GILGUL 1 1976
In 1976 after my grandfather David Kamenetz z”l died and my rabbi from childhood, Morris Lieberman died, my friend Dr. Marc Lieberman gave me a copy of all the volumes of the Rodkinson Talmud from his uncle’s library. I had never been exposed to the Talmud, and though the Rodkinson is an extremely Victorian translation I nonetheless could hear the echo: I heard the rabbis speaking with the intonation and Yiddish accent of my immigrant grandfather.
I took a roll of continuous paper and on my Royal Standard
began typing the first set of poems that became The Missing Jew published by Dryad Press in 1979.
I looked more or less like this then:
The Missing Jew was 62 pages, tall and skinny like the poems, and the poems were modular, both individual but part of a larger whole.
The cover was by the terrific artist Cyril Satorsky.
David Meltzer wrote on the back, “A wonder, both on the surface and in the core.”
GILGUL 2 1992
In 1992 Time Being Books re-issued an expanded edition, The Missing Jew: New and Selected Poems. I took lines from the old poems and using midrash made new poems from the old. The book now was 101 pages long.
About this edition, the great novelist Louise Erdrich was kind enough to write:
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
And Yehuda Amichai, Israel’s best known modern poet, wrote this:
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
You can order The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2022
GILGUL 3: 2022
In the years since I continued to write on Jewish themes, including The Lowercase Jew which Northwestern put out in 2003.
I always felt I wanted to expand THE MISSING JEW project and now in its current incarnation comes The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2022 which encompasses 46 years of work. At 230 pages it is more than twice the length of the previous gilgul. It includes several new longer poems written since the previous edition, including Turkey Talk for Reb Nachman, Another Rothko, and Seder for the Wicked Son. Alicia Ostriker and Jerome Rothenberg, deeply admired poets, were kind enough to offer their endorsements along with Jacqueline Osherow, Jehanne Dubrow, Joshua Weiner and Aviya Kushner.
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.
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
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
You can order The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2022