Overview

Set in Rochester, New York, in the fifties, this extraordinary book-length sequence traces the year in a boy's life leading up to his bar mitzvah and passage into manhood. There is a lively mixture of ethnic groups here-many of them displaced by the war in Europe-with new hopes and dreams. It is a uniquely American place, where "no matter how far down you started from, you began again from the beginning."

As the alternately elegiac and ...
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Living in the Past

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Overview

Set in Rochester, New York, in the fifties, this extraordinary book-length sequence traces the year in a boy's life leading up to his bar mitzvah and passage into manhood. There is a lively mixture of ethnic groups here-many of them displaced by the war in Europe-with new hopes and dreams. It is a uniquely American place, where "no matter how far down you started from, you began again from the beginning."

As the alternately elegiac and humorous poems conclude, the boy has become a man with a family of his own, but memories of his childhood linger. The cycles of life go on, and Schultz continues to render them with wit, grace, and above all a sense of wonder.

I know what Mrs. Einhorn said Mrs. Edels told Mr. Kook about us: God save us from having one shirt, one eye, one child. I know in order to survive. Grandma throws her shawl of exuberant birds over her bony shoulders and ladles up yet another chicken thigh out of the steaming broth of the infinite night sky. -from "Grandma climbs"

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A worried boy gets ready for his bar mitzvah, a grown man looks back on his extended family, and a somber poet reflects on the Holocaust in this moving, if hardly groundbreaking, sequence of 81 untitled poems. The first 54 remain narrative in their focus, setting the scene in "Rochester, NY, in the fifties, when all the Displaced Persons/ move in and suddenly even the elms look defeated." Schultz (The Holy Worm of Praise) introduces an immigrant milieu where "Everyone dickers with God." A pyromaniac uncle, a suspicious grandmother, the sexy "new girl at the end of the ally" and an overconfident rabbi provide the supporting cast. Central figures are the boy himself (never named); the boy's father; and Mr. Schwartzman, a Holocaust survivor whose suicide gives Schultz a sad counterpoint to the boy's own coming of age. The last 27 poems reflect on the story from the vantage point of an adulthood where "One needs to be practical"; citing Jewish philosophers (Martin Buber among them) Schultz views the past as "houses full of performing souls, each a single/ beautiful spark." Schultz's long, clear free verse lines maintain a trustworthy voice; set beside earlier poetic takes, however, on American Jews' postwar inheritance (Robert Pinsky, say, or Adrienne Rich), Schultz's offerings seem neither formally, nor thematically, new. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE HOLY WORM OF PRAISE

"This is easily one of the strongest collections of lyrics published in the last decade."—Library Journal

"Moving fluidly from desire to pain to loss, sympathy, understanding and love, the poems in The Holy Worm of Praise are haunting meditations on friendship and the world's forgotten."—American Poet

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547906942
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/5/2004
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 128
  • File size: 147 KB

Meet the Author

Born and raised in Rochester, NewYork, PHILIP SCHULTZ is the author of several collections of poetry. He has received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Academy of American Poets. He lives in East Hampton, New York.

PHILIP SCHULTZ won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his most recent book of poems, Failure. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, the Nation, the New Republic, and the Paris Review, among other magazines. In addition, he is the founder and director of the Writers Studio in New York.

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Read an Excerpt


You hear me speak. But do you hear me feel?
Gertrud Kolmar
1
The Ukrainians hate the Romanians while the Poles hate the Germans but especially the Italians who hate the blacks who haven't even moved into the neighborhood yet, while Grandma hates mostly the Russians who are Cossacks who piss on everyone's tomatoes and wag their tongues at everyone's wives. She even hates her Lithuanian blue eyes and turnip Russian nose and fat Polish tongue; sometimes she forgets what she hates most and ends up hating everything about herself.
This is Rochester, N.Y., in the fifties, when all the Displaced Persons move in and suddenly even the elms look defeated. Grandma believes they came here so we all could suffer, that soon we'll all dress like undertakers and march around whispering to the dead.

2
No one in this family ever suspects they're unhappy;
in fact, the less happy we are, the less we suspect it.
Uncle walks around with a straightedge razor tied round his neck on a red string, screaming and pounding on things.
When he's angry, and he's always angry, he drops to a crouch and screams until the veins in his neck bulge like steam pipes.
Mother locks herself, Grandma, and me in the toilet until he's flat.
We spend a lot of time in the toilet never suspecting anything.
Didn't everyone on Cuba Place have an uncle who hides in a tiny room off the kitchen yelling at a police radio and writing letters to dead presidents while reading girlie books all night?
Didn't everyone live in a house where everyone feels cheated,
ignored, and unredeemed?

