Review

Review of Montage: Works by Debora Vogel, trans. Lyubas

Golda van der Meer

Mon­tage: Works by Deb­o­ra Vogel, trans­lat­ed by Anas­tasiya Lyubas (White Goat Press, 2023). 140 pages. $18.95.

One might say that recently, the poet, art critic, and philosopher Debora Vogel has become the international prima donna of Yiddish belles lettre, perhaps rightfully so: in the last decade, her work has been translated into several languages, including German, Japanese, Polish, French, and English; articles have been written about her work by scholars and academics such as Sylwia Werner, Anna Maja Misiak, Kathryn Hellerstein, Karolina Szymaniak, Anna Elena Torres, Allison Schachter, and Anastasiya Lyubas 1 1 Hellerstein, Kathryn. A Question of Tradition: Women Poets in Yiddish,1586-1987. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 201; Anna Elena Torres, “Circular Landscapes: Montage and Myth in Dvoyre Fogel’s Yiddish Poetry,” in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, Number 35, 2019; Allison Schachter, Women Writing Jewish Modernity (1919–1939) (Northwestern University Press, 2022); Anna Maja Misiak, “Im Schatten von Bruno Schulz,” Neue Bürcher Zeitung, accessed October 23, 2021, https://www.nzz.ch/im_schatten_von_bruno_schulz-1.819164; Karolina Szymaniak, https://judaistyka.uni.wroc.pl...; Sylwia Werner, “Between Philosophy and Art: The Avant-Garde Work of Debora Vogel,” East European Jewish Affairs 49, no. 1 (2019). ; Vogel’s verses in Yiddish, and supplemented by an English, Hebrew, and Ukrainian translation have been inscribed in a monument in Lviv titled The Space of Synagogues, a project sponsored by the Center for Urban History of Eastern and Central Europe in 2016; an exposition titled Montages: Debora Vogel and the New Legend of the City was held at Muzeum Sztuki in 2017 2 2 A volume from the exposition was published titled, Montages: Debora Vogel and the New Legend of the City, ed. Andrij Bojarov, Paweł Polit, and Karolina Szymaniak (Lodz, Museum Sztuki, 2017. ; and a symposium on Debora Vogel took place in April 2019 at the Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago. Vogel’s poems have even been displayed on the facades of several buildings in Berlin in 2021 in a pictorial installation titled Present Figures by Ella Ponizovsky Bergelson, where a series of Vogel’s poems were painted/written in Yiddish and translated into Arabic, German, and English. We can find more details about this multilingual “hybrid calligraphy” integrated into the urban landscape, among other articles and new translations of Vogel’s work, in the special issue In geveb dedicated to Vogel’s work titled Walking with Debora Vogel. 3 3https://ingeveb.org/issues/wal...

Debora Vogel, a Yiddish poet born in Burshtyn, Ukraine, in 1900, published Yiddish poetry and art criticism from the late 1920s and 30s until 1942, when she was killed, along with her family and 15,000 Jews from the Lviv ghetto, during a Nazi extermination. Her work as an avant-garde poet, theorist, and art critic was recognized and published in several Yiddish journals such as the Inzikh, Folk un Land, and Nayem Morgn. At the same time, Vogel also published in Polish in several Polish-language journals, including Chwila, Nasza opinia, Sygnały, and Wiadomości literackie. Between 1929 and 1931, she was a pivotal contributor to the Yiddish literary journal in Lviv, Tsushteyer: Dray khadoshim shrift far literature, kunst un kultur (Contribution: Quarterly of Literature, Art, and Culture), edited by Auerbach and dedicated to new Yiddish art and literature. Vogel also published translations of Yiddish poems into Polish of poets such as Anna Margolin, Jacob Glatstein, and Aaron Glanz Leyeles in the Polish literary press. Although her work played an essential role in the representation of women in modern society, it was criticized in the press for having an “impersonal” and “cerebral” poetic style, which was said to be difficult to understand and lacked traditional Jewish and feminine themes. Nevertheless, as Yael Chaver remarks, 4 4 Yael Chaver, “Dvoyre Fogel,” in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia (February 27, 2009), Jewish Women’s Archive, accessed October 10, 2021, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/fogel-dvoyre. Vogel considered her project not a deliberate experiment, but rather as a necessity, achieved and paid for with life’s experience.

