A Measured Feast

By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Contemporary poetry on Jewish religious subjects is rare in America outside the pages of specialized Jewish publications. Thus, Peg Duthie’s delightful new collection Measured Extravagance (Upper Rubber Boot Books) is doubly welcome.

Full disclosure: Peg and I attended the University of Chicago together, and she was a regular contributor to a student poetry magazine I founded and edited. That was more than twenty years ago, and her poetic gifts have if anything expanded and deepened over time.

Measured Extravagance contains only 35 poems, which in olden times would have made it a “chapbook.” Since it is available only in e-book format, I suppose we must call it an “e-chapbook.” There are disadvantages to this format, especially for a poet who makes such artful use of line and stanza breaks as Duthie does, and I found myself printing the whole thing out for a better view of what she was up to

For example, in the seasonably appropriate “Kol Nidre,” Duthie makes her line-breaks occasions for building suspense and the dropping of small surprises:

Sloppy work,

she tells Him. I can’t love anyone

proud of setting me up to fail.

The poem captures perfectly the ambivalence of the modern American Jew estranged from her religion and yet still tied to the tradition through ambiguous, dubious emotional bonds:

…Yet, the years

she pretended the holidays weren’t hers,

she felt like an incomplete book, like a spine

losing its glue, pages dropping away

before their time.

“Shehechianu,” titled after the prayer recited to thank God for “enabling us” to live to see a holiday or other special occasion, explores the disjuncture between religious experience and modern hyper-secularism, and whether there is any spiritual value to be found in the latter:

After sundown,

after its prayers

leave me more restless than at rest,

I walk past clusters of clubgoers,

of people in line for shows, for seats

in small booths and at narrow tables.

(…)

I

am not waiting

to be served

or saved.

I am here

to be moved

by how you are holding your breath.

A minor epiphany, to be sure, and perhaps an unsatisfying one. There is more raw emotional power in the poem “In Memory Of,” where no religious comfort seems to be available to comfort the mourner:

My aunt hanged herself, but her children

told the press she’d overdosed on pills.

It was in fact pills for the boyfriend of

my then best friend…

There are cautious experiments with form and rhyme, notably in the smudged villanelle “Schrödinger’s Top Hat” (a form I have experimented with myself). Peg is a poet we must hope to hear more from.

2 responses to “A Measured Feast

  1. francesco miglino

    A MICHELLE OBAMA IL PARTITO INTERNETTIANO CHIEDE DI INCITARE BARACK OBAMA AD ENTRARE NELL ERA INTERNETTIANA AFFERMANDO LA COSTITUZIONE AMERICANA COME FECERO ABRAMO LINCOLN, FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY.

    Gentilissima Michelle,

    La ringrazio cordialmente per le ragioni politiche che motivano l invito a partecipare alla campagna elettorale, invito che ho accolto con vivo gradimento, ma che per il momento non mi possibile onorare con la partecipazione diretta per pregressi ed urgenti impegni presi per soccorrere l infanzia greca devastata dal collaudato sistema della grande finanza che indebita i popoli privi di sovranit monetaria per impoverirli e depredarli .

    Oggi in Europa operano gli stessi gruppi finanziari che hanno distrutto e distruggono l esistenza di quei milioni di americani che hanno votato Barack Obama affinch li difendesse dalle ingiustizie e dallo strapotere distruttivo della finanza che ancora oggi detta legge gettando nella paura di un avvenire incerto milioni di famiglie americane.

    Il popolo di internet, con i propri contributi, ha voluto che Barack Obama fosse liberato dalla sudditanza alle lobbies ed alle banche e che applicasse i principi della Costituzione Americana sedendo fra i grandi Presidenti che hanno amato ed emancipato gli Stati Uniti d America,

    DEDALO ROOSEVELT che nel congresso del 6 gennaio 1941, conclam le quattro libert fondamendali: *libert di parola, libert di credo, libert dal bisogno e libert dalla paura;*

    *JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY,* che con *L ORDINE ESECUTIVO 11110 FIRMATO il 4 GIUGNO 1963 *riafferm la sovranit monetaria che appartiene al popolo americano come stabilito dalla Costituzione americana e dal Congresso.

    Gentile Michelle, le stratificazioni sociali americane che hanno votato Suo marito vogliono che Barack Obama sia un grande presidente e dia un segno di essere determinato con fermezza alla realizzazione dei principi di civilt della Costituzione Americana contro gli abusi e le violazioni della finanza e delle banche che avviliscono impunemente e da troppo tempo la vita degli americani ed ora anche la vita dei popoli europei.

    Grazie

    Francesco

    http://www.partitointernettiano.it

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