As part of the first Mellon-Sawyer seminar in the series Sites of Translation in the Multilingual Midwest, Mikhl Yashinsky’s fascinating performance “Ezra Korman, Poet of my City” drew more than 90 attendees and provided us with a stirring and thought-provoking testament to the enduring legacy and vibrancy of the midwest’s multilingual cultural ambient.
Mikhl Yashinsky has taught Yiddish at the University of Michigan, YIVO, and The Workers Circle, and is known to Yiddish theatrical audiences for his performances in Joel Grey’s production of Fiddler on the Roof and the title role of The Sorceress.
The author and anthologist Ezra Korman was born in Kiev in 1888 and later adopted Detroit as his home, becoming the city’s dean of Yiddish letters. At this event, Mikhl shared that inheritance and performed Korman’s Yiddish poetry in his own translation, guiding us through libraries and dusty synagogue vaults, exploring the author’s possessions, his voice, his writing, and his grave.
Detroit, the site of Ezra Korman’s writing, was reflected through the rich tapestry of Ezra Korman, comprised of images, the relics of his life, and a multitude of voices: his poetic voice, Mikhl’s voice narrating his life and translating his yiddish poetry, and other voices that constructed a fuller picture of his thought and work in the vibrant scene of Detroit’s Jewish culture in the inter-war period.
Reading of Korman’s poems in Yiddish and his own wonderful English translations, Mikhl situated them in light of the poet’s biography and within broader cultural and historical contexts. Korman’s poetic legacy was accompanied by commentaries, memories, and photographs, many of which were shared by the poet’s granddaughter and only surviving descendant, Nina Korman, who also attended the webinar. During the performance and in the Q&A session led by Mikhail Krutikov, Mikhl also shared his own connection to the poet’s life and legacy: born in Detroit a few decades later, he has claimed an inheritance of thought and poetry in the author’s life and work.