Friday, August 19, 2005

12 Gates to the City

With the kids downstairs a-giggle at the Three Stooges, it seemed an appropriate time to blog for a moment about the conjunction of Secular Jewish Culture and Radical Poetics which so many of us are thinking about--and writing about--these days.

The other night, at my son's ball game, I thrashed out this little list of the ways these two concepts (SJC and RP) might intersect. Figured I'd post it here and see if anyone has any response--including me, once I see it in type and all.

OK--here goes. These two can intersect when
  1. the poet takes a traditional ritual / religious practice or textual / verbal form and turns it to secular / poetic ends, as in Jerry Rothenberg's Gematria or the rabbis' dialogues in Jabes' Book of Questions;
  2. the poet dwells on traditional (religious) Jewish ideas and finds / reveals them to be secular / poetic, or to bear s/p fruit, as with the idea of exile;
  3. the poet re-imagines traditional religious material--stories from Torah or classical midrash, holidays and so forth--to some secular end, starting from secular assumptions, including the echt secular assumption that "all deities reside in the human breast";
  4. (Method 3 obliges us to revise our notion of the "secular" to include Romantic, i.e., post-Protestant, religiosity, but I think we need to by now);
  5. the poet takes an easily identified secular Jewish verbal practice or form (i.e. Jewish humor, or the "associative monologue," in David Roskies' term, or certain Yiddishisms) and turns it to poetic ends, either formally or via reference;
  6. the poet draws on secular Jewish ideas (i.e., philosophy, politics, psychoanalysis) and alludes to them or to their thinkers (Levinas, Derrida, Freud, Benjamin, Scholem);
  7. the poet draws on secular Jewish ideas and uses them formally, so that their Jewish source can be discovered or unveiled by the reader;
  8. the poet draws on secular Jewish cultural artifacts and events (i.e., music, art, history, literature), so that the poem's range of reference appears both secular and Jewish, even if its form or core ideas may be neither (e.g., Anthony Hecht's "The Book of Yolek");
  9. the Jewish poet--secular or religious--can write a poem about anything (love, war, wine) that forms a part of the vast secular overlapping between Jewish and non-Jewish culture, and thus write a "secular Jewish poem"; this may be "radical" if the form or language or import of the poem challenges or changes what Jewish culture can be from then on (i.e., the use of Arabic meters and topoi in Andalusian poetry, or of modernist free verse, introspection, expressionism, or disjunction in Yiddish modernism);
  10. (Method 7 is easiest to identify when the poet writes in a Jewish language, i.e., Hebrew or Yiddish; when he or she writes in English or Russian or French, the reader / critic has to work harder to convince us, no?)
  11. the secular Jewish poet can espouse ideas, values, or concerns that the critic or reader wants to identify as "Jewish," whether or not the poem makes any explicit Jewish cultural reference (e.g., a poem like Rukeyser's "Mediterranean," or much of Philip Levine);
  12. the secular Jewish poet can adopt poetic methods that the reader can more-or-less plausibly connect to something Jewish--secular or religious--whether or not the author had any visible Judaic literacy or project.
Well, that's the list so far. Twelve gates to the city. What's missing? Can we make it a Judaically lucky 13? Any examples of the above you'd like to toss this way? Any poets out there finding themselves or their work on that map--and if not, where shall we place you?

(Where would "The New Colossus" fit in that list? Some further category does feel needed, but what is it?)

Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck. Must run. E--

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