- Conversations Begin with Questions
Judith Arcana (b. Cleveland, OH, 1943) and Lois Leveen (b. Queens, NY, 1968) are writers who live in Portland, Oregon. They met at a Mother's Day brunch in 2007, at which neither of their mothers nor any offspring were present. They enjoy each other's company, but have not had many deep, long conversations, so they are grateful to Bridges for this invitation, which gave them a reason to walk and talk together.
I. Judith writes to Lois
My first Bridges publication was a short poem that came out of my embrace of Jewish identity. I had made the mistake of thinking that because I no longer "believed in" the religion—Judaism (stopped believing in God when I was 17), I was not a Jew. This was an error. By my early thirties, however, I'd begun to think differently. I did a reclaiming ritual, an oral reading of the Book of Judith in the Apocrypha. When Bridges took the poem, then-poetry editor Adrienne Rich, herself a woman who embraced identity as a Jew in adulthood, sent me a postcard that's still in my visual/emotional memory (though it actually lives now in a box in Jonathan's basement). Publication in Bridges was part of my "return." [End Page 8]
Turning inturning overturning in and overthe sound of rabbinical repetition echoesdown the well of my past the well of my bodyvibrates in the deep flesh of my life as a Jewit's blood music, this rhythmbeating with the pulse of old men in shawls
So that yes, I am the dusky Jewessthe rabbi's wet dream and his nightmare I come in the shabbas midnight the queen and the brideto lay my sword on the bed and sayI am Judith, home(current version, slightly edited since 1990 publication)
As you can see, the poem is also rooted in my rising sense of self as a woman in the burgeoning feminist consciousness of the late 1960s, in my own late twenties. No doubt part of what the Bridges editors had in mind was this melding, the thing that's happening in my head as I write to you: my identity as a woman and a Jew were rising together in me in those years. Bridges was a source and a vehicle for both.
II. Lois writes to Judith
You refer to Bridges as a source and a vehicle for your burgeoning consciousness as both a feminist and a Jew. I respond to say that Bridges and you, Judith, were for me a source and a vehicle for something else as well: my identity as a poet. Two years ago—really, only two? yes, I check my email log and there it is—I was in the "slough of despond" as I like to say (thanks to my many childhood re-readings of Little Women) about writing, and publishing—or rather, struggling and not getting published. You and I had tea and talked and you basically said, "Yes, it's hard. So what? What that's worth doing isn't hard?"
Then you dragged out a stack of journals where you'd published to help me think about possible venues for my work. I took my jotted notes home and began googling. At first, I was disappointed to see that Bridges doesn't publish memoir, which was what I was working on. But then I noticed a call for the special issue on translation, and before I knew it, I started writing a poem. It contained elements of a story, or maybe two, I'd told many times, in various conversations. But I'd never told it in that form, and never to that effect. I worked and reworked it and asked folks for feedback and worked some more, and then off it went. And that's the first poem I've published since my high school literary magazine—and now I write poetry all the time. [End Page 9]
Philologysounded to melike dull linguistichistory. Butonce enrolled Igrew enthralled...