In 2020, Debora Vogel reached English audiences in an academic volume of critical translations by Anastasiya Lyubas titled Blooming Spaces: The Collected Poetry, Prose, Critical Writing, and Letters of Debora Vogel. This past year, Lyubas published a second volume of English translations with the Yiddish Book Center’s White Goat Press: Montage: Works by Debora Vogel, which continues this trend in circulating and celebrating Vogel’s writing. This small hardcover book is a perfect gem for those who want to introduce themselves to Vogel’s poetry but also would like to read her poems without stumbling over the footnotes, appendixes, bibliography, or paratexts found in the earlier volume, which contains a large critical apparatus that follows the conventions of academic publishing. This new edition comes with a small introduction by Lyubas that helps situate Vogel in Yiddish literary historiography for those who are unfamiliar with her work. In the introduction, Lyubas distinguishes these translations from her previous ones, explaining that “the translations in this volume (Montage) are done from Yiddish. They differ from the synoptic translations from Polish and Yiddish in Blooming Spaces: The Collected Poetry, Prose, Critical Writing, and Letters of Debora Vogel, which aimed to present the two contexts of Vogel’s work alongside each other”. 5 5 Anastasiya Lyubas, Montage: Works by Debora Vogel. White Goat Press, 2023, (Introduction).

The title and poems of this volume, Montage, are taken from Vogel’s third and last book in Yiddish, Akatsies blien. Montazhn (The acacias bloom: montages; 1935); this is the only book she also published in Polish (Akacje kwitną. Montaże), a year later, in 1936. In these philosophical prose poems, Vogel continued to develop the concept of montage that was au courant in the interwar period. As Lyubas explains, she was, “inspired by the use of montage in film and photography, cubist collage, atonal music, and the genre of reportage at the intersection of literature and journalism.” 6 6 Anastasiya Lyubas, Montage: Works by Debora Vogel. White Goat Press, 2023, (Introduction). Various of these prose poems were published in the Inzikh journal in New York from 1936 to 1938.

For this new English edition of Vogel’s poetry, Lyubas has selected 25 poems out of the 51 from the original Yiddish version Akatsies blien. Montazhn and has displayed the poems in three sections in the following order: Flower Shops with Azaleas (1933), Acacias Bloom (1932), and Building of a Train Station (1931). In a footnote on Blooming Spaces, Lyubas notes how “the sequence of mini-collections in this translation (referring to Acacias Bloom prose poems) follows the reverse chronological order of the Polish original publication - from Flower Shops with Azaleas (1933), and Acacias Bloom (1932), to The Building of the Train Station (1931). The sequence in the Yiddish text is Chronological- the mini collection written in 1931 came first, while Flower Shops with Azaleas (1933) appeared last.” 7 7 Anastasiya Lyubas, Blooming Spaces: The Collected Poetry, Prose, Critical Writing, and Letters of Debora Vogel, Academic Studies Press, 2020. (p. 223). It is worth asking then: if this edition (Montage) should follow Vogel’s Yiddish version, why does the order follow the Polish version? Another difference this book presents from the Yiddish original is that the prose poems are presented in a poem format.

While the volume Blooming Spaces appears to have a more academic register, Montage, on the other hand, is targeted to a more general audience and treats the writing as an aesthetic accomplishment to be experienced rather than analyzed. Each poem is presented by itself with a blank page after each poem so as to grant a pause between them. The space granted to the poetry is significantly different not only from the critical translations of Blooming Spaces, but also from the Yiddish original: In Vogel’s Yiddish version, a prose poem is followed directly by another with hardly any space between them as if it were one long story. By way of contrast, Montage’s display of poems is set up to be read leisurely, without the background noise of the whens, the whys, and the wheres of each poem. And that is one of the merits of this volume: it gives room for the joy of reading the poem in and by itself.

Lyubas’s volume Montage opens with the poem “Streets and Sky” (the first poem of the third section in the Yiddish version), where the reader is immediately presented with Vogel’s world. Right from the very beginning, the reader encounters Vogel’s recurrent leitmotifs, such as longing, boredom, banal encounters, melancholy, the color grey, people, and streets. These key concepts ultimately tell the story of a life, the story of a fragmentation, of a montage where the form of the poem becomes the narrator and the subject matter is relegated to the background, as the verses are meant to convey a feeling, a color, a texture, a still image that captures the melody of life: a melody that “usually, (it) happens in November” as Vogel writes in the last poem of Montage. Lyubas’s expertise in the subject strengthens her hand in translating Vogel’s poetry after years of researching Vogel’s work.

