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Dybbuk Americana (Wesleyan Poetry)

Dybbuk Americana (Wesleyan Poetry)

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Publication Date: September 17th, 2024
Wesleyan University Press


Inventive poetry explores Jewish identity in America

"How can I teach a prayer / I only know how to recite?" "America, whose death / didn't you come from?" These are some of the questions that poet Joshua Gottlieb-Miller wrestles with in his beautiful, gripping new collection. By turns experimental and documentary, Dybbuk Americana draws out the questions around Jewish identity in the United States, and what it means to pass on Jewish identity to one's child. This hybrid text draws on art, mysticism, and history, taking the dybbuk, a figure from Jewish folklore, as its central metaphor. A dybbuk is a restless spirit who inhabits another's body, and as a possessing spirit the dybbuk is often treated as a demonic force, but it can be read as merely trying to climb the ladder of the afterlife. In other words, a kind of striver. Enacting the idea of competing selves in one body, Dybbuk Americana plays with form via a series of text boxes that create a multi-channel effect on the page. The body of the poem can be read with surrounding and intercutting text boxes to generate multiple interpretations. This innovative poetic technique maintains a dialogue with Jewish literary lineages: Talmudic commentary and interpretation of the oral law, as well as the fragmented nature of geniza, a place where Jews store sacred documents when they fall out of use. Dybbuk Americana weaves together the father-son arc within a larger socio-political commentary and historical narrative. Poems move deftly between the ironic and the mystic, from aphoristic questioning and inventive narratives, to interview, oral history, and archival materials. In these lines, "the angels./ They get as close as they can." Witty, curious, warm, and searching, Dybbuk Americana signals a fresh voice in Jewish-American poetry.

sample text]


It took ten men
to make a minyan,

but only one name
of G-d for us to share,

so we settled on
America, one by one,

we settled on America,
man and woman.

My grandfather
earned his way over

shoveling coal
in the hold of a boat.

Grandmother sewed
gold into her coat. In secret

they sewed, they sold,
they glowed. I dream of

gold. G-d's name in gold
milked and honeyed

in the dust
beneath our boots--

our dust. And when they made
a minyan and didn't

realize it? And when
they married in

and didn't realize it?
No matter: they sewed,

they sold, they glowed.
Yes, they sold

their solid gold, sold gold
into gold, sewed gold

together into dust.
When I was born

they gave me
a dead man's name.

But that's true
for everyone.

About the Author

JOSHUA GOTTLIEB-MILLER is the author of The Art of Bagging (2023) and serves on the faculty at San Jacinto College. His work has also been published in Brooklyn Rail, Image, Poet Lore, Pleiades, and Breaking the Glass: A Contemporary Jewish Poetry Anthology, among others.