Tuesday, July 26, 2011

AN INTRODUCTION Ruth Weiss, Chicago, March 2002

Ruth Weiss's family fled Nazi Germany

for Austria in 1933, but was forced out of the country within five years. In "Single Out," weiss describes her family's 1939 escape from Austria -- on the last train permitted to cross the border -- in words that evoke the terror of their flight, but that also reflect her lifelong interest in the music of words:

one woman slips in the mud . . .
shotssinging above our heads
not really meant to hit us (the swiss sharpshooters) --
the warning realenough --
go back we can't take any more.
we couldn't either.
the three of us penniless in the innsbruck trainstation --
obvious unaryan.

The "shotssinging" of "swiss sharpshooters" evokes a terrifying rhythm laid down by bullets, and broken only by the "one woman," like weiss an "obvious unaryan," who "slips in the mud." The grammar is deliberately erratic, and matches the "realenough" disorientation of the family's flight. weiss and her family arrived in Holland, where they embarked by ship to the United States; most of her family remaining in Europe died in the concentration camps. In 1946, after seven years in New York and Chicago, weiss's family returned to Germany, and she attended school in Switzerland. She eventually moved back to Chicago in 1948. According to Beat biographer Brenda Knight, weiss "gave her first reading to jazz" in Chicago in 1949, and she spent the next year hitchhiking around the country -- from Chicago to New York, to New Orleans, to Chicago again. She eventually made it to San Francisco, living briefly in 1952 at 1010 Montgomery Street, which would be Allen Ginsberg's home three years later, in the summer of 1955, when he composed the first draft of "Howl."

These nomadic experiences help shape a sensitivity in weiss's work to border crossings of all kinds. weiss's poetry blurs boundaries between text and jazz, autobiography and history, page-poetry and performance-poetry.

Much more at link: http://voices.e-poets.net/weissr/intro.shtml

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