Erika Dreifus was born in Brooklyn and raised there and in New Jersey. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in history, from Harvard University, where for several years she taught history, literature, and writing. She is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories, which was named an American Library Association/Sophie Brody Medal honor title for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. Birthright is her first book of poems. She currently lives in New York City; her online home is ErikaDreifus.com. Erika is donating a portion of her earnings from Birthright to Sefaria.org to support its free online library of Jewish texts, which she consulted often in the course of writing many of the poems in her book.
The poems in Birthright embody multiple legacies: genetic, historical, religious, and literary. Through the lens of one person’s experience of inheritance, the poems suggest ways in which all of us may be influenced by how we perceive and process our lives and times. Here, a poet claims what is hers as a child of her particular parents; as a grandchild of refugees from Nazi Germany; as a Jew, a woman, a Gen Xer, and a New Yorker; as a reader of the Bible and Shakespeare and Flaubert and Lucille Clifton. This poet’s birthright is as unique as her DNA. But it resonates far beyond herself.
Erika Dreifus’s poems in Birthright are about the skull and the heart, the bone, and the muscle. They are poems about holiness and everydayness and, in part, about the convergence of these two movements as a way to embrace and discover mercy, love, and honesty. What they illustrate is the beauty that happens in that space, when both elements are embraced and when forces collide: “I’ve always remembered the Sabbath day; I just haven’t kept it holy.” Birthright is a book that explores connectedness and connective tissue. These are poems that embrace faith, family, and the forest of good intention in all of its contradictory forces. It’s about the expensive nature of coloring one’s hair and the expansive nature, which explodes in the beaming colors of the Diaspora. Every time I come back to Birthright I am born again out of the little pieces in me that have died. This is the magic of Erika Dreifus’s poems. They are the flame in the darkness of Deuteronomy; they are the spellbound silence of history that helps to bind you with the people right next to you and to the “ancestral spirits that mingle above.”
—Matthew Lippman, author of Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful and A Little Gut Magic.
Full of humor and history, the personal and the painful, Erika Dreifus’s Birthright is a thoughtful reflection on life and loss, on inheritance and the individual, collective, and intergenerational nature of Jewish experience. The book’s midrashic reflections challenge readers to reconsider ancient texts and their modern resonances. Some of its more political poems, while offering a perspective that is not always easy to hear, add a critical voice to the dissonant chorus that composes today’s commentary on Israel-Palestine. At its most moving moments, Birthright relays intimate and familial experiences with an earnest and generous vulnerability. With its honest, accessible language and straightforward storytelling, Erika Dreifus’s first full-length collection is a welcome addition to the modern American poetry canon—narrative, Jewish, feminist, or otherwise.
—Sivan Butler-Rotholz, Managing Editor, “Saturday Poetry Series,” As It Ought to Be Magazine.
These clear, unvarnished poems take us deeply into a life engaged with history, family, tradition, politics, and contemporary culture.
—Richard Chess, author of Love Nailed to the Doorpost, Third Temple, and other books.
Paperback: 86 pages
Publisher: Kelsay Books (November 2019)