Anthony Hecht’s “The Book of Yolek” may be read as a test case for understanding a strand of twentieth-century American Jewish poetry, one that takes up a series of questions about the very meaning of the term “Jewish poetics,” especially when it sets itself to the task of remembering what Hecht once described as the “very terrible aspects of existence.” Hecht’s resistance to sentimentalism in “The Book of Yolek,” which is also a resistance to the consolations of culture, engages his complicated inheritance of elegy and pastoral. Such anti-sentimentalism also resists confidence in the perpetuation of memory, even though “The Book of Yolek” is centrally concerned with the burdens and the imperatives of memory. The poem implicitly interrogates the tensions inherent in the post-Holocaust American Jew establishing a ground for joining the tradition of high lyric.

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