This long, narrative poem, Radiant Shards: Hoda’s North End Poems, traces the sacrifice and suffering of devoted but destitute parents, Russian immigrants who are acutely affected by the Depression and struggle relentlessly to survive in Winnipeg. More importantly, with its focus on the life experience and inner world of their tenacious daughter – and as the first poetic project to give voice to a Jewish sex worker, a figure that has been all but erased from literary history – Radiant Shards is a compassionate and humanizing work. The poem invokes Adele Wiseman’s 1974 novel Crackpot, described by Jewish Studies scholars Ruth Wisse as a foundational twentieth-century literary text and by Josh Lambert as a radically feminist work. This book imagines the interior life of the novel’s protagonist, an obese Jewish sex worker named Hoda, who services the boys and men of North End Winnipeg during the first half of the twentieth century. In Radiant Shards, Hoda reflects personally and knowingly on the experiences of her complicated life. Against the structural arc of novelistic events that shape her worldview, she plumbs the depths of her suffering and the triumph of her will from a poetically imagined position of maturity and self-awareness. This creative project also incorporates archival/historical photographs housed in the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada and the Archives of Manitoba. These images ground the poet’s lyric presentation of Hoda and deepen the resonant voice of a character that originally was modelled on an actual North End resident.
“From Adele Wiseman’s novel, Ruth Panofsky has distilled the voice of sex worker and “cracked pot” Hoda: sometimes lewd, often plangent, always recalling the shattered way we live and make sense out of (nearly) impossible histories of violence and revolutionary love. These shards of poetry find the beauty in the broken, and the monologic twist of Radiant Shards is as wry as it is tender. Accompanied by beautiful period photographs of Winnipeg’s North End and powered by Panofsky’s poems, Hoda speaks: neighbourhood historian, global truth-teller, radiant hostess.”
—Tanis MacDonald, author of Mobile
“Lewd, you say?” The questioning voice of Hoda from Adele Wiseman’s Crackpot is at the centre of Ruth Panofsky’s new collection, Radiant Shards: Hoda’s North End Poems. Kosher butchers, the Prince of Wales, and North End daily life resonate anew in Panofsky’s provocative re-imagining of Wiseman’s Winnipeg.”
—Norman Ravvin, author of The Girl Who Stole Everything