THE SECRETS OF THE TRIBE by Chana Bloch

THE SECRETS OF THE TRIBE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In her first collection, Bloch emerges as one of a surprisingly few younger American poets comfortable with their Jewishness; she is faithful to both her subject matter and its inherent style, with craftsmanship fitted to a disarmingly specific ethnic voice. ""You and I,"" she recalls in Watching,"" addressing her dying father, ""used to talk about/ Lear and his gifts/ (I read it in school,/ you saw it on the Yiddish stage/ where the audience yelled:/ Don't believe them,/ they're rotten. . . ."" Then, faced with her father's approaching demise, she becomes--touchingly-altogether spare and practical: ""If he dies/ in September I'll/ wear the cotton dress/ (move the button)."" A final section of poems of marriage and birth complements these death poems, but this more personal mode shows Bloch off to less effect than do her direct dealings (à la Charles Reznikoff) with Jewish themes. A poem about Cain and Abel (""Squinting we measured each other/ . . . Our smile was made of teeth,/ the first/ human weapons"") is slightly too pithy, clicking into place like a lock with too predictable a combination; but ""Wilderness,"" concerning Moses, is superb: ""Remember when Pharoah's butler squeezed grapes in the cup of your mouth?/ A royal birthday./ You rinsed your teeth in sweetness. All the songbirds sang./. . . You're begging again, what a pity,/ after eating all this love."" And ""Yom Kippur""-visionary, hungry, terrified-surrounds a huge sacred moment in 16 short lines just about as well as this can be done. A good first book; an appealingly secure voice.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1981
Publisher: Sheep Meadow Press--dist. by Persea