Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces three poems by Aaron Roller.
Notorious for having their heads in the clouds and their hearts set on unearthly matters, poets have, nevertheless, often designated physical spaces as makeshift shrines for their inspirations. Just think how much verse has sprung from the proverbial park bench, the grassy bank, or the window of a moving train. In his poem “Naked,” featured below, New York poet Aaron Roller picks the most auspicious location of all: the mikveh, or ritual bath.
In a wild Whitman-esque frenzy, Roller summons the world to the mikveh with him, purifying us with his gritty, ecstatic, and at times endearingly dorky jokes. As it becomes clear from the second poem, “My Wife Has a Secret,” the mikveh is more than a random location on the map of Roller’s inspiration; rather, it is a recurring image, a pit stop where his muse does not fail to pause while racing through the lines. And indeed, if the third poem, “Write Like a Jew,” does not reference the ritual bath explicitly, it is clear that the wild hair of the rallying, ranting poet is still wet with precious drops of that holy water, enriched with the traces of the many greats who have bathed in it before.
Roller has been one of key editors and contributors to the Mima’amakim Journal of Jewish Art, and the first two poems made their initial appearances in the journal. The final poem was composed especially for Mima’amakim’s closing party earlier this month, and luckily, was captured on video. Located where spirituality meets holy awkwardness, romanticism holds hands with sarcasm, Orthodox Judaism jives with high-brow and low-brow grimaces of the Western cannon, Roller’s poetry continues to entertain, to explode, and, indeed, to purify.