Poetry Moment: 'Honorary Jew', by John Repp
This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.
The joyous celebration of Hanukkah includes both religious and nonreligious traditions: prayers and scriptures, lighting of the Menorah, songs, games, presents, and festive meals. In today’s poem, “Honorary Jew,” John Repp ponders the difference between mastering a recipe and mastering a marriage.
John Repp lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. His Keystone State bona fides originate with a 1971-72 University Park sojourn during which he experienced the terror of a high Selective Service number, the sublimity of Music from Big Pink, and many more illuminations and bewilderments. He holds an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh; has walked a million miles throughout Pittsburgh’s East End; and taught writing at Edinboro University for twenty-nine years. Seven Kitchens Press will soon publish his twelfth chapbook, Star Shine in the Pines.
The table may be set and decorated, the traditional offerings served, but it’s conversations, collegiality, compatibility, and convictions that shape the meal. Books. Music. Politics. Beliefs. As Repp explains, how these are interpreted, or fully understood, may bless or doom any union.
Here’s Honorary Jew by John Repp
The first year, I grated potatoes, chopped onions
& watched. The second year, I fed all but the eggs
into the machine & said I’ll do the latkes & did,
my pile of crisp delights borne to the feast by the wife
who baffled me, our books closed, banter hushed,
money useless in the apartment—house my in-laws called it,
new-wave thump at one end, ganja reek at the other—
in which she’d knelt to tell the no one who listened
no more no no more no a three-year-old mouthing
the essential prayer. The uncle made rich by a song
stacked three & dug in, talking critics & Koch—
everyone crunching now, slathering applesauce, slurping tea—
talking Rabin & Mehitabel, radio & Durrell,
how a song is a poem or it isn’t a song
& vice-versa. Done, he pointed a greasy finger
at me, said You can’t be a goy. You—I say it
for all to hear—are an honorary Jew!
which, impossible dream, my latkes lived up to
for five more years. Then the wailing.
Then the dust.
That was “Honorary Jew” by John Repp.
Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at wpsu.org/poetrymoment.
Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.