The Jewish Literary Tradition

Following are my remarks in acceptance of the 2016 Poetry Vine Award for Canadian Literature

September 29, 2016

Toronto, Ontario


Good afternoon. It’s wonderful to be here with you today.

Some of you may be wondering what a nice Jewish book of poetry is doing with such a non-obviously poetic cover. I’ll come to that in a moment. But first I want to say how much this award means to me.

Whenever a group of fellow writers and artists finds enough meaning and merit in your work to recognize it, it is very special.

But as someone who also writes fiction, this award is extra-special precisely because it’s for poetry. Anything that reminds us that poetry exists as it wanders through its wilderness period in our culture is always welcome.

But this Vine Award means the most to me because it’s for Canadian Jewish Literature. And that’s because the field is so competitive and the tradition is so strong.

It’s also because of the primal place that words and books occupy in the Jewish culture and consciousness. In the Jewish story of the creation of the world everything is kicked off with words. G-d says let there be this and G-d says let there be that and presto, things start happening. And it goes from there. A bit later we get the Ten Commandments, which are about a belief that words should rule over actions, and not vice versa.

The Jewish literary tradition reminds us that poetry is not a game. Not a souped-up version of Scrabble. Not a way of showing off one’s cleverness. Not about being deliberately or inadvertently obscure.

Poetry is one way of making sense of the short, mysterious, wonderful time we each spend on this planet.

It’s a way of celebrating our individual lives and warning us against anyone or anything that would devalue our lives.

It’s about a very Jewish confidence in the power of words, not only to create worlds and bring meaning to those worlds, but also to out-maneuver, out-march, and outlast every army in the world. This is where my book gets its cover.

But, as my wife Kara, who’s here with me today, might say, enough already with the philosophizing, and on to more essential things.

Thank you so much to the Koffler Centre of the Arts, the Koffler family, and Lillian and Norman Glowinsky for your very generous and welcome support of Canadian Jewish writing and culture.

Congratulations to all my fellow authors who have been shortlisted and to my fellow winners. Thank you to our jurors Pierre Anctil, Devyani Saltzman, and Laurence Siegel for taking the time to engage with our writing.

Thanks to the wonderful team at Cormorant: Robyn Sarah for her firm but gentle editing. Bryan Ibeas for marketing. Tannice Goddard for layout. Angel Guerra for that striking cover design. And thanks to Publisher Marc Cote, who’s also here with us today, for making my book, like every Cormorant book, a true labour of love.

And last but certainly not least, a world of thanks to my wife Kara, for taking time to moonlight as my ultra-modern, highly unassuming muse – when she’s not doing other, far more important things.

Thank you.

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