Winner of the The 2021 Chicago Review of Books Award in Poetry
Aviya Kushner's debut poetry collection, Wolf Lamb Bomb, revives and reimagines the Book of Isaiah in an intimate conversation between woman and prophet. In the aftermath of September 11th, ongoing violence in the Middle East, and resurgent antisemitism, Kushner reflects on a Biblical understanding of humanity and justice. Wolf Lamb Bomb wonders equally about our relationship with an inherited past and our desire to understand the precarious present. These poems place the prophet Isaiah in the position of poet, crooner, and rival as they search for a guide in poetry and in life.
Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in New York. She is the author of The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible (Spiegel & Grau / Penguin Random House), which was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, a Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Finalist, and one of Publishers Weekly‘s Top 10 Religion Stories of the year, as well as the poetry chapbook Eve and All the Wrong Men (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). Kushner is The Forward‘s language columnist, and previously wrote a travel column for The International Jerusalem Post. She is an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, a founding faculty member at the Randolph College MFA program, and a member of The Third Coast Translators Collective. Her work has been supported by the Howard Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.
"Kushner channels the prophet Isaiah, 'lone / crooner in the wilderness,' and recasts his 'raving mad' vision for a post-9/11 age of terrorism and geopolitical conflict."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Wolf Lamb Bomb turns and turns Isaiah's verse, and discovers the ways in which it speaks to our contemporary struggles, but perhaps the most striking poetry comes when Kushner faces the biblical and speaks back."
—The Jewish Book Council
"[Wolf Lamb Bomb] feels like a chevruta session with an especially humane and close reader...deeply affecting...Kushner’s fluency with her source text is something to behold."
—The Jewish Exponent
This is verse that stretches from antiquity to tomorrow—prophetic to personal, exhilarated to anguished, lines that leave you breathless and lines that help you breathe. A gift from a new and vital poetic voice.
—Rabbi David Wolpe
"To live is a form of music," writes Aviya Kushner in this devastating, luminous collection. To call Wolf Lamb Bomb a poetic conversation with the prophet Isaiah does not capture the experience. Yes, a conversation; but also a tango, a song, a eulogy, a takedown, a meditation, and a midrashic re-singing, two and a half millennia later. In the great tradition of the Hebrew scriptures, these poems hold opposites in a single consciousness: feminine and masculine, wolves and lambs, subways and sacred text, Jerusalem and Iowa, text and lust, the blinding light of prophecy and the salve of human tenderness. Among vast visions of "all the singers / on all the stages of the earth," the intimate, undeniable voice of the human self never wavers. "I traded love / for music," writes Kushner; the distance between prophet and poet collapses, and we lucky ones listen to the song.
—Alicia Jo Rabins
"In the imagined life," Aviya Kushner writes in her first collection of poems, Wolf Lamb Bomb, "the next step is always / a problem." Guided by her reverence for the poetry of the Prophet Isaiah, Kushner steps gingerly toward the problems of contemporary existence—which are, of course, but variations on the themes of faith and freedom, heartbreak and healing, that have inspired poets from time immemorial. "In my body," she writes, "I carry clarity and crime and the harp." Hear her!
The poems in Wolf Lamb Bomb, with their radiant clarity, encompass both the daily and the spiritual while casting light on the dark moments of our recent history. They ask unanswerable questions of the biblical Isaiah, and Kushner's tremendous power—like Isaiah's—stems from a depth of vision that is everywhere matched by the beauty of her imagery and music. Whether describing the aftermath of September 11th in New York City, or flooding in the Midwest, or a bomb in Jerusalem, she guides us through the wilderness of despair to that place where we might imagine, in some redemptive future, the wolf and the lamb lying down together. As charged and revelatory as lightning, this is an unforgettable book.