I've published three full collections of poetry, a letterpress chapbook by Frog Hollow Press, and a chapbook by Leaf Press. Afterlight, a National Jewish Book Award finalist for memoir, is my first book of creative non-fiction. Each of my poetry books has won the Canadian Jewish Book Award.
Afterlight: In Search of Poetry, History, and Home
Heritage House, Victoria, BC, 2021
A haunting memoir of war, genocide, displacement, and a daughter’s search for the literary works of her mother’s murdered twin.
In 2013, still grieving her mother's death, author Isa Milman embarked on a heart-wrenching journey to unravel a family mystery—the whereabouts of her aunt’s long-lost poems, published in Poland in the early 1930s—which evolved into a broader investigation of her family’s life before, during, and after the Holocaust. This powerful memoir chronicles a lesser-known chapter of the Second World War through the story of two sisters: Sabina, Isa’s mother, who survived the war, and Basia, Sabina’s twin, who did not.
Exploring themes of loss and displacement, regeneration and resilience, Isa discovers how her own story is woven into the immense yet intricate tapestry of the Jewish experience. As she delves into her family’s history, accompanied by her husband, a fourth-generation British Columbian, she travels to contemporary Poland, Ukraine, and Germany, and tries to reconcile her shifting appreciation of people and place, in a world where anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism are on the rise once again.
Click here to read more about Afterlight.
Last Memories: Christine Johnson's Life in Poems
Leaf Press, Lantzville, BC, 2016
When we first met, Christine was already having trouble with everything we expect our brains to do: make sense of the world around us and make us fully sensate human beings. ...She'd always been a lover of poetry, so perhaps we could write poems together. Thus began an unforgettable collaboration to remember and record stories of Christine's remarkable life in poetry.
Quattro Books, Toronto, ON, 2012
Something Small To Carry Home is an homage to the dead and the living, a family history, a celebration of life’s special occasions, and a meditation on poetry itself, its solace and significance through the poets who’ve nurtured and inspired the author.
Isa Milman’s evocative and eloquent poems resemble the striking mementos she writes of, that pass ‘from pocket to pocket, / from hand to hand,’ from the dead to the living. Stones and bones, cake crumbs and Kaddish prayers, dust and shadows, Milman’s images ‘glimpse the stars’ despite the darkness – her haunting words a ‘Yes to keep going. Yes’.
–Kate Marshall Flaherty
The issue of home is central to my identity, and the subject of much of my writing,” shared Milman. “So is the issue of salvaging stories as a way of remembering and honoring those who were lost to me and my family. They couldn’t tell their stories. They were erased from history, and the only way to save them, to give them voice, in my mind, was for me to try to do it for them.
–The Jewish Independent (read the full article here)
Coteau Books, Regina, SK, 2008
Isa Milman uses historical and personal awakening, and archival sleuthing, to create a "kaddish" - a Jewish prayer of mourning and commemoration - for a prairie community that now exists only through remembrance. There are no more Jewish colonies, no more Jewish farmers on the prairies. Prairie Kaddish is an elegy for all that no longer exists, except through remembrance.
Sometimes a gift appears in disguise and our challenge is to recognize the little miracle that has just fallen into our lap. This is the story of the gift that became Prairie Kaddish (Coteau Books), a book of history told mostly through poetry. A book that began in an obscure corner of Jewish history, a tattered scrap of time, and unfolded as a generous, intricate tapestry in which, unbeknownst to me, my history was also stitched.
–Hadassah Magazine (read the full article here)
Isa Milman’s Prairie Kaddish (Coteau 2008) is a creative documentation and voyage into the historical lives of Jewish settlers. What began at a graveyard near Lipton, Saskatchewan, unfolds as a narrative exploration of identity and the human condition. The confluence of immigrants alongside residing First Nations Peoples resonates through the lens of the contemporary visitor. The montage of various traditions overlaps into a book that works as a house to contain the memories, and as prayer to honour those that built and rebuilt their lives while struggling to survive before and after the prairies.
–Manageable Imaginations (read the full interview here)
Resounding throughout the book is the urge to uncover who these people were and what their lives were. Milman succeeds not only in providing some answers to these questions, but also in stirringly asking them anew.
–Tova Mirvis, Forward (read the full article here)
Between the Doorposts
Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, BC, 2004
Milman is a daughter of Holocaust survivors and writes, "I was born a displaced person in Germany, grew up in the United States, and have lived my adult life in Canada. This collection of poems is about my living in between." These are poems that work the intersection between the personal and the historical, small moments between lovers or family members contrasted with events of the greater world. Many of them explore and celebrate the author's Jewish identity and family history. The themes of displacement, faith and loss in the collection are not overwhelming or morbid, as the language is precise, light and rhythmic.
–Andrew Mullins, McGill
Milman is a skilled poet, using the rhythm of everyday speech and repetition to make her poems sing. These are poems filled with color and light, filled with music. What makes her poems work is the ease with which she connects her heart and mind.
–Wendy Morton, The Jewish Independent (read the full article here)
Seven Fat Years
Frog Hollow Press, Victoria, BC, 2002
Seven Fat Years was handset and printed by Caryl Wyse Peters in April 2002 as the earth warmed, frosty nights became only a memory, and migrating birds flew north to join their cousins in one of the ancient rites of spring.