The editors at ZEEK recently came out with a poetry manifesto. Since the journal devotes significant space to poetry, and there are precious few publications which consider Jewish poetry in a serious way, I looked forward to their treatment of the subject. I glanced at the last paragraph and saw that the authors wanted to “blast open the possibility of what Jewish poetry can be” — certainly an ambitious goal. I hoped that the manifesto would tell us how.
For selfish reasons, too, I was cheered up at the prospect of some practical poetical advice. After all, I have only so much time. If I’m reading or — worse still — writing the wrong kind of poetry, I’d like to find out before I waste another minute.
But from the very first sentence I was confused. “No more kiddush wine poems, no more challah, no more herring!,” the manifesto says. Herring and challah taste good, and they are much better with wine. So this must be meant prescriptively. Herring poems are bad if, like bad herring, they stink. Similarly, challah poems are bad if the challah is stale, though then you could have French toast poems on Sunday morning.