1: Poem in Yiddish and English translation, Anna Margolin’s “I Once Was a Youth” ("Ikh bin geven amol a yingling"), 1929.
Each stanza in Margolin’s poem contains information about a first-person speaker and their intimate encounters with other people, details suggesting both homoerotic and incestuous relationships. At the same time, the poem features a kind of temporal unfolding (e.g., “I once was a youth….) that moves through the major stages of antiquity: Greece, Rome, Christianity. Throughout, the speaker is a unique witness of important historical events: the poem’s closing lines describe hearing of Jesus’s life and death from the edges of empire.
Suggested Activity: Ask students to point to concrete images from each stanza and consider how the poem’s first-person speaker is constructed through these details: Who is speaking? What do we know about them? Do we have any information about the gender(s) of the speaker(s)? Do you think the speaker of the poem is Jewish? Why or why not? What is confusing or contradictory? Where are they speaking? When? How do these different personae add up? Do they? Find specific lines in the text to support your position.
Sources: Anna Margolin, Lider [Poems] (New York: Oriom Press, 1929), 5.
Barbara Mann, “Picturing the Poetry of Anna Margolin,” MLQ 63:4 (2002), 510.