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Identity Poetics: An Afternoon with Joy Ladin and Lesléa Newman

Joy Ladin and Lesléa Newman

On a sunny but cold Sunday in Boston, poets Joy Ladin and Lesléa Newman spoke at a JWA and Keshet-sponsored event about their newly released collections of poetry, Ladin’s Impersonation and Newman’s I Carry My Mother. These two powerful activist poets discussed how Judaism has helped shaped their identities, the influence of feminism and mothers on their work, and the power of Cosmogirl and Seventeen to shape our ideas of what makes a woman.

In honor of National Poetry month, and in celebration of these two amazing Jewish women poets and the many women whose words have helped shaped this genre, we are sharing some of the best moments from our live event.

***A disclaimer: Since this was a live event, there are some coughs and chair scrapes. We like to think of them as “authentic” but we know they can also be somewhat annoying.

Joy Ladin came out as trans in 2007. Here, she connects her identity as a transwoman to her experience of being Jewish.

Once Joy had started living as herself, she encountered an interesting quandary as a poet: how does one begin to write like a woman? She takes a humorous look at the now defunct magazine Cosmogirl, which like many women’s magazines had a long history of telling women how to be women.

In this powerful reading of her poem “Changing the Subject,” Joy talks about the struggle of “getting man right” and her innate desire to be a “nice Jewish girl.”

Joy was asked to take a leave of absence from her teaching position at Stern College when she came out. Faced with the private and professional upheaval that came from living as herself, Joy found herself feeling fragmented. In her poem, “My Voice is a Voice of Becoming,” Joy discusses this struggle, writing “God has unlocked the lies you told yourself were true.”

Like Joy Ladin,  Leslea Newman, Jewish and lesbian, realized early in life that she was never going to be the “right kind” of woman.

Newman was first introduced to feminism when she came out in her late twenties. This new understanding of women’s domestic labor and her mother’s subservient place in her own childhood home led to the poem she reads in this clip, entitled “Supper.”

“I Carry My Mother,” finds Newman coming to terms with her mother’s death. This poem, whose name is also the title of Newman’s newest collection of poems, focuses on the connection between mother and daughter, and how the stories of our heritage can come to rest in our own bodies.

While poetry is Newman’s first love, many readers came to know her through her children’s book Heather has Two Mommies, first published in 1989. One member of the audience called it “the Bible for Lesbian moms.” Here was Lesléa’s response, along with a brief history of publishing the first children’s book for children of gay parents.

Lesléa and Joy sat down with JWA’s own Tara Metal and discussed the importance of poetry, the act of publicly sharing private struggles, and the poets that have shaped their own writing.

To keep your celebration of poetry going, read Lesléa Newman’s 2012 homage to Marge Piercy, originally published on JWA's blog!

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How to cite this page

Book, Bella. "Identity Poetics: An Afternoon with Joy Ladin and Lesléa Newman." 28 April 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 10, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/bookclub/identity-poetics-afternoon-with-joy-ladin-and-lesl-newman>.

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