POET OF THE GHETTO: MORRIS ROSENFELD by Edgar J. Goldenthal

POET OF THE GHETTO: MORRIS ROSENFELD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A far too long and rambling study of the bard of American sweatshops (18621923), who wrote largely in Yiddish. Also included here are selections from Rosenfeld's prose and poetry. The author, Rosenfeld's grandson, is too close to his subject, whom he sometimes refers to as ``grandpa'' in this self-styled ``testimonial.'' Yet while offering digressions on the nature of poetry and the history of Yiddish, Goldenthal provides only the sketchiest details of Rosenfeld's often tragic life, which included losing a beloved 15-year-old son after the boy was beaten in an anti-Semitic incident, and spending the last years of his life largely alone, poor, and forgotten. Not until the epilogue do we learn that three of his siblings died from disease during WW I, that Rosenfeld began to go blind in 1907, and that Rabbi Stephen Wise and Jane Addams, among others, spoke at celebrations marking his 50th birthday. As for the poems, Rosenfeld eloquently expressed his outrage at the terrible conditions faced by assembly-line and sweatshop workers and at the radical inequities of American life. Stylistically, however, most of the poetry doesn't stand the test of time--it's too Victorian and manneristic. This may explain why, even in Rosenfeld's day, his poems were declaimed and sung as much as they were read. His prose holds up better, particularly when the characteristically dour writer shows flashes of wit, as in a delightful short essay describing the irritating character of ``The Nudnik.'' For this success and others, Rosenfeld undoubtedly deserves to be remembered, and in a limited sense, Goldenthal's book serves the purpose. Still, Rosenfeld would have been better served by a more objectively critical and sharply edited, less bulky and cloying work.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1998
ISBN: 0-88125-613-7
Page count: 432pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997