The Schmooze

Putting Together Yiddish Poetry, Piece by Piece

If Yiddish songs were popular in your childhood home, then the recently released new edition of “Pearls of Yiddish Poetry” may help put forgotten pieces of your auditory past back together. Many of us remember fragments of songs that we heard as children, songs that come back to us while doing the laundry, or scrubbing the kitchen, or taking a leisurely stroll. Often, all we can recall is a particular refrain, but not the entire song, neither its name nor that of the author or composer.

This collection of Yiddish poems, many of which were put to music, was culled from a long running column in the Forverts that began in the early 1970s, featuring submissions from readers who were trying to reconstruct entire poems from a fragment or a couple of stanzas. The column’s authors, Chana and Yosl Mlotek (also the authors of this book), challenged readers to respond to these quests, creating a conversation that brought to the table the voices of a diverse readership from around the country and the world. With the help of the Mloteks and the Forverts, readers could reconstruct these poems, identify their authors, and keep the names and works of Yiddish poets alive. The new, bilingual edition includes translations by Barnett Zumoff (who is also vice-president of the Forward Association), and while not comprehensive, as the authors are careful to note, features additional articles about poets not included in the first edition.

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Putting Together Yiddish Poetry, Piece by Piece

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