Jewish Identity over the Life Cycle: Poems by Maxine Kumin and Linda Pastan

Lois Elinoff Rubin

Abstract


Stuart Charme’ et al (2008) propose a complex, spiral-shaped model of Jewish identity, in which one’s identity evolves over a lifetime, responding to Jewish issues according to changing circumstances and one’s stage in the life cycle, and is influenced by other identities that one has. Responding to their call for longitudinal studies, Rubin argues that the poems of Maxine Kumin and Linda Pastan, composed over more than fifty years of writing, provide just such insight into their developing Jewish identity. To trace this, she discusses poems about their childhood experiences with family and culture, poems that reveal their responses to experiences (visits to Israel) and events (Hamas election victory), and late life poems that both revisit earlier issues related to Jewishness and branch out in new directions. Many of their poems also reveal the interaction of other identities (environmentalist, feminist, universalist, art-lover) with their Jewish selves. While the “Jewish” poems of the two women follow in some respects different trajectories, Pastan’s revisiting late in life the immigration experience of her relatives, Kumin’s including a new element, sacred Jewish texts, in a recent collection, they both also present responses to common experiences of twentieth century Jewish life.

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