Chana Bloch, Poet, Translator, Scholar, Teacher

BERKELEY e-PLAQUE

  Chana Bloch, Poet, Translator, Scholar, Teacher
(1940–2017)

A self-described Jewish humanist, Chana Bloch was an honored poet who was also prominent in many fields. Early in her writing career, she wrote a critical study of the seventeenth century English metaphysical poet and Anglican minister George Herbert, which reflected her interests in both literature and religion and in the inner life explored though poetry. Throughout her life, those interests yielded six volumes of poetry and translations from Hebrew and Yiddish. The Hebrew texts, on many of which she and her husband Ariel Bloch were co-translators, ranged from the biblical Song of Songs to the modern poets Dahlia Ravikovitch and Yehudai Amichai. Ravikovitch, considered one of the great Israeli poets of the twentieth century, was an activist for progressive causes, as was Bloch.

Bloch’s educational background underpinned her lifelong interests in religion and literature. She earned graduate degrees in Jewish studies and English literature from Brandeis University and in English from the University of California at Berkeley. After a teaching career of more than 30 years at Mills College in Oakland, she retired as professor emerita of both English literature and creative writing. She founded and was for a time director of the creative writing program during her tenure at Mills.  Her writing and scholarly work led to residencies at the Bellagio Center for Scholars and Artists, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

A widely published author, whose works appeared in The New Yorker and the Atlantic as well as in many literary journals, Bloch gave lectures and poetry readings at colleges and universities throughout the United States. Her work outside the academy included a stint as poetry editor of Persimmon Tree, an online magazine of the arts for women over 60.

Bloch’s work received many honors and awards, including the Pen Award for Poetry in Translation, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, two Pushcart Prizes, and the Discovery Award of the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center. Her work has also been set to music: Chana’s Story, a song cycle based on her work by David Del Tredici, and The Song of Songs, a cantata by Jorge Liderman.

Clarity of expression was her formal criterion, and the exploration of individual identity through poetry was her life’s work:

What interests me is the inner life: how we are formed by our losses and those of our parents, how we learn what we need to know through our intuitions and confusions, how we deny and delay and finally discover who we are.

Standing along with religion and the inner life in the thematic makeup of her work is erotic love. This is especially apparent in her translation with Ariel Bloch of the Song of Songs, which brings out the sensuousness of the poem while being scrupulously faithful to the Hebrew text.

A long-time resident of Berkeley, Chana Bloch (née Florence Ina Rosenberg) was born in the Bronx, New York, to observant Jews from Ukraine.

Contributed by Carl Wikander, 2017


  • Chana Bloch.photo azquotes.com.

  • Yehuda Amichai poem, trans. Chana Bloch

  • Bloch Residence

More information:
New York Times obituary.

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society