“He’s what you imagine the perfect scientist would be: Someone who weighs the evidence, a great observer, not just of people but of situations.”
Whether you prefer your poems timely or unbound from any particular political moment, we’ve picked some that will refresh your sense of syntax.
Primo Levi’s complete works have recently been republished in a massive three-volume set overseen by master translator Ann Goldstein. Joshua Furst and Goldstein talk Levi’s relationship with his Jewishness and the difficulties of the act of translation itself.
Poet, novelist and essayist Primo Levi is best known as a survivor and chronicler of Auschwitz. But a new book reveals the supporting role he played as a Resistance fighter in Italy.
Beppe Grillo, an Italian comic turned politician, refused to apologize for his parody of a Primo Levi poem about the Holocaust to criticize Italy’s government and political system. Italian-Jewish leader Renzo Gattegna called the parody on Grillo’s blog an “obscenity.”
Attempts to revisit the life and times of Primo Levi tell us two things: He never sought the title of saint, and he simply hoped to remind us of our own humanity.
Primo Levi is most commonly remembered as a Holocaust survivor and memoirist, but given his relentlessly humanist concerns, we would dishonor him by forgetting that he was also a man made of more than just his time at Auschwitz. In fact, Levi had two great loves: science — he trained as a chemist at the University of Turin — and writing, penning 14 books.
In Italy today, resistance against official anti-Semitism and Fascism has become an unexpectedly current topic. A counterweight is provided by current interest in Holocaust memorials and by an anthology which appeared on January 11 from Einaudi Editore, “Jews Under Persecution in Italy: Diaries and Letters from 1938 to 1945 (Gli ebrei sotto la persecuzione in Italia. Diari e lettere 1938-1945).
András Mezei (1930-2008) was a major Jewish-Hungarian poet who left behind a retrospective exploration of the Holocaust for our time. There are many voices speaking to us of terror, folly, greed, cruelty and absurdity, but Mezei’s poetry makes them sound like our own voices. His testimony has been published in England, in my translation, as “Christmas in Auschwitz” (Smokestack Press, 2010).
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces three pieces by Ivan Klein.