In her debut poetry collection, Rachel Kaufman enters the archive’s unconscious to reveal the melodies hidden within the language of the past. Many to Remember unravels the histories of New Mexican crypto-Jews and the Mexican Inquisition alongside the poet’s own family histories. Kaufman’s poems follow “fleshed like fables” and “the past’s near ending” to arrive at an “alphabet, gardened, growing,” creased and longing to translate the past for the present.
I want to say that, by its nature, poetry is one way that the present discovers its possibilities through a dialogue with the past. In Many to Remember, Rachel Kaufman enacts that persistent struggle to uncover the living presence of history as we try to forge a life in the everyday. Writes the poet, “At the edge of words/I accompany you, seeing,” and her poems are a company we can trust, a way of seeing we can believe in. This is a startling debut. —Richard Deming
The archive as hive, history as poetry, and the poem as a place where lightning falls and bloodlines call: Rachel Kaufman’s Many to Remember is rich with a weave of elders and others, of Jewish pasts built up from the faintest of minute particulars. Her language is playful and her tack slant, but she aims for the heart with her mythic mapping. —Peter Cole
Rachel Kaufman’s first book of poems undertakes an extraordinary task: moving a gigantic Hispanic event—the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico—into a part of the U.S. which is no longer tied to Spain, thus entering the sphere of American poetry. The movers are Jews who fled that Inquisition but remained crypto-Jews all the way up into New Mexico for several generations until the present. A powerful and informed imagination working on a visionary epic and a secure craftsmanship ab initio undoubtedly open the way to a brilliant writing career. —Nathaniel Tarn
In the archive, the poet calls to the past, and the past responds. Her family narrative intertwines with remote chapters of her people’s chronicle; the struggles of grandparents and great-grandparents are juxtaposed with the struggles of the Marranos in the southwest of the seventeenth century which she devotedly studies. Histories overlap, life stories resonate, unexpected parallels emerge. Translation is the key: “At the edge of words,” she tells her ghosts, “I accompany you, seeing.” From poem to poem in this deeply moving first book, Rachel Kaufman keeps the commandment: Zakhor! Remember! —Norman Finkelstein
Rachel Kaufman’s lucid, alchemical poems turn the history of her family and crypto-Jews into myth that is at once fixed and unfixed, tenuous and lasting. Her poems reckon with rather than solve contradictions: survivors disinterested in their history, Jews who are refugees and colonizers, words that fail to express. Yet at times her myth’s contradictions and instability are a force of meaning: I realized there/was only/land and storm leaning/into earth,/breaking the soil/into pieces so/it could claim/at sunrise/its mending. Kaufman’s book is essential reading to all contrarians grappling with their histories. —Emily Warn
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