Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Chava Writes, Jean-Paul Paints.

I just read a short piece by Chava Rosenfarb about Yiddish poets in Canada in the 1950s. Chava was a precocious young writer in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. She survived the Holocaust and came to Montreal, greeted on arrival at Windsor Station by another young writer, Melekh Ravitch. In this short essay mentioned above, Chava writes about her relationships with other local Yiddish poets and shares thoughts on their frequent fascination with their new country's vast, diverse landscape. She feels this sets them slightly apart from their peers in the United States who felt stronger connection to their new country's culture, rather than its land.

Fletcher's Field, by Jean-Paul Lemieux, 1928.
Image from National Gallery of Canada



"Hey, you."
Jean-Paul Lemieux, 1909-1990.

I was simultaneously meandering through shy, thoughtful Quebec City painters of early 20th century, deciding where to invest my burden of bullion  (see previous post on dumpster-diving). A few years before Chava's time, Jean-Paul Lemieux painted lonely, melancholic Quebec landscapes which portrayed an environment that Yiddish poets like Rokhl Korn, Melekh Ravitch and J.I. Segal were themselves describing on paper. Let's interrupt an excerpt of Chava's piece with a few of Lemieux's topical sketches.


When I arrived in Canada in 1950, Segal was at the peak of his literary powers. I lived in what was then called a "double parlour," as the boarder of a refugee family who had come to Canada shortly before me.  The apartment was located at the corner of Park Avenue, which was the main promenade for us newcomers. There I would often run into Segal, his prematurely gray head raided high, his eyes staring into the distance through his glasses, his mind preoccupied with some new poem. He was a prolific writer. Two poems a day were his normal output.  - Chava Rosenfarb

Rokhl Korn and Melech Ravitch in Montreal.
Photo from JPL Archives.
Square, 1931.

 Sometimes I would meet him on the Mountain, where, in some literary dispute with the always cool and composed Meleck Ravitch, Segal would hotly defend his position, as if the fate of the entire world depended on the outcome of their disagreement. Or I would encounter him arguing with Rokhl Korn, insistently trying to convince her that her most recent poem was much more profound than she had intended it to be. 

Skiing on Mount Royal, 1936.

Sometimes I met him at the home of Ida Maze, who wrote the most beautiful children's poetry. Having consumed a couple of glasses of cherry wine, Segal would crack jokes, shake proverbs out of his sleeve, or entertain those present with tidbits of literary gossip.  

Melech Ravitch, Ida Maze, unknown man, Rokhl Korn and J.I. Segal, early 1950's.
Photo from JPL Archives.

Such cold that hurts your skin and burns your face was not strange to Rokhl, Melekh or J.I. Segal, but Canada's vast and mostly silent land held, in Chava's words, "a mesmerizing power...a metaphor for freedom from the narrow ghetto streets of Eastern Europe." 


Village, 1936.

In our free and vast prairies,
there hovers in the air a longing
for those wild and free tribes
who know no limit to their sense of belonging.
- J.I. Segal

Chava Rosenfarb published much poetry and prose in Yiddish and English. She died in late January, 2011.

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