Living Root

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Overview

In this literary memoir, poet and essayist Michael Heller interweaves family and personal history with reflections on language, poetry, religion, and memory itself.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
American poet Heller (b. 1937) has written a memoir of his youth in Brooklyn and Miami Beach, FL, that mixes in history regarding his family's hometown of Bialystock, Poland, and World War II. Heller, who considers himself a Jewish Objectivist poet in the tradition of Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, and Louis Zukofsky, turns his words to the world of his parents and family. His father's sentimental and flawed personality, his mother's difficult heart condition, his grandfather's faith, and his aunt's mental disease leave Heller with wounds that only language and literature can heal. This book contains poems, notes on poems, journal entries, poignant descriptions, and philosophic thoughts. Through them Heller explores the Jewish experience in Europe and America, as well as the nature of reading and writing. The disparate elements cohere, leaving the reader moved by the seamless joining of personal tone and historic incident. Recommended for literature and Jewish studies collections.--Gene Shaw, NYPL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Booknews
Recalling his family's origins in Bialystok as well as his own childhood in Brooklyn and Miami Beach, poet and essayist Michael Heller (who has published six volumes of poetry) reflects on his past, his origins, and the entanglements of thought and religion that have shaped his life and writing. Includes b&w photos from personal collections. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
...one of the most touching memoirs of growing up Jewish in America. Heller is a serious poet who thinks about his Jewish identity through autobiography and poetry. But he also presents the ultimate conundrum of Jewish life after the Shoah: he proves that American English may be the major 'Jewish' language of the late twentieth century.— Sander Gilman, The University of Chicago

"Both autobiography and ars poetica, Michael Heller's uncanny Living Root modulates between graceful anecdote and brooding meditation, between driven prose and auratic verse. It is a work of crossings, hauntings, reanimations: a mighty golem walking the lost Jewish streets of Brooklyn and Miami Beach."— Norman Finkelstein, author of The Ritual of New Creation: Jewish Tradition and Contemporary Literature

"It matters to tell such stories as this one, the heartfelt particulars of a very real and common life. It's what it means to keep the faith, and in the subtle resources of this articulate poet's testament, one voice again speaks for all."— Robert Creeley, author of Day Book of a Virtual Poet

"What a gift, this Living Root of Michael Heller's!-a story to add to Kazin's A Walker in the City and Roth's Patrimony. Consistently revealingly first-person-singular, yet on every page Heller lets us in on-really draws us in to-the 'happenstance of authorship.' And at any moment a paragraph will open far afield-to the Babel of language, to kabbalah, to Walter Benjamin-or an interwoven poem will give the autobiography lyric depth and concentration. What's more, we always feel the tug, the strength and poignance, of parental bonds. A heart- and mind-warming story."— John Felstiner, author of Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew

"Michael Heller's marvelous memoir, Living Root, investigates three inter-related realms-poetry, Jewishness, and family. Looking for the origins of his obsession with poetry and language, Heller embarks on a compelling search through notions of Jewish identity and Jewish relations to the word. But even more powerfully, his explorations take him back to childhood and to a renewed dialogue with a mother and father no longer alive. The parents and the child are wonderfully drawn, and the ways in which their interactions become the basis for later poetry are sketched in exquisite detail. This book belongs in the august company of Robert Duncan's famous meditation on the origins of poetry in childhood, The Truth and the Life of Myth."— Stephen Fredman, author of The Grounding of American Poetry: Charles Olson and the Emersonian Tradition

"Heller calls himself 'godless,' and I take his word for it. But I wonder. His book is splendidly preoccupied with god-racked issues: what it means to be a Jew, to live in that text. Sometimes he finds it a relief to meditate on secular issues, and to take the weight of family-Heller on the father's side, Rosenthal on the mother's-as if it could be detached from the question of faith. But 'godless' doesn't resolve the tangle. God doesn't quite let Heller alone. For the sake of the book, I'm glad."— Denis Donoghue, author of The Practice of Reading"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780791446348
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Series: Series in Modern Jewish Literature
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 190
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Heller has published six volumes of poetry, the most recent being Wordflow: New and Selected Poems.

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Table of Contents

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