off shape and story, number and name.” And yet, these canvases are not composed merely of a what isn’t but are suffused with a floating light. Here, the poet too reclaims absence, reconsiders desolation. Through elegies, midrashim, new psalms, dreams, he makes the missing unabsent. This “book of books” opens by acknowledging that “The history of my family is / the history of breezes,” and ends with an address to God, a prayer to be transformed into something faceless, stripped of arms and heart and eyes. “But then how would I see you?” the speaker wonders. The answer: “Through emptiness,” emptiness no longer a void but a place to be occupied by the shimmering intellect and imagination of these generous poems.
—Jehanne Dubrow, author of The Wild Kingdom
Who is the missing Jew? The Jew lost in America, the Jew murdered in the Shoah, the Jew of the ghetto whose movement in the cities of Europe is restricted; the grandparents, the parents, the children, the unborn. The missing Jew is the Jew in front of you, in your hands, in these pages and poems. Rodger Kamenetz is the poet of the missing Jew. The Ancients speak through him in the form of parable, joke, anecdote, midrash, but always in his own voice, the voice of an American poet finding his way through the labyrinth of history and myth, back to himself, back to the original form of no-form which joins him to the long line of seekers who peer into the great book of Life and find the questions in the empty space where the letters of the future are waiting for us. I deeply admire these poems that return us to the source of who we are in our wonderment.
—Joshua Weiner, author of Berlin Notebook: Where Are The Refugees?
I love these poems featuring matzos, cherry soda, tailors, and Torahs—with Santa Claus here too, making a cameo. I have long admired Rodger Kamenetz’s poems and how they meld the visible and the invisible, moving seamlessly between the daily and the holy as they slowly unveil the world’s secrets, from what a tailor knows about bodies to what family is and how it behaves. In Kamenetz’s hands, history often comes with a side of humor, and that arrangement makes these substantive, searching, and deeply spiritual poems compulsively enjoyable—and so resonantly true.
—Aviya Kushner, author of WOLF LAMB BOMB and The Grammar of God
In DREAM LOGIC, Kamenetz deepens the exploration initiated in his previously published YONDER and brings us to the common source of poetry and dreams, which Coleridge named “primary imagination.” He uncovers there an inescapable logic, full of color and association, precise and joyful. He works in the prose poetry tradition of Max Jacob and Russell Edson. These poems are constantly at play with themselves, with a dizzying logic of humor and image. They actively engage questions of identity—the “I” here is not only an other but an evanescence and a lightning burst—and their range of concerns encompasses the climate of childhood and the laws of physics. As the images in dreams do, the images in these poems ask to be encountered on their own terms as living presences.
This collection of prose poems from the author of The History of Last Night’s Dream, The Jew in the Lotus and To Die Next To You brims with respect for the genre, with homages to forebears from Baudelaire to Max Jacob, Russel Edson to Kafka.
“Rodger Kamenetz asks the most accurate and urgent questions in his wonderful new collection—and he has the wisdom not to answer them (except with other, better questions), so that each stop is a starting place, and we are constantly delighted as we discover the limits of what we thought we learned. Recognition and misrecognition are key motifs in these exquisite prose poems, and while it may be in the latter that the poetry of the truth most brilliantly flowers, each step of the process has the elegant and inevitable pacing of a religious vision. Don’t be afraid to be converted! Readers who enter this book will find themselves in a dreamy resonant meditative space of Keatsian uncertainty and Kafkaesque parable, where attention is a devotion, and the lyric speaker seeks a knowledge which brings both redemption and further damage. A splendid antidote to our image and brand-obsessed moment: in Yonder identity is sought in order to be surrendered. Give in! “In dream logic we pour like smoke from one body to another.”
—Laura Mullen, author of Complicated Grief
“The prose poems of Rodger Kamenetz are mysterious. Are they dreams? Or parables? Zen koans? Or surrealist films? Like all of the above, they make a kind of crazy sense, the sort of wisdom only a jester can attain. More puzzling and explosive with every read, these startling revelations are so illogical as to be perfect.
