Current City, State, Country
Birth City, State, Country
Rachel Edelman is a Jewish poet raised in Memphis, Tennessee, a member of the fifth and final generation of her family to live in that city. Her debut collection of poems, Dear Memphis, offers a direct address to the city where she grew up, exploring the displacement and belonging of a Jewish family in the American South. Through epistolary, documentary, and dialogue-driven poems, the collection excavates ancestry, inheritance, and the (im)possibility of imagining a future. Edelman holds a B.A. in English and geology from Amherst College and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Washington. She taught environmental education in Maine and Colorado before moving her pedagogy indoors; she now teaches high school English in Seattle.
What is the relationship between Judaism and/or Jewish culture and your poetry?
I belong to a lineage of Southern Jewish women who scrape the wax out of Shabbos candlesticks, chant prayers to the setting sun, and pack up the silver when it comes time to move on. Amidst Christian hegemony, my matriarchs and I have guarded our homes and our lore. Like them, I have learned to keep others comfortable while hiding the ache of that work in my body; I have swollen with the knowledge of how pain compounds on itself when it must be hidden.
The real depths of my matriarchs’ physical and emotional experience has always been obscured in favor of narratives that uphold comfort—but at what cost? Who cares for caregivers? What happens to societies where women’s desires fester, perpetually unfulfilled? Anger tightens our tendons, forming our hands into fists. How does the ecological world, in all its manifestations, envision a world that upends capitalist, colonial projects that distance us from ourselves and each other? My poems explore these questions, evoking emotional impact in pursuit of collective healing.
Like my matriarchs, I possess a mixture of trauma and power typical of white womanhood. I was raised in staunch defiance to Memphis’s Christian majority while also being socialized to participate in white paternalism. Growing up, I felt twinges of this hypocrisy. When my mother, who had the privilege to raise her children full-time, volunteered at my high school’s guidance office, she set out to find which counselor could write the best possible college recommendation for me. Regardless of who I was assigned to, she told me to go to the “best” and ask to be served. She taught me to see social interactions, at least in part, as resources to be drawn from rather than relationships to be built. My tightly-knit Jewish community espoused a dedication to racial justice while failing to reckon with our loyalty to whiteness. From that paradoxical position of oppressor and oppressed, my work seeks to unravel the violence my ancestors and I have wrought.
Dear Memphis (River River Books, forthcoming; 2024)
Links to Sample Works
Amherst College, Undergraduate
University of Washington, Graduate Studies