Charles Bernstein’s first collection of actual new poetry in seven years is a culmination of his ideas and here more than ever, the poet engages with his Jewishness.
In the annual Forward Fives selection we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in music, performance, exhibitions, books and film. Here we present five of our favorite works of poetry of 2012. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.
When we think of great New York poets — Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and Laurie Anderson, among others — what they’ve immortalized and exalted have been the streets and energies of Manhattan or, on rare and less transcendent occasions, Brooklyn. The Bronx, when it did appear, has always been something of the old country — where immigrant parents and grandparents lived, a remote, provincial satellite. And certainly Riverdale, Bronx’s sleepy neighborhood with a large Jewish population, would appear to have nothing to offer to poetic imagination. Judith Baumel, featured on The Arty Semite last year, seem to have been the only exception.
Shanir Blumenkranz’s extensive contribution to the world of radical Jewish music can only be compared to Robbie Shakespeare’s formative influence on reggae. Blumenkranz plays on numerous projects issued by the Tzadik label — so many of them, in fact, that his recognizable style of bass playing is virtually inseparable from the sound has come to define so many of Tzadik’s Radical Jewish Music projects, including Pharaoh’s Daughter, Pitom, Edom, Rashanim and Kef, among others. He has closely collaborated with label’s producer, John Zorn.
Unlike their pudgy, cherubic, church-tending counterparts, in Jewish mythology angels are not what you’d call angelic. Ominous and conflicted, with a penchant for irony and obscure turns of phrase, they are messages from the personal and collective subconscious for us to wrestle with. These angels create the parameters of our formative and deformative moments. Perhaps it is in such a context that one might understand “The Book of Angels,” a collection of scores penned by avant-garde composer and saxophonist John Zorn. A number of musical groups have tackled these compositions; the latest encounter is David Krakauer’s “Pruflas: The Book of Angels Vol. 18,” released on Tzadik Records earlier this year.
More diligent and disciplined parents, tracing the first months of their kids’ lives, fill out pretty diaries, recording the minute progress, saving bibs, pasting photographs — in short, getting started on the great family blackmail file. We’ve made a few feeble attempts in that direction, too, but the efforts weren’t exactly sustained. Our son’s first birthday, however, loosely coincided with the publication party for my first book of poetry, “Jazz Talmud,” which contained, among other writings, a few frenzied efforts to capture some of the particularly memorable moments and sketches of our son’s life. To coincide with National Poetry Month, (April) I recorded them:
The irony of Pesach lies in the juxtaposition of the formative freedom narrative with the fraught mythic lore that goes along with its celebration. Today on The Arty Semite we’re featuring two poems by Talia Lavin that address this very juxtaposition through the lens of the contemporary Israel.
Jamie Saft is far from the only musician who questions and complicates notions of cultural, musical and ethnic identity. That’s bread and butter for many of the artists featured on the Tzadik label, which has now put out six of Saft’s albums, including his latest, “Borscht Belt Studies.” Neither, on this release, does Saft clash, counterpoise, or remix musical styles. Fluid movement in and out musical paradigms and approaches, an approach already familiar to his fans, is not the point. Rather, the album appears to be, indeed, a study — an exploration or rethinking.
Across the centuries, Jewish hermeneutists — interpreters of the holy texts — have had radically different agendas: illuminating and whitewashing, edifying and indoctrinating. A poetic impulse, if not outright poetry, was occasionally part of the picture, too. And how could it not? Dealing with poetic texts of our national and religious mythos, imaginative responses only seemed natural.