The Rant as Jewish Art Form

There is a plastic rooster and a frog to the left, and the hind legs of two brown horses to the right. It’s a spooky old merry-go-round, set against a yellow backdrop, and crowned with an appropriately morose title: “Sitting Shiva For Myself.” Welcome to Renee Blitz’s latest poetry collection ( Regent Press ), the underrated gem of the year.

Pathetic animals, set in mechanical motion, stare at the reader from the book’s cover with uncanny sadness, as if warning: This is a book of mourning — for us — for we were never alive to begin with. So too, Blitz’s poems address all manner of innate miseries and built-in human dysfunctions. There are generational conflicts; death and its intimations; sexuality and the inability to cope with it; poverty and failed ambitions.

Blitz, a native of the Bronx and the author of the short story collection “In Berkeley’s Green and Pleasant Land,” describes growing up in a Yiddish-speaking immigrant home in New York, with a God-fearing Orthodox father who also happens to be obsessed with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Yiddishisms and Jewish references pervade the collection, but what is most Jewish is the form of the pieces themselves. Blitz’s dense and lyrical prose poems are as brief and vivid as vignettes, but in their essence and tone they are really just crazed, wild and despairing Jewish rants.

If you’ve ever spent time sitting on a bench on Ocean Parkway or on the boardwalk at Brighton Beach, you’ve surely heard them before. Mad aging Jews, with one leg on Brooklyn concrete, the other still in the Old Country, ranting to each other, to themselves and to God. The pitch is always decibels above the tolerable. Renee Blitz masterfully transposes this culture of rants into art.

Blitz’s works employs the stream of consciousness, following its roots somewhere far below the surface and unearthing the most unsavory images, from unpleasant smells to cheating, frigidity, and hatred of self and of everyone else. At the same time, however, Blitz is funny and entertaining, exploiting the old Jewish trick of turning life’s most bitter dregs into humor. Misery and irony copulate in every sentence.

This is, undoubtedly, a shiva for nothing less than the human condition. But while mourning, you will also laugh.

Read excerpts from “Sitting Shiva For Myself”:

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