Monday, June 5, 2017

The poetry show: Monday's poet is Chana Bloch

Chana Bloch was born on March 15, 1940 in the Bronx, New York and died recently on May 19, 2017 in Berkeley, California. Her parents were Jews who had emigrated from Eastern Europe. She earned a B.A. from Cornell University, a M.A. in English literature and Judaic studies from Brandeis University, and Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on the poetry of George Herbert, an Anglican minister, an unusual choice perhaps for a young Jewish scholar. She later published a book on Herbert, Spelling the Word: George Herbert and the Bible. Her five collections of poetry are The Secrets of the Tribe (Sheep Meadow Press, 1981), The Past Keeps Changing (Sheep Meadow Press, 1992), Mrs. Dumpty (University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), Blood Honey (Autumn House Press, 2009), Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems (Autumn House Press, 2015). A sixth volume, The Moon Is Almost Full is scheduled to be published posthumously in the fall of 2017. In addition to her critical studies and original poetry, Chana Bloch also published translations from the Hebrew and Yiddish, including works by Israeli poets Yehuda Amichai and Dahlia Ravikovitch, and a new version of the Song of Songs. From 1973-2005 she taught at Mills College, a women's college in Oakland, CA, where she also directed their creative writing program. Among her honors were two fellowships from the national Endowment for the Arts, one for poetry and one for translation, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and two Pushcart Prizes. For more information, see her website,  

When asked by Carol Dorf what she saw as her responsibilities as a poet, Bloch replied, "To tell the truth about life. Not to record the facts as a journalist, but to reach for a deeper truth with the power of the imagination. You bring many experiences together and make of them an amalgram that's richer, closer to the essential truth." 

This week's featured poem is "Alone on the Mountain," from Swimming in the Rain: New and Selected Poems 1980-2015 (Autumn House Press, 2015), originally published in The Past Keeps Changing (Sheep Meadow Press, 1992). 


I climb up here only
to feel small again. Blue liquor
of distance: one sip and I start to lose
size, anger, the sticky burrs 
of wanting. If only, what if—let the wind
carry it away.

Wave after wave of shadow comes over
the mountain, like some great
migration. Up here
everything's painted the four
bare colors: sky, cloud, rock, shadow. 

To be the object of so. much weather! 
I'm the only one left at the end
of the last act. Everyone has died, 
or gone off to be married.

Look how that tree
catches the wind, strains like a kite against
its patch of sky. That's 
what I come for.
                                     An important cloud
is making its way to some other mountain, to the sea, 
scattering finches like poppy seeds. 

Writing prompt: 
There is a crucial distinction between solitude and loneliness. (You may not agree; you could write about that.) Recall a time when you were by yourself, either lonely or solitary, and write about it. Blend in details of your physical surroundings. 

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