3
Grandma climbs a chair to yell at God for killing her only husband whose only crime was forgetting where he put things. Finally, God misplaced him. Everyone in this house is a razor, a police radio, a bulging vein.
It's too late for any of us, Grandma says to the ceiling.
She believes we are chosen to be disgraced and perplexed.
She squints at anyone who treats her like a customer, including the toilet mirror, and twists her mouth into a deadly scheme.
Late at night I run at the mirror until I disappear. The day is over before it begins, Grandma says, jerking the shade down over its once rosy eye. She keeps her husband's teeth in a matchbox,
in perfumed paraffin; his silk skullcap (with its orthodox stains)
in the icebox, behind Uncle's Jell-O aquarium of floating lowlifes.
I know what Mrs. Einhorn said Mrs. Edels told Mr. Kook about us:
God save us from having one shirt, one eye, one child. I know in order to survive. Grandma throws her shawl of exuberant birds over her bony shoulders and ladles up yet another chicken thigh out of the steaming broth of the infinite night sky.

4
Grandma peeps from behind her shades at everyone peeping at her.
The Italians are having people over in broad daylight, while the Slovaks are grilling goats alive (this means a ten-year stink!), and the Ukrainians are mingling on their porches, plotting our downfall. "Keep out of my yard,"
she cries in her sleep. Everyone sneaks around, has a hiding place.
Uncle's police radio calls all cars to a virgin abducted on Main Street,
while Mother binges on Almond Joys and Father sleepwalks through the wilderness of the living room, Odysseus disguised as a Zionist,
or a pickled beet-"With my hands in my pockets and my pockets in my pants watch the little girlies do the hootchie koochie dance!" he sings every morning.
Nights, I sneak into the toilet, where Uncle jumps out of the tub, yelling "Boo!"
I hide behind my eyes where even I can't find me.

Copyright © 2004 by Philip Schultz

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced ortransmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive,
Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
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Table of Contents

contents
part i
1 The Ukrainians hate 3
2 No one in this family 4
3 Grandma climbs 5
4 Grandma peeps 6
5 Old man Haas 7
6 Mother locks me 8
7 Grandma ties red strings 9
8 Uncle likes to look 10
9 Grandma says Rabbi Epstein 11
10 Almost every night 12
11 Everyone dickers 13
12 Before Uncle burned 14
part ii
13 Mr. Schwartzman survived 17
14 The Cinemascope 18
15 On Saturdays I follow 19
16 On Wednesday mornings 20
17 Grandma watched her mother 21
18 Being chosen 22
19 Memories talk 23
20 Every night at Kodak 24
21 Mr. Schwartzman writes 25
22 I like to look 26
23 Every Saturday Mr. Schwartzman 27
24 We walk through the lilac 28
25 When Uncle burned 29
26 Paul Anka sings 30
27 Spuming a perish melody 31
28 In winter the dark 32
29 Father waves 33
30 A flashlight breaks 34
part iii
31 It's raining 37
32 The Dubinsky brothers dance 38
33 My bar mitzvah 39
34 I'm looking at picture books 40
35 One Saturday morning 41
36 When I start bawling 42
37 Singing Al Jolson 43
38 Three times a week 44
39 The new girl 45
40 Billy Sanders lives 46
41 "A Cossack attacked you!" 47
42 I don't know anyone 48
43 I dream I get up in the dark 49
44 My first morning 50
45 We're all dressed 51
46 "We're not going 52
47 Rabbi Friedlander 53
48 Father's brothers 54
49 "Since I was a boy 55
50 He didn't hate 56
51 Mother smiles 57
52 I find in Mr. Schwartzman's German Bible 58
53 "Rest now 59
54 A boy has one 60
part iv
55 Our story ended 63
56 Why? 64
57 I travel 100 miles 65
58 "I was always ready 66
59 The man off 67
60 Its eyes open 68
61 The men and women 69
62 "Look out!-Mama's mad 70
63 Everyone's life 71
64 The glass 72
65 After Mother died 73
66 We need a new car 74
67 Mother's Yahrzeit 75
68 It was only possible 76
69 This morning I'm tired 77
70 At camp 78
71 Late at night 79
72 The woman beside me 80
73 "In the camp 81
74 My five-year-old son 82
75 I dreamed my sons 83
76 My bones aren't what 84
77 I'm on the jitney 85
78 In the dream 86
79 "All real living 87
80 The Old Stone Cemetery 88
81 I wish the dead 89
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