Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces three poems by Alicia Ostriker.
Alicia Ostriker, winner of the 2009 Jewish Book Award in poetry, has many voices. From one work to the next her tone may leap from angry and confrontational to lyrical and gentle, meditative to brash. She’s well known for her feminist poetry and criticism, as well as for her work as an inventive midrashist and a spiritual thinker. I am particularly partial to what I’d call her nostalgic Jewish poems — humorous family recollections, in which Ostriker’s affection for old-world Jewish characters is most endearing.
In the first poem featured below, the previously unpublished “Beck and Benny in Far Rockaway,” the vision of two ageing Jews, “warty as alligators,” is simply irresistible. In the second poem, from her 2005 collection “No Heaven,” Ostriker presents a very personal and peculiar vision of poet Allen Ginsberg, mythologized and glorified by fans and critics who thought of him as a guru but were unaware of his “ailing… neurotic” side.