Homeless Tongues
Poetry and Languages of the Sephardic Diaspora
Monique R. Balbuena



Friends, colleagues, professors, and poets helped me at different stages of this project. In the beginning there were Robert Alter and Chana Kronfeld. Many years later, I am still grateful for their support and criticism throughout the original project.

My thanks also for Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi’s pointed and helpful suggestions and for the fundamental support she offered at a critical moment in this project—and for helping me recognize that I could read and write about the poems as compelling and valuable in themselves. Margalit Matitiahu was very generous, sending me material on several occasions and discussing her work via e-mail or over coffee in Jerusalem. Catherine Benguy graciously granted me permission to reproduce her grandfather’s poems. Juan Gelman was equally generous with his poems. Guy Dugas, Haïm Vidal Sephiha, and Avner Perez shared documents and ideas and supported me in my project. I appreciate Leonardo Senkman’s friendship and honest and insightful comments. The same can be said of Saúl Sosnowski. Murray Baumgarten, Norman Stillman, Bluma Goldenstein, and Ben-Zion Gold: all were early discussants, whether they realized it or not, and helped me shape my ideas and early drafts into this book. Colleagues in several conferences helped me with their questions and their sharp observations. Thanks to Yael Halevi-Wise, Eloise Brière, Stacy Beckwith, and many others. Karen Grumberg and Adriana Jacobs helped me define or refine some of my translations, and Kate Jenckes read my Gelman chapter; I am grateful to all for their comments. Eliyah Arnon has been there all along for many years, and I cannot thank him enough for his continuous presence and for his professional and personal support.

The original readers at Stanford helped me make this book a better one. Lazar Fleishman’s provocative comments encouraged me to revisit the project, and Haun Saussy’s suggestions challenged me further. Norris Pope backed this book project from the beginning, and I am most grateful to him for his enduring support. And I have to say the same of my editors, Emily-Jane Cohen and Anne Fuzellier Jain, whose patience I know I have tested.

I am also grateful to my dean and colleagues at the Honors College for offering me a collegial setting that allowed me to complete the project. The Honors College staff have my gratitude for their invaluable help in the daily grind. In addition, I would like to recognize the Program of Judaic Studies at the University of Oregon, in particular, Judith Baskin, for her graceful mentorship in times of need.

I received very good feedback at two workshops where I presented my work: “Francophone Jewish Writers in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” sponsored by Stanford’s Taube Center of Jewish Studies and organized by Aron Rodrigue and Olga Borovaya, gave me the opportunity to test some ideas with a very distinguished group, including Alan Astro, Maurice Samuels, and Scott Lerner; and a workshop sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, further challenged my work with commentary by Brett Kaplan, Bruce Thompson, and Michael Rothenberg. A seminar on “Sephardic Literary Studies and Comparative Methodologies in Iberia and the Americas,” organized by Sarah Casteel and Dalia Kandiyoti, gave me a very engaging chance to discuss my project with Ronnie Perelis, Laura Leibman, and Tabea Alexa Linhardt, among others.

The Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard, the Oregon Humanities Center at the University of Oregon, and the Frankel Institute at the University of Michigan provided me with much needed time and stimulating intellectual atmospheres. As a Harry Starr Fellow at Harvard in 2003–4, I had the opportunity to work with Ruth Wisse, Avi Matalon, Ken Frieden, Hana Wirth-Nesher, Avraham Norvershtern, Yaakov Elman, Miriam Bodian, Michael Weingrad, and Jeremy Dauber. As a Frankel Fellow at Michigan in 2010–11, my colleagues were Anita Norich, Joshua Miller, Deborah Dash Moore, Yaron Tzur, David Bunis, Marc Caplan, Jonathan Freedman, Elliot Ginsburg, Benjamin Hary, Karen Auerbach, Ruth Tsoffar, Na’ama Rokem, and Hana Wirth-Nesher. I thank them all for their comments, questions, conversations, and critiques of my work in progress, but am solely responsible for any shortcomings.

I could not have completed this work without the financial support of several institutions. I want to thank the University of California, Berkeley, for its Regent’s Fellowship, and also Brazil’s funding agency CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Nível Superior). I am equally grateful for fellowships from the Newhouse Foundation, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, the American Sephardi Federation, and the Maurice Amado Research Fund for Sephardic Studies. At the University of Oregon I would like to recognize the Center for the Study of Women in Society, for its Faculty Research Support; the Office of Research, for its Faculty Research Summer Award; and the Oregon Humanities Center, for its Faculty Research Fellowship. I would like to thank the Koret Foundation for granting me early on a publication grant. I much appreciate the publication grant the Littauer Foundation also offered me.

Finally, I would like to thank my mother, Cleone, for always singing to me in many languages, and my father, Rubén, who, unbeknownst to him, made me appreciate accents and creative interlingual formations, and gave me the love of slicing and dissecting, if not, like him, eyes, then images and poems. I am also very grateful to my son Bernardo for growing up alongside me and filling me with joy and pride—he has been my companion, reminding me all too often that there is much more to life than academic work. My little Daniel Aviv already has to put up with long nights and shorter bedtime stories. I thank him for the light and happiness that he has brought me at this time in my life. My husband, Mathew, accompanied me through a long and challenging trajectory—I thank him for keeping a steady pace by my side.

Parts of this book have previously appeared in Iggud: Selected Essays in Jewish Studies, Romance Studies, and Contemporary Sephardic Identity in the Americas.