cover image A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Poems Selected and New (1971-1990)

A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Poems Selected and New (1971-1990)

Irena Klepfisz. Eighth Mountain Press, $11.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-933377-05-9

Her father was gunned down during the Warsaw Ghetto resistance, and Klepfisz (coeditor of The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Woman's Anthology ; also see review above), aged three, fled with her mother into the countryside. It was because of her mother's fluent Polish that they were able to pass as peasants and survive; Yiddish would have betrayed their Jewish identity. This is the collection's theme: language's power to mediate the course of history; but also its weakness in the face of the chasm that history cleaves in memory, an impenetrable absence of self. Her father is a symbol of this in ``Searching for my Father's Body'': ``His death, / stares at me from the faded page, / stares at me without penetrating / my reason or understanding. / Simply a fact, dead, / like the object it describes.'' The exceptional volume charts the course of Klepfisz's artistic transformation through three stages: the earlier poems are about the hidden self; later poems talk of her immersion in the world (Klepfisz can even write from the perspective of zoo-captive female monkeys without a trace of sentimentality), work and love; and the title pieces incorporate the Yiddish language into their spare form and profound vision. Her poems are a tribute to strength in the midst of terrible alienation. (Oct.)