Weekly Reader National Poetry Month

A range of Yiddish poetry

April is National Poetry Month, an ideal time to explore the world of Yiddish poetry. From wicked satires to sweatshop ballads to abstract meditations on nature, Yiddish writers produced a huge wealth of verse, much of which is still being uncovered and rediscovered today.

Naturally, this treasure trove is reflected in the collections of the Yiddish Book Center. Here you’ll find some of the best entry points to Yiddish poetry, in the original and translation, analog and digital, written and spoken forms. So what are you waiting for? Dive in!

Ezra Glinter

Avrom Sutzkever’s Inner Eye

Perhaps the most celebrated Yiddish poet of the twentieth century was Avrom Sutzkever. A partisan and survivor of the Vilna Ghetto, Sutzkever immigrated to Tel Aviv after the war and became, as The New York Times put it, “the greatest poet of the Holocaust.” In addition to verse Sutzkever also wrote prose poems, many of which have only recently been translated. In this piece from the 2018 Pakn Treger Digital Translation Issue, Zackary Sholem Berger offers us a taste from Sutzkever’s Prophecy of the Inner Eye, the second of his prose poetry collections.

Read Sutzkever’s prose poem

The Acrobat

Celia Dropkin was one of the most experimental and innovative of New York’s Yiddish poets, participating in modernist circles while challenging their conventions with her emotional, challenging, and sometimes disturbing subject matter. Dropkin’s poetry was translated and collected in the 2014 volume The Acrobat, with contributions from three different translators. In this episode of The Shmooze, translator Faith Jones talks about Dropkin’s life and work and reads from some of her pieces.

Listen to Dropkin’s poetry

Queen of the Bronx Bohemians

Many of New York’s best Yiddish poets found a muse in Bertha Kling, the doyenne of a long-running literary salon in the Bronx. Kling’s life and activities are fascinating on their own, but her literary works are often overlooked. In this post from the Center’s Bronx Bohemians blog, Abigail Weaver presents some of Kling’s best works in the original translation, and they are performed aloud in a virtual salon.

Read and listen to Kling's poems

Surprise at the Archive

Moyshe-Leyb Halpern was one of the most celebrated Yiddish modernists of the early twentieth century, and his works have often been anthologized in collections of Yiddish poetry. But when Translation Fellow Matthew Johnson was poking around Halpern’s papers at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, he made some surprising discoveries. In this episode of The Shmooze, Johnson talks about what he found among Halpern’s own handwritten notes and marginalia.

Listen to the podcast

A Champion for Yiddish

For Yiddish readers, Itzik Manger was not only a beloved poet but also a representative and champion of Yiddish letters. After spending a productive decade in Warsaw in the 1930s, he fled the city ahead of the German occupation and spent the war in France, North Africa, and eventually England. In 1948 he returned to Poland, representing PEN International at the unveiling of a memorial in the Warsaw Ghetto. In this personal essay, originally published in February 1960, he reflects on that fateful trip, just months before the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

Read Manger’s essay