Monday, December 26, 2005

Irena Klepfisz: Keeper of Accounts

When I first read her, it was the 1980s. I'd begun a collection of women's poetry without realizing it was a collection until a decade later. Klepfisz appeared in an anthology that I can no longer locate. But I recall the poem: Conditions. It was tongue-in-cheek and J and I would read it to one another when we felt we needed a reminder. We laughed at Klepfisz' poem, but we knew it was our agreement. You can come with me if you are good. But if you cause a problem, if you make demands. then you go back home with the cat while I stay here, having fun.

So when I chose Keeper of Accounts from Chamblin's poetry bookshelf, I expected more of the same: tongue in cheek perceptions, edgy humor. But I got something else.

I got Irena Klepfisz - Judaic scholar. Klepfisz, who even in her poems of hope leaves a shadow. Klepfisz, who knows about futility, and paints it in charcoal, who won't use bright paint because to do that is to be sloppy with the truth. Here she is with her uncushioned reality:

I've learned now
that it's no solace
to point out the others
so many others
straining wasting
unable to do
what they know
they must do

for such loss
is always solitary
and unshared

(A poem for Judy, beginning a new job)

How is that for clarity, for the truth no one wants to hear? But it's her first series: From the Monkey House and Other Cages, that sets the mournful tone of the book. One doesn't need to love animals or assign emotions to them. This isn't the point of her Monkey House series. Crisp in its brutality, the bonding and the letting go, the vignettes acknowledge survival in silence, through imagination. The Monkey House series creates familiarity, intimacy and then just as quickly, with harsh succinctness, there is objectification, distance.

Klepfisz logs all this - she sews this black pattern of grievance and harm: How, I wonder, did I become what I am not?

Iam halfway through the book.


Lyle Daggett said...

Hi, Ann -- I also have been very moved by Irena Klepfisz's poetry. I first became aware of her in Adrienne Rich's book What Is Found There, her collection (published early '90's) of essays about poetry, book reviews, and introductions to various poets. Rich's book includes a piece about Klepfisz, which was also included as the introduction to Klepfisz's book "A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Selected and New Poems (1971-1990)", published 1990 by The Eighth Mountain Press.

I found online, in the website of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, a program (from April, 2000) for a panel discussion and series of poetry readings, featuring Klepfisz and several other poets. The site includes online audio of the panel and readings (requires RealPlayer). The webpage is here.

I've listened to some of it, it's quite powerful, I'll go back and listen to more.

Ann said...

well Rich is another whose books show up in my "collection." I see Marge Piercy also has a connection with Klepfisz. She's on the panel with her at the Holocaust Memorial (thanks for that link!). Piercy is one of my favorites and her book, He, She & It is a not-so futuristic tale of really big issues: artificial intelligence, robotics, cyber warfare and the overall question of life. Weaved into the main story is a parable of the golem. The plot & the questions it raises have stuck with me. You can read a sampling of reviews here if you don't mind amazon-com ( I could go on & on because Piercy is at the top of my list for her intelligence & consciousness and has been for years. I like her poetry too!