Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices


by Ruth Panofsky

116 Pages
May 01, 2007

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Winner of the 2008 Jewish Book Award for Poetry

Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices is a long, narrative poem based loosely on the lives of the poet’s maternal grandparents, Russian Jewish immigrants to Montreal in the early part of the twentieth century. Her grandmother arrived in Canada as a child; her grandfather was already a young man in his early twenties upon his arrival in this country. The poem is inspired by the intense courtship and sixty-year marriage of the poet’s grandparents, the experiences that necessitated their departure for North America, and their difficult settlement in Montreal.

The poem is told in two voices that frame, overlap, embellish, and question one another. Laike’s voice and Nahum’s voice are heard in counterpoint across a poem that probes the hold of culture, tradition, and gender expectations on women and men in the rapidly changing society of Montreal during the twentieth century. Panofsky’s work charts the emotional and physical trials of impoverished immigrants who were deeply affected by the Great Depression and the Second World War and who struggled to establish themselves in Canada. This volume unveils the sacrifices and victories of a Jewish, working-class couple that experienced firsthand the lash of racism and the balm of community.

The effect of the poem resides largely in the intimate portrait of two people determined to build a life against the backdrop of shattering world events. Panofsky’s creative work individualizes and humanizes the diasporic community of Jewish immigrants that experienced similar difficulties and triumphs across various urban centres of North America.

Born and raised in Montreal, Ruth Panofsky lives in Toronto where she teaches at Ryerson University. Her first volume of poems, Lifeline, appeared in 2001. She is also the author of several scholarly books, most recently The Force of Vocation: The Literary Career of Adele Wiseman.


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