As previously mentioned, one way that this new volume differs from Blooming Spaces is its emphasis on translating this book from the Yiddish original, and not the Polish version. As Lyubas explains in the introduction: “the intent of translations in this volume is to present Vogel’s voice in Yiddish and thus shed light on the author’s work in this language.” 8 8 Anastasiya Lyubas, Montage: Works by Debora Vogel. White Goat Press, 2023, (Introduction). The fact that Vogel chose to write in Yiddish, a language not spoken at her home and that Vogel learned as an adult instigated by the influence of Auerbach, would situate her in the avant-garde Yiddish poetry arena. Vogel lived in Lviv, Ukraine, for most of her adult life, and like many multilingual Jewish authors living in the city during the 1920s and 1930s, she explored the use of several languages, such as German, Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish. Vogel was fluent in most of these languages, as were other poets of the time. For Jewish writers to write in the language of their country of residence was common practice. However, political changes and the pogroms against Jews in Europe inadvertently encouraged resistance, with Jewish writers deploying Jewish languages like Hebrew and Yiddish to reclaim their Jewish identities. In returning to, and translating from, these Yiddish texts in particular, Lyubas elevates the importance of Vogel’s language activism and her esteem for the Yiddish language as a vehicle for her creative efforts.

In the poem “Flower Shops with Azaleas,” Lyubas gives us a new updated translation from the one published in her previous volume. In this new translation, the rhythm seems to flow more similarly to Vogel’s Yiddish verses as we can see in the following example: “In the blue-gray city of five million legs, there are shops/ with huge, flat, round flowers”. 9 9 Anastasiya Lyubas, Blooming Spaces: The Collected Poetry, Prose, Critical Writing, and Letters of Debora Vogel, Academic Studies Press, 2020. (p 230). In Lyubas’ previous translation she wrote “In the city of blue grayness and five million legs, there are also shops with huge, flat, spherical flowers.” Another example where we can observe such revisions that adhere more closely to the Yiddish rhythm can be found in the following verses: “And this thing that is happening/ here at the azalea shop actually resembles something long/known”; compared to the Blooming Spaces version “And this thing, which is taking place here at the azalea shop, in fact, completely resembles something known for a long time”. 10 10 Ibid (p. 231). Considering the importance of style and rhythm for Vogel, Lyuba’s new translation gives us a closer tam to Vogel’s Yiddish verses.

We can also find examples on how Lyubas has made Montages less academic and reflects on her decision to translate directly from Yiddish for this later volume. In Blooming Spaces Lyubas marks words from Vogel’s Polish version omitted in her Yiddish versions with italicization or through footnotes. For example, “The day is gray and sweet, one in a series of gray days. People search for hard objects to hold in their hands; they search for gray walls, and the walls of dazzling billboards, for distinct and unambiguous events.” 11 11 Ibid (p. 230). In Montage these more academic inserts are smoothed out, resulting in: “The day is gray, one in a series of gray days. People search/ for hard objects to hold in their hands, for distinct and/ unambiguous events” bringing this new translation closer to Vogel’s original Yiddish versions.

This translation, among many other translations and studies of women Yiddish writers, has helped reconstruct and claim an “authentic past” where women are included, as Irena Klepfisz has explained. 12 12 Irena Klepfisz. “Queens of Contradiction: A Feminist Introduction to Yiddish Women Writers.” Found Treasures: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers, edited by Frieda Forman et al., Second Story Press, 1994, p 56.
Although many women writers made their entry into Yiddish literature through poetry, which was considered a more feminine genre than prose, their lack of representation points to their marginalization and the effective silencing of their voices. Recent studies and new translations of Yiddish women’s writing (by Norich, Kirzane, Gollance and Schachter, among others 13 13 Kadya Molodovsky’s A Jewish Refugee in America (translation by Anita Norich), Chana Blankshteyn’s Fear and other Stories (translation by Anita Norich), Miriam Karpilove’s Diary of a Lonely Girl, or The Battle against Free Love, A Provincial Newspaper and Other Stories and Judith: A Tale of Love & Woe (translation by Jessica Kirzane), Tea Arciszewska’s ‘Miryeml’ (translation by Sonia Gollance), Women Writing Jewish Modernity, 1919–1939 by Allison Schachter. ) focus on other genres in which women’s contributions had not previously been recognized – short stories, plays, and novels. This volume expands these genres to include the avant garde and underlines the point that literary modernism was a dialogue between men and women writers.

MLA STYLE
Golda van der Meer. “Review of Montage: Works by Debora Vogel, trans. Lyubas.” In geveb, April 2024: https://ingeveb.org/articles/review-of-montage.
CHICAGO STYLE
Golda van der Meer. “Review of Montage: Works by Debora Vogel, trans. Lyubas.” In geveb (April 2024): Accessed May 26, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Golda van der Meer

Golda van der Meer is a professor at the Institut de Formació Contínua at the University of Barcelona, where she teaches Yiddish literature and culture.