THE MISSING JEW: POEMS 1976-2022

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

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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.

Rodger Kamenetz 1979 when the first edition of The Missing Jew was published by Dryad Press.

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?

You may order The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2022 direct from the publisher. Or from Amazon. Or supporting independent bookstores, from bookshop.org

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

Rodger Kamenetz today