Zackary Sholem Berger reflects on the epic life of Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever for Tablet Magazine:
Avrom Sutzkever, the Yiddish-language poet who died January 20 at the age of 96, lived the tragedies and glories of modern Eastern European Jewish culture. He had his start as part of the Young Vilna literary movement and melted lead type into bullets in the Vilna Ghetto, from which he helped save Jewish cultural treasures, including his own manuscripts. His mother and young son were killed in the Holocaust. After the war, he was a witness at Nuremberg, and later—already a world-renowned poet—he came to Israel, where he was at the center of the Yiddish literary community and founded and edited the greatest Yiddish literary journal, Di Goldene Keyt, until its final issue, in 1995.Sutzkever's first reading at the 92nd Street Y was in February 1964 for the Yiddish-Hebrew Poetry Series. His second and last appearance here was on May 6, 1991 when he was introduced by Irving Howe and joined by translators Barbara and Benjamin Harshav. Today's archive recording features Sutzkever reading his poem Inside Me in Yiddish. You can read the Harshav translation here.
But if we dwell on merely the biographical details of the man, we are in danger of overlooking the importance of his work, which is indebted to Sutzkever’s epic life but also independent of it. Sutzkever’s work was outside the boundaries of school or ideology while benefiting from many of them. Like Marc Chagall, he was a virtuoso of the fiddle, the rose, the dove, and the rain, which in his hands became not cliches but inexhaustible possibilities. Even when the wellsprings of Yiddish culture dried up and it became ever narrower, Sutzkever found new depth in his craft, as if following his own map to buried meaning.
In an ongoing effort to share with our readers some of the great literary moments which the Poetry Center has presented across the decades, this blog has begun to feature regular postings of archival recordings by some of the best writers of our time. For access to other recordings from the Poetry Center archive, please click here. And for more information about the rest of the upcoming season, please click here.
Unterberg Poetry Center webcasts and access to our archive are made possible in part by the generous support of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.
You can also download the MP3. [3 MB]
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