- "I Speak for the Leaves":Tribute Issue for Chana Bloch (1940–2017)
I speak for the motherswho cry at weddings.I speak for the lovers,husband and wife.I speak for the leaves.—Chana Bloch, "Song"
a mountain when it is no longera mountain, goes to the seawhen the sea dies it goes to the rainwhen the rain dies it goes to the grainwhen the grain dies it goes to the fleshwhen the flesh dies it goes to the mountains[. …]you have wished us a bonded life
And then I roseto the dazzle of light, to the pine trees,plunging and righting themselves in a furious wind.
For this special issue of Shofar, we sought poetry, translations, and essays that pay tribute to Chana Bloch's transcendent vision and craft, to her words that continue to dazzle us, to Bloch's influence as a poet, translator, scholar, and educator. What we received are works that give deep and loving testimony to her influence in these arenas, and beyond—as translation partner, as writing teacher, as role model, and as friend. As noted about Bloch's poetry, there is often tension between what is overt and what is covert, what is revealed and what is concealed. In her essay "My Chana," Chana Kronfeld, with whom Bloch shared a decades-long friendship and poetic collaboration, writes, "With deceptive simplicity, a single poem can move between the first person singular, the scientific, the folkloric, the biblical, and the philosophical." Readers are fortunate to engage with these and other realms that animate Bloch's poetry, realms such as politics, Jewish culture and identity, the body, and motherhood. Those who responded to our call were among those readers who, in turn, created and offered their own works in Bloch's honor.
Bloch, who served as Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Mills College, published six collections of poetry: The Secrets of the Tribe (Sheep Meadow Press, 1980); The Past Keeps Changing (Sheep Meadow Press, 1992); Mrs. Dumpty (University of Wisconsin Press, 1998); and Blood Honey (Autumn House Press, 2009). Her poetry was collected in Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems, 1980–2015 (Autumn House Press, 2015). The Moon Is Almost Full (Autumn House Press, 2017) is Bloch's final collection, which she worked on in the last months of her life and which was published shortly after her death. Bloch's work appeared in a wide variety of prestigious venues, including The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Best American Poetry. In addition to her poetry, Bloch produced seminal translations of the Song of Songs with Ariel Bloch, as well as translations of Yehuda Amichai and [End Page 2] Dahlia Ravikovitch, in collaboration with Chana Kronfeld and Stephen Mitchell. For her work as a poet and translator, Bloch received Pushcart Prizes, a PEN translation prize, the Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other distinctions.
The essays featured in this issue often juxtapose the intellectual and the personal, a mode that Bloch herself employed. Kronfeld explores Bloch's thematic and stylistic concerns, while offering a portrait of their longtime collaboration and bond. Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi opens her essay with a memory of Chana Bloch (then Chana Faerstein) and goes on to examine "the alchemy of Bloch's self-effacing and self-illuminating words." Judy Halebsky, a former student of Bloch's at Mills College, explores Bloch's generous mentorship of young poets and writes of how Bloch instructed her students that "the poem … is a vehicle that expresses not rational thought but lived experience." Kathryn Hellerstein reminisces about a profoundly kind and helpful anonymous peer review letter that she received in response to a manuscript submission of translations of Kadya Molodowsky. By chance, Hellerstein later discovered that the author of the letter was Bloch herself. Subsequently, Hellerstein claims, "I followed her directives for the next...