Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It's the Hard Knock Life

Sorry so silent recently, everyone. I'm back at work on an essay, on one of my favorite Jewish American poets, Norman Finkelstein, for a collection of essays on "Secular Jewish Culture and Radical Poetic Practice." Haven't actually written an essay in almost a year now, not since a longish piece on Muriel Rukeyser for Parnassus, and it's hard, damned hard, to get the wheels rolling again. (Blogging helps me write blog entries, not essays, evidently.)

I spent yesterday rereading Norman's first book, Restless Messengers, in a state of near panic that may be a familiar part of my own writing process--but that doesn't make it any easier! Discovered, late in the day, a curious frame for the book as a whole, which I'd never noticed before. The first poem ushers us into a "living structure of memory," while the last declares that "the Sabbath of memory is over." One of those noticings that seems utterly obvious, once you've seen it, but I'd missed it for a decade. That sent me off to Yosef Yerushalmi's book on Jewish history and Jewish memory, Zakhor, for the rest of the day, and I woke up ready to hammer out a draft of at least that portion of the essay.

Well, it's lunchtime now, and I've written--what? Two paragraphs? Grrr... Trying to thrash out the difference (if there is one) between that "living structure of memory" and the sort of "nostalgic rememberence" that Norman writes about in other modern Jewish writers. There is one, I think--but how to put it into words and, at the same time, ground that discussion in something said, attentive and insightful, about particular poems?

I can't complain too loudly. After all, this sure beats working for a living. But it's a useful reminder, as I head back into teaching, of just how hard writing about poems can be, even for an old, old hand like me.

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