April is Poetry Month: BIRTHRIGHT Poems by Erika Dreifus
Apr 3rd, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links: Kelsay Books | Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon

About this collection of poetry from Goodreads:

The poems in BIRTHRIGHT, Erika Dreifus’s debut collection, embody multiple legacies: genetic, historical, religious, and literary. Through the lens of one person’s experience of inheritance, the poems suggest ways in which all of us may be influenced in how we perceive and process our lives and times. Here, a poet claims what is hers as a child of her particular parents; as a grandchild of refugees from Nazi Germany; as a Jew, a woman, a Gen Xer, and a New Yorker; as a reader of the Bible and Shakespeare and Flaubert and Lucille Clifton. This poet’s birthright is as unique as her DNA. But it resonates far beyond herself.

“With its honest, accessible language and straightforward storytelling, Erika Dreifus’s first full-length collection is a welcome addition to the modern American poetry canon—narrative, Jewish, feminist, or otherwise.”


Question: Your poems are very relatable and intimate. Why did you start writing poetry and how long did it take you to put this collection together?

Answer: In one way, my life as a published poet began back in the 1970s, when my elementary-school newsletter published a series of “poems” that I’d written. But I think it’s wiser to skip ahead to about 2007, when I was living in a new city, working in a new job, and finding myself at a bit of a crossroads with the fiction-writing that I was focusing on at the time. I enrolled in the first of several online poetry classes. This collection, published in 2019, actually includes some work that originated in that first online class. So, let’s say that it took me about 12 years to put this collection together.

Question: Share something behind-the-scenes about your collection, something people wouldn’t know just from reading the collection. 

In the book’s acknowledgments section, I reference, all-too-briefly, Amy Gottlieb’s “Jewish Sources, Literary Narrative” classes at the Drisha Institute in New York. These classes were transformational. Not only did Amy’s approach introduce me to a new experience of studying Jewish texts and writing midrashic poems in response to them; several of my classmates (who also get shoutouts in the acknowledgments) and I continued and amplified this work together even after the course series ended. Combined, all of these women have played a crucial role in (re)acquainting me with the stunning textual legacy that we share as Jews—and facilitating an understanding of the creative potential that rests within it. 

Bonus round: What would you prefer? 

Chanukah, Passover, Purim, Sukkot, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, or Shabbat?

Answer: That’s a tough one! Each has its charms. I like the frequency of Shabbat, so let’s go with that one.

Biking, walking, rollerblading, running, dancing?

Answer: It’s a tie between walking and running. 

Writing, revising, reading?

Answer: Another tough one! Pass!

Introvert, extrovert or ambivert?

Answer: “Ambivert” is new to me, but I love it. Perfect word.

Central Park, The Metropolitan Museum, Times Square, Lincoln Center, Broadway

Answer: Yet another set of excellent choices (well, maybe Times Square is a little less excellent than the others). At the moment, Central Park is perhaps uppermost in my mind. Typically, I’m there several times each week for a walk and/or jog. But when I went over there briefly for some fresh air and exercise last weekend—the first after New Yorkers had been asked to “stay home” to reduce the spread of Covid-19 —it seemed to me alarmingly crowded. I think that I’ll be keeping away for the near future. It will be wonderful when we can all return. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to appear on this blog, Liza. And congratulations (again!) on your own forthcoming book. 

About Erika: 

Erika Dreifus is the author of Birthright: Poems, published by Kelsay Books in fall 2019. She is also the author of Quiet Americans: Stories, a short-story collection that is largely inspired by the histories and experiences of her paternal grandparents, German Jews who escaped Nazi persecution and immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. Erika earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, where she taught history, literature, and writing for several years. A fellow in the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute and adjunct assistant professor at Baruch College of The City University of New York, she writes and lectures widely. Since 2004, Erika has published The Practicing Writer,a free (and popular) e-newsletter for writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. She lives in New York City. Web: ErikaDreifus.com. Twitter: @ErikaDreifus. Facebook: ErikaDreifusAuthor.

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