We’re at the end of the National Poetry Month celebration at the Forward. Aside from the flurry of posts on The Arty Semite, we’ve also featured an interview with seven poets. One of the interviewees, Maya Pindyck, who has already made an appearance on the blog last year, is here again, with two poems,”Shabbat” and “This.”
As it’s title indicates, Freddy Frankel’s “Job,” featured today on The Arty Semite in honor of National Poetry Month, is about the biblical figure tested by Satan to see whether his piety was sincere. In Frankel’s rendering, Job is at once the ancient figure of the Bible (“Desolate on the dung-hill”), as well as a more modern victim of calamity, perhaps a Holocaust victim (“my life aflame like books banned”). The final line makes Job a thoroughly contemporary character, as he ponders the impossibility of obtaining justice for irreparable suffering.
Poetry existed long before printing, literacy, or even the alphabet: Poet-bards went around reciting their material orally, memorizing lines and improvising on them. Their performances — from slight intonations to full-on theatrics — were inseparable from the messages themselves. Although today most writing resides on bound print pages, some poetry circles have pushed for an emphasis on the performed, rather than the merely written, word.
Today, in honor of National Poetry Month, The Arty Semite is featuring “Samurai Song” by Robert Pinsky. In the spirit of Passover, one can read “Samurai Song” as a kind of inverse “Dayenu.” It is often asked of the latter text, that if God had not given us the Sabbath, the Torah, or brought us to the Land of Israel (among the other things), would it really have been enough? The answer usually given is that while lesser benevolences may not have been enough in the larger scheme, we would still have had sufficient reason for thanksgiving and praise. Pinsky’s poem, in contrast, works the other way around. Rather than counting our blessings in ascending order, the poem strips them away one by one, while saying each time, in effect, dayenu.
Stanley Moss’s much anticipated collection “God Breaketh Not All Men’s Hearts Alike: New and & Later Collected Poems” will be out in just a few months, and we’ll be sure to discuss its publication in the Forward. In the meantime, we’re bringing to you a time-appropriate sampling from the forthcoming collection. This poem exhibits Moss’s tendency to gravitate towards an expansive, cosmopolitan spirituality, which is not limited to the three religions mentioned in the poem. Rather, it can also be found in nature and in the whole pantheon of sensuous literary and historical free associations, which in this work, as in many others, Moss treats with a connoisseur’s palate and the fervor of a true initiate.
Today’s poem in honor of National Poetry Month is “Jewish Spring” by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, which appears in his recent collection, “Uncle Feygele.” While the subject is a seemingly appropriate choice for Passover — also known as “Chag Ha’Aviv,” or the “Holiday of Spring” — the poem questions not only the contemporary state of nature appreciation, but the fate of the nature poem itself in a society increasingly distant from the natural world.
Karen Alkalay-Gut began her illustrious poetry career here in the Forward at the age of 10. Recently we unearthed that first foray into poetry here on The Arty Semite, along with a few of her other poems. Celebrating National Poetry Month, we not only have the pleasure of featuring Karen’s interview (along with six others), but also another batch of her works.
The poetic practice of praising God through his works is of such long standing (as long as the history of religious poetry, perhaps) that it would seem difficult, if not impossible, to offer a new and contemporary take on the tradition. But in the title poem of David Caplan’s recent collection, “In the World He Created According to His Will,” Caplan manages to turn the form inside out, while still creating a deeply spiritual meditation on nature, human relationships, and God. Here, instead of perceiving God through nature, the opposite is the case — the beauty of a natural scene is imbued with a spiritual aura thanks to the prayer uttered by the speaker’s partner. “What returns you to these words/ in the pause between tides, the rising/ and falling back not only of water?” Here God is as much a means as an end, with the supplicant’s prayer binding the rest of the poem’s elements together.
Like the Psalmist who demanded his listeners to “sing a new song,” American poet, writer and cultural activist Esther Cohen proposes two alternative ways of engaging with Haggadic texts this Passover. The first piece we’re featuring on The Arty Semite today is as “new” of a song as it gets; in the light of recent events, it makes us rethink the image of Egypt, as represented in Jewish mythic lore.
Charles Bernstein has effectively argued that National Poetry Month celebrations tend to focus on establishment-endorsed, “blockbuster poets,” and he has reminded us just how much great poetry exists outside of well-known publishing houses and literary journals.