Poetry News

New Translations of Experimental Yiddish Poet Celia Dropkin Published at Jacket2

By Harriet Staff


Now this is news: A decade of translating work from Samuel Solomon, Jennifer Kronovet, and Faith Jones has led to the publication of new translations of experimental Yiddish poet Celia Dropkin (1887-1956) at Jacket2, with an amazing note from Jerome Rothenberg on the poet:

Among the more experimental Yiddish poets in early twentieth-century New York, Dropkin (1887-1956) was significant both for her exploration of open verse as a compositional strategy & for her assertions of female desire beyond the limits observed by most of her contemporaries, both in Yiddish & in English. Born Zipporah Levine in present-day Belarus, she wrote first in Russian but turned to Yiddish on arrival in New York circa 1910, where she participated in the already active Yiddish poetry world, including the experimental In-Zikh (Introspectivist) poets, while developing more markedly transgressive themes than theirs: sexuality, depression, guilt & longing, fury, violence, even at its limits the representation of sado-masochism & other taboo, once hidden subjects. Her work in that sense is a further confirmation of Kenneth Rexroth’s observation of a Yiddish avant-garde & Futurist presence in his own early years in New York: “A good case could be made for the claim that the best writing done in America in the first quarter of the [twentieth] century was in Yiddish. I don’t think it’s really true, but it is sufficiently true to be passionately arguable in one of those passionate arguments that used to sprinkle the whiskers with sour cream in the Café Royale.” And despite Kenneth’s charmingly flippant tone, the active historical presence of two languages & their attendant poetries in a single American city is itself worth noting.

Read the poems here. Astounding work. Dropkin was also a painter; that's hers, above. And keep your eyelids way up for the forthcoming bilingual book from Tebot Bach.