Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer



Forty-something hours in Minneapolis. So much to say. I want to tell you about the panels I attended. I want to tell you about the friends I caught up with and the amazing projects they have in the works. I want to tell you about the people I met “in real life” for the first time. I want to tell you about the Bookfair and my purchases and the (tote-)bagful of items I hauled home.

But you know how it is. So for now, I’m not going to say much about any of that. I will, however, share with you this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Aboard a Delta plane filled with (tired) AWP conference-goers heading back to New York on Sunday morning, Sarah Van Arsdale (with the help of a most amiable flight attendant) took over the PA system and recited “Recuerdo.” To massive applause. (Apparently, not everyone loves the idea of an in-flight reading, although I hope and suspect that a writer sharing a short, travel-related piece by a canonical poet might be universally welcomed.)

New Life for an Old Poem

Rejection takes no holiday! While I was away at the AWP conference, I received a rejection for a new poem. But I also received an acceptance for an “old” one to appear in a very special venue. The poem in question is titled “Pünktlichkeit,” and it’s part of the 17th Annual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance) Issue over on Poetry Super Highway.

And While We’re On that Subject

Yom HaShoah. This somber holiday begins this evening.

According to her immigration records, my paternal grandmother arrived at the port of New York on a ship from her native Germany exactly 77 years ago, on April 15, 1938. She was in her early twenties. She had a visa. She’d waited until it was about to expire before bringing herself to emigrate from Germany without her parents. Who did not have visas.

Jewish holidays shift from year to year (the Hebrew calendar is lunar, and complicated). In 1938, April 15 was also the first night of Passover. My grandmother always told us that on her first night in New York, she attended a Seder at her cousin’s home.

I’ve known the outlines of my grandmother’s immigration story for decades. And yet, this year (and maybe it has something to do with having recently read Sarah Wildman’s Paper Love), I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts—questions and wonderings, really—about Grandma’s emotions at that first Seder, at the start of her new life in the United States and the end of her own personal Exodus. I’ve wondered how she must have felt, reading the words in the Haggadah (the service/program) that had been read for generations. That are still read today.

And, as I spent Passover with my parents, my heart broke thinking how she must have missed and worried about hers.

My grandmother with her parents and elder brother in Germany, circa 1920.
My grandmother with her parents and elder brother in Germany, circa 1920.

9 thoughts on “Midweek Notes from a Practicing Writer

  1. Marlena Baraf says:

    How I wish I’d been at AWP and on this plane while Recuerdo was read. Also your musings about your grandmother moved me. Thank you Erika.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thank YOU, Marlena.

  2. Rachel Hall says:

    Lovely, Erika! And so wonderful to get to spend some time with you in MN.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Always! 🙂

  3. Nina says:

    I DO want to hear your wrap up though!

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      That’s so sweet, Nina! Funny enough, the other day I was thinking the same re: you! Did you write something that I’ve somehow missed?

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