This long, narrative poem, Radiant Shards: Hoda's North End Poems, traces the sacrifice and suffering of devoted but destitute parents, Russian immigrants who are acutely affected by the Depression and struggle relentlessly to survive in Winnipeg.
More importantly, with its focus on the life experience and inner world of their tenacious daughter – and as the first poetic project to give voice to a Jewish sex worker, a figure that has been all but erased from literary history – Radiant Shards is a compassionate and humanizing work. The poem invokes Adele Wiseman's 1974 novel Crackpot, described by Jewish Studies scholars Ruth Wisse as a foundational 20th century literary text and by Josh Lambert as a radically feminist work.
This book imagines the interior life of the novel's protagonist, an obese Jewish sex worker named Hoda, who services the boys and men of North End Winnipeg during the first half of the 20th century.
In Radiant Shards, Hoda reflects personally and knowingly on the experiences of her complicated life. Against the structural arc of novelistic events that shape her worldview, she plumbs the depths of her suffering and the triumph of her will from a poetically imagined position of maturity and self-awareness. This creative project also incorporates archival/historical photographs housed in the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada and the Archives of Manitoba. These images ground the poet's lyric presentation of Hoda and deepen the resonant voice of a character that originally was modelled on an actual North End resident. (From Inanna Publications)
Ruth Panofsky is a poet and editor. She teaches Canadian Literature and Culture at Ryerson University and is the author of two books about Canada's literary history. She received the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award for Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices.