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Feldman to read tonight in Earth's Daughters Gray Hair Series

Before we came with our radiance
and swords, our simulacra of ourselves,
our injurious destinies
and portable exiles, 


                              women were here
amid incredible light that seemed
to have no source, that seemed suspended.
And so they moved majestically,
like the months, forward without
straining, not toward their goals
yet carrying them as they went,
their round limbs seeming
to exemplify what they did,
leaning out of windows, stepping from
or through doorways, bending to uncover,
lifting on their palms, carrying and
setting down, pausing to converse,
turning to where we were not yet,
saying, Here we live the victory
of the senses over the senses.
The opening stanza of Irving Feldman's "Magic Papers" reflects just one facet of his writing about women over the course the course of his six decade long publishing career.  Like many male poets whose work received its first recognition during the 1960's and 1970's--the era the sexual revolution and the rise of the feminist movement--it can be read against the backdrop of the gender politics of that time.
 
By the time of the title poem to his 1989 volume Teach Me, Dear Sister, however, Feldman had worked through the contentious dialectics of that era sufficiently to find a confused, disheveled, homeless woman crossing Fifth Avenue as his guide to the eternal:
 
She seemed as if beaten in broad daylight
and when no one intervened to save her,
she, too, couldn't stop to care, agreed
that she was nothing, superfluous, dust.
And drifted--panic's slowest immigrant
blown out of the exploded future 
to be the specter in the crowd's bad dream,
the person missing in the middle of the street,
beneath the mercy of anything.
Wake up, dear sister, he was trying to say
to the sibyl in her trance, but the woman
would not respond, so deep the charm that held her.
And the spell she was under was the end of the world.
 
Tonight at 7:30 p.m., Earth's Daughters, the feminist literary and arts periodical that has been a mainstay of the Western New York publishing scene since 1971, presents "An Evening with Irving Feldman," to celebrate the work of one of the outstanding male poets of his generation feminists have come to admire too.  The event is at Hallwalls Cinema, 341 Delaware Avenue (near Tupper St.).  Admission is $5.
 
"We wake to poetry from a deeper dream," wrote Feldman in the second of the Elegies in his New and Selected Poems (1979).  In a remarkable career that began with his 1961 collection Works and Days, Feldman--who celebrated his 82nd birthday in September--has plumbed the depths of our collective dreams and his own personal phantasmagoria to fashion a body of work that is dazzling in its range, singular in its mordant wit, and (as fellow poet John Hollander described it) "amazing in its moral intensity."
 
The critic Harold Bloom calls Feldman "one of the few canonical poets still with us" and "our only poet who complements [the greatness of] Philip Roth's fiction. Both of them manifest a deeply Jewish irony, wit, and moral eloquence."  In a 1988 essay, Bloom observed "It is a paradox that poetry rather than prose fiction is the prime achievement of Yiddish literature in America, while poetry in English by American Jews has not matched the prose achievements of Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Harold Brodkey and others.  Among 20th century American poets, only Feldman and John Hollander "by their relation to the Yiddish poetry they have translated...have in common a profound affinity to the cultural dilemmas, and also some of the cultural resources, of the best Yiddish poets."
 
The author of eleven critically acclaimed collections including All of Us Here (1986), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Leaping Clear (1976) and The Pripet Marshes (1965), both finalists for the National Book Award; Feldman, a Brooklyn native,  became Buffalo's first (and to date only) recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" Fellowship in 1992.

His most recent publication is his Collected Poems: 1954 to 2004, published by Schocken Books.
                                                     
Feldman taught from 1964 to 2004 at the University at Buffalo, where he retired as Distinguished Professor of English.  Over those four decades at UB,  his skeptical, contrarian spirit served as a valuable counterpoint to those who traced their lineage through "Projective Verse" and its process-oriented descendents, including "Language Poetry" and the various poetries that comprise the field now known as "Poetics."   More importantly, he served as an exacting but supportive mentor to generations of poets and scholars, many of whom have launched their own careers.  As he suggests in his poem "Fragment":  
 
            The language isn't saved by style
            but by a tale worth telling.
            Not, then, to purify the old words
            but to bring new speech into
            the lexicon of the tribe,
            to tell, for example, how they
            received their names--the gods--
            who die in every generation
            --the world ends--
            and are revived under new vocables
            as yet unknown to us
            and in other, still unguessable shapes
            --that must be the world renewed, the new world.
            Or even to tell--if we can tell
            no more than this--how they came to die
             and lost their names and their allure, were husks
             hardly able to hold our whispers,
             even this allows us a kind
             of communion, a beginning of sorts,
             a way to keep feeling alive.
 
Even in Buffalo, his adopted hometown, public readings by Feldman are rare.  Consider this an opportunity to reacquaint yourself with the work one of the masters of American poetry and a mentor to generations of Buffalo-based writers.            
    
--R.D. Pohl
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