Book Review: Thirty-Six/two Lives: a Poetic Dialogue

Published In

American Book Review

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2023


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Reviewed by: Joel Bettridge (bio) THIRTY-SIX/TWO LIVES: A POETIC DIALOGUE Norman Finkelstein and Tirzah Goldenberg One of the joys of being a poet is finding friends through poetry. These friendships have a character all their own, emerging as they do from emails or letters that come out of the blue, after one person reads another's book and feels compelled to reach out and the receiver of that correspondence feels compelled to respond in kind. One of the joys of Norman Finkelstein and Tirzah Goldenberg's Thirty-Six/Two Lives is reading a book made from the material of such a friendship. In his short introduction to the book, Finkelstein describes being moved by Goldenberg's book Aleph (2017), and what he wrote her about it; he tells us as well how that exchange became a larger conversation about poetry and Jewish identity. Some months into that correspondence, Goldenberg sent him a draft of a new poem and he responded with his own poem, taking her last line as his first, then signed off with "your turn?" Much of the creative energy of the book emerges from the process these poems established; as each poet takes the other's last line as a jumping-off place, we can see the thoughts of one poet intersect with and respond to the thoughts of the other; we can hear the questions of one become the music of the responding poem; we can see the image that anchors one poem in a concrete landscape resurface as a kabbalistic-like expression for the other poet. The reward, then, of reading Thirty-Six/Two Lives is the pleasure of reading well-made poems, seeing the process of that making, and following the speculations of two friends as they deepen their camaraderie through such acts of imagination.


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