“Queer Expectations: A Genealogy of Jewish Women’s Poetry” by Zohar Weiman-Kelman— Using Poetry

Weiman-Kelman, Zohar. “Queer Expectations: A Genealogy of Jewish Women’s Poetry”,  (SUNY Series in Contemporary Jewish Literature and Culture), SUNY Press, 2019.

Using Poetry

Amos Lassen

In “Queer Expectations, Zohar Weiman-Kelman looks at how Jewish women have used poetry to challenge their historical limitations while rewriting their potential futures. Jewish women have had a strange relationship with history as they struggle for inclusion while resisting their “limited role as (re)producers of the future.” Here we see  how Jewish women writers turned to poetry to write new histories by developing “queer expectancy” as “a conceptual tool for understanding how literary texts can both invoke and resist what came before.” The book  brings together Jewish women’s poetry from the late nineteenth century, the World War period and the 1970s and 1980s. We are taken on a boundary-crossing journey through works in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew, setting up encounters between writers of different generations, locations, and languages. 

Emphasis is on genealogical lines of continuity drawn by authors Emma Lazarus, Kadya Molodowsky, Leah Goldberg, Anna Margolin, Irena Klepfisz, and Adrienne Rich in all of their diversity. The poets push back against heteronormative imperatives of biological reproduction and inheritance, and instead opt for connections that are somewhere between traditional models of gender and history. Looking backward in queer ways allows new histories to emerge, intervenes in the present, and provides hope for unexpected futures.

By the construction of a cross-temporal and cross-linguistic genealogy of Jewish women’s poetry, Weiman-Kelman does away with the boundaries between theory and praxis in her own work and shows how scholarship can  bring about political change. She does so through the disciplines of literary analysis, historiography, biography, and queer theory. The originality here and the new methodology changes traditional ways of thinking about literary analysis, questions of influence, and what queer can mean.

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