—Kit Robinson, author of Marine Layer
The Lowercase Jew
As dismissal and disdain of Jews speak through the art of some leading twentieth-century poets, so the poetry of Rodger Kamenetz artfully answers, framing in subtle terms the questions that haunt our culture-about the voices through which culture speaks, about the identity of poet and poetry, about the capacity of art to harm and to heal. Whether subjecting the anti-Semitic verses of T. S. Eliot to a literary trial; conjuring the eloquence with which “Allen Ginsberg forgives Ezra Pound on Behalf of the Jews”; or drawing upon personal history, the Torah, and Jewish mysticism to explore the tangled relations of Jewish identity and modern literature, Kamenetz’s poems attest to the inexorable power of language.
“The Lowercase Jew is a book dense with mourning, comedy routines, food, blue tattoos, tribal history and the wheel of time, despair and prayer. It begins with three amazing poems on T.S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism, Allen Ginsberg’s forgiveness of Ezra Pound and an imaginary Holocaust Theme Park and ends with an amazing poem on happiness, riffing on the Bible’s first psalm.”
“Rodger Kamenetz is on a spiritual pilgrimage that feels both urgent and timeless. After finding the “missing Jew” of his early poetry at the crossroads of Judaism and Tibetan Buddhism, Kamenetz is now taking on the mantle of the warrior. His new work militates powerfully for the splendor of the Jewish tradition, taking on without hesitation the cultural icons whose malign influence is far from spent. Jewish urgency and Jewish wisdom are combined here to stand poetically firm in another uncertain age.”
“The poem on Ginsberg and Pound is magnificent; the poem on T.S.E. is worth the price of admission; and ‘Uncle Louis’ and “rye’ and ‘Tours of Heaven.’ Read.”
— Gerald Stern
The Missing Jew: New and Selected Poems
A poetic examination, as humorous as poignant, of the blessings and curses of Jewish heritage, focusing on how the American Jew has lost his religious and cultural identity through assimilation.
Kamenetz’s poems whirl and shake on the page. He is the poet of the living history of unspeakable names and his book…sings with dark wit the tales of tough family spirits.
–Louise Erdrich, author of Love Medicine
These are very exciting and original poems…a secret and almost intimate meeting place of English and Hebrew.
–Yehuda Amichai, author of A Life of Poetry, 1948-1994 and Open Closed Open: Poems
Stuck: Poems Midlife
These are emotionally powerful poems that speak to the condition of midlife, of being in the narrow place, stuck between the present and the future, between the demands of work and family, between the hope for joy and the desolation of loss. The pain of broken marriage, the tragedy of daily life, the struggle for identity, and the self-doubt of middle age are multiplied into passionate voices that rage, plead, joke, and shout. The language, tough yet dynamic, wraps itself around the images, which are at times deeply disturbing, at times strangely humorous but always honest, open, and real.
These are grim and meaty poems, carefully crafted and tight. The experiences dealt with are those that break people, but these poems are far from broken. For a slender volume, it is remarkably substantial.
To Die Next To You
TO DIE NEXT TO YOU, poems by Rodger Kamenetz/ drawings by Michael Hafftka is a unique event in the literary and artistic world.
Two brother artists, both nurtured by the dream world and its imaginal colors and sacred words, have joined to produce a single work of rare quality. More that a collaboration this work is a journey into the power of the unconscious depth of word and image, in which master painter and poet present verbal and visual displays of agony and joy, destruction and falling, love and dying.
This project has taken ten years to produce, from the first poems that emerged from Rodger Kamenetz’ encounter with dreamwork to three years of gestation as Michael Hafftka internalized the poems and reconstituted them in images that serve as imaginative midrash, annotation, anticipation and anti-illustration. The drawings offer brilliant first readings of the poems without limiting their scope, and it is equally possible to read the poems as reflections and interpretations of the drawings. The brilliant design of Andrew Shurtz allows the reader to move between worlds of poetry and painting, without losing trace of either one.
Advanced praise for this new work has been overwhelming. Poet and art critic David Shapirohails Kamenetz as “one of the secret best poets in America” and finds in his work “the fire in the heart of the great transcendental Romantics.” Turning his eye to Hafftka’s”fabulous anti-illustrations” he compares the artist to Soutine and Bacon and finds him “a humanist in the line of Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt and Meyer Shapiro.”
John Yau, another greatly accomplished poet and art critic, says that Kamenetz has sent us poems that “are mysterious and open- both parable and their opposite, anti-parable”, while Hafftka “with pen and ink” “registers the turmoil of being afflicting the inhabitants of the strange world called Now. ” Together, Yau writes, poet and artist have “achieved the miraculous.”