Weekly Reader: Jacob Glatstein
In her 1969 story “Envy; or, Yiddish in America,” Cynthia Ozick portrayed two Yiddish writers: Yankel Ostrover, whose short stories have become successful in English translation, and Hershl Edelshtein, an untranslated poet who stews with envy and resentment over Ostrover’s success. Rumor has it that the characters were based on the real-life Isaac Bashevis Singer and Jacob Glatstein, although Ozick has always denied this. What is true, though, is that Glatstein deserves a wider audience. Glatstein was primarily a poet, but if you’re looking for an introduction to his work you could pick up The Glatstein Chronicles, a pair of autobiographical novellas recently republished by the Center’s White Goat Press. (Our Great Jewish Books Club is currently reading it, and it’s not too late to join!) You can also sign up for a talk on June 1 about the book and Glatstein’s trajectory as a thinker and writer. If you’re looking for something right now, though, read on.
—Ezra Glinter, Senior Staff Writer and Editor
Prophet of Destruction
Of all Glatstein’s works, his poem “Good Night, World” is the most frequently read and taught. Although it’s hard not to read it in light of the Holocaust, it was written in 1938 as a response to rising antisemitism and indifference to Jewish suffering. It was so provocative that it elicited roughly two hundred newspaper articles in response. Here you can access a teacher’s guide and resources for that poem.
Back to the Source
Many of Glatstein’s poems have been included in anthologies of Yiddish poetry in translation. However, you can also read Glatstein’s works in the original Yiddish in the Center’s Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library. These days I’m particularly interested in a volume of Glatstein’s collected columns and literary criticism titled In tokh genumen. That title has been translated as The Heart of the Matter, but I feel like a better translation is possible—let me know if you have any ideas.
From the Writer’s Mouth
Glatstein was a frequent visitor to Montreal’s Jewish Public Library, where he was often celebrated and gave readings from his work. The earliest recording we have is from 1955, featuring Glatstein himself, while the latest is from 1971, on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday. You can hear all of the JPL’s Glatstein recordings as part of the Center’s Frances Brandt Online Yiddish Audio library.
In the Park
One of those appearances was not at the Jewish Public Library but on a bench in Central Park. In this subtitled interview with poet and critic Abraham Tabachnick, Glatstein discusses the role of a Yiddish poet after the Holocaust and the changing place of poetry in Jewish history.
As one of the great modern Yiddish writers, Glatstein has been featured a few times in the Center’s programming. In this talk, professors Sunny Yudkoff and Saul Zaritt discuss a range of texts that demonstrate Glatstein’s sustained and ever-changing creativity, his theorization of Yiddish as a language of art and folk, and his complex meditations on the convergence of Jewish life and the modern world.
From Glatshteyn to Gladstone
It’s an open question as to whether it’s more appropriate to refer to Glatstein by his English name—Jacob Glatstein—or his Yiddish one, Yankev Glatshteyn. However, Glatstein also went by the even more anglicized name Jacob Gladstone, which he passed down to his descendants. Here you can watch an oral history interview with one of them, Glatstein’s grandson Geoffrey Gladstone.