Poetry Comment

How thrilling to include poems by Joy Ladin in the very first issue of LIBER. She’s a wonderful and prolific poet, with nine books and counting. Her most recent, The Book of Anna, won this year’s National Jewish Book Award in Poetry. She is also the first trans woman to be tenured at an Orthodox Jewish university, Yeshiva, in New York City.

Many of Ladin’s poems are long and deal in a deeply philosophical-religious way with Jewish and trans themes. The three poems appearing here are, by contrast, short, spare, and allusive. Their three-line verses remind me of haiku—loosely connected (or disconnected) bursts of images and emotion that vibrate and spark against each other. In “Mid-Summer,” which I take to be a poem about illness, Ladin writes of staring at the trees across the street “the way old sailors / stare at the sea.” It takes a moment to grasp that the trees are out of reach, objects of longing and nostalgia; the street might as well be the ocean to the writer confined to her bedroom. These poems are full of both loss and longing: “someone’s mother / calling, someone else’s childhood / skipping from yard to yard.” What I love most about them, though, is the rueful humor that offsets the grief: “still time / to grow up before I die.”

Don’t we all wish for that?

—Katha Pollitt

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