John Porter's new book. It's his manifesto.

Book Review by David Cohen
Originally printed in Hamilton Arts and Letters, Four.2, Fall/Winter 2011

“I read. I dream. I take notes. I write,” go the first words of poet-essayist John Porter’s new book.

The priority given to reading is no accident. John Porter is a reader, originally by inheritance, now by long-established habit. His father read poetry, theology, biography and philosophy “in that descending order of significance.” For “Dad and me, the book, in Ezra Pound’s … phrasing was ‘a ball of light.’ ”

“Reading is what I do,” Porter’s manifesto-like statement goes. “Reader is who I am. I write books on my readings, books on other people’s books, and construct sentences from other people’s sentences.”

Reading, like eating, satisfies a hunger. Citing Daniel Coleman’s In Bed with the Word, Porter endorses the idea that reading is akin to eating. Reading is primary. All else (presumably including criticism) trails in its wake.

So, here we have Porter’s latest readings. From the book’s title, one might gather that Jewishness in these writers somehow defines them, or at least represents a common element in their work. This is not the case. Alberto Manguel, Robert Lax, John Berger and Simone Weil, Muriel Rukeyser, Leonard Cohen, Harold Bloom, and Susan Sontag were born into the Jewish faith (Edward Said, the “plus,” was not Jewish, but…). That they have in common; but in none of these writers can Jewishness be said to be the defining feature of their work. It is rather a fact — a biographical fact — that they share.

Yes, the “Jewish homeland is the book … the transportable book, bound neither by place or time,” (George Steiner). But, as Porter himself illustrates, plenty of non-Jews share this homeland. This is the real “Israel, not a chunk of geography or a spot in time….” Yes. But….

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