top of page

“The Guides” is a section of a larger manuscript called Guide School --a guidebook to anti-
homelands. The guides who led me through the “old countries” of my grandparents in Vilnius,
Lithuania; Kishinev, Moldova; and Odessa, Ukraine; were trained and licensed by government
schools that chose to delete Jewish presence from their official tour narratives. Guide School is
an investigation into the schools that train guides and the global guide-licensing tourist
industry. The training of readers is also under investigation – since the way one is taught to
perambulate through a city or through a book shapes perceptions of the foreign and familiar, of
theirs/ours. The section titled “The Guides,” which appears here, circulates primarily in the
above territory, but all of the sections partake of shared concerns and obsessions.

 

Guide School, including the "Guides,” section, also wonders  how to navigate the present territory of accelerated and weaponized fundamentalism in politics and religion, antisemitism among its touch points, at a time when “others” who are not tourists but migrants and refugees are forced into perilous travel and are often depicted as “dangerous.” For many in diaspora return
is not possible. And it is perhaps differently impossible for those who were never recognized as
citizens of the state in their “old countries.” Guide School documents visits to the places my
ancestors are not from but where they stayed, temporarily, for centuries. In this way Guide
School
is an itinerary of the irreconcilable, an unwriting.

It is the case that I am Jewish whether I identify or not, whether I travel or remain. As time-
keeper and guide to events across disparate times, Guide School takes the form of a pinkes: a
community book passed annually from one household to another in the shtetls of The Pale of
Settlement in Eastern Europe. The family who kept the pinkes was responsible for recording
the important events of the community in its pages. In poetry and prose, Guide School records
events of feeling, thought and study, inheritances of the destroyed Pale, as not ever what could
be called “homeland.” In place of nostos, so without the desire or ability to return, this pinkes
adheres to the shtetl requirement to record and to practice the Jewish prescriptions that to
read and write are sacred acts.

Guide School also travels through Kabbalistic and midrashic schools of reading. It follows and
diverges from these methods of interpretation. Interpretation proliferates, as it does in the
Talmud. It is misappropriated alongside the practices of female professional mourners of the
shtetls. The assimilated American “professor” enters; the Targum (translator/interpreter of the
Torah) appears next to the grandchild of immigrants. Each of the poem’s sections opens with
a photograph of an image from the YIVO Institute in New York City or from the New York City
Public Library. These photos of images found in old Jewish texts carried over from the Pale are
themselves artifactual guides and thematic frames that demand interpretation.

In Judaism and in Guide School to pray is to discuss and disagree. Of the four levels of midrash,
only the 1st, the literal, is employed when “next year in Jerusalem” can only mean a
geographical location. The second, third and fourth levels of midrash point to “Jerusalem” as a
signifying practice or consciousness which is a way of being/reading/writing/interpreting. If
there is any nostos in Guide School it is for a repeat return to reading, discussing, writing, a

Jerusalem that can be remade daily, hourly, in place of the actual geographic place. As a
“guidebook to anti-homelands” Guide School is devoid of fantasies of return.

The book’s sequence of sections (Abracadabra, The Guides, A New House of Dust, Sun
Worship, Dr. Shaman, and Rumor) elaborate on and ricochet off one another, accreting into
an imaginary ethnographic gathering and dispersal/diaspora of colliding times, places,
identities.

The perpetuation of ongoing violence passed from victims so well-schooled in violence against
them in the Pale and in the Shoah, victims who became perpetrators, gets scattered into a
recognition of another kind of form, a possibility of co-mutual life in diaspora. Or within a
mutuality that doesn’t yet exist.

Susan Gevirtz’s recent books of poetry include Burns (Pamenar), Hotel abc (Nightboat)
and Aerodrome Orion & Starry Messenger (Kelsey Street). Her critical books are
Narrative’s Journey: The Fiction and Film Writing of Dorothy Richardson (Peter Lang)
and Coming Events (Collected Writings), (Nightboat). Gevirtz works with Prison
Renaissance and Operation Restoration as a writing mentor to incarcerated people. In
2004 she and Siarita Kouka, Greek poet/restorer of maritime antiquities, founded the
Paros Symposium, an annual translation and conversation meeting of Greek and
Anglophone poets. She is based in San Francisco.

bottom of page