Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Every year about this time, I stare at my synagogue dues sheet and wonder: should I stay or should I go?

On the "stay" side, I love the house bands I perform in: the house klezmer ensemble, Heavy Shtetl, and the house Purim parody band, the Alte Rockers. I love my cantor, who is the sweetest man imaginable, and I love my rabbi, whose position on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace makes me immensely proud.

If I leave, it might give aid and comfort to those at the congregation who oppose his political work, and I don't want that on my conscience.

On the "go"? Well, I'm not exactly drawn to the the weekly services: neither the bar / bat mitzvah oriented service in the main sanctuary nor the weekly minyan downstairs. Aesthetically, they can't compete with the masses at my wife's church, where people actually sing out with gusto and soul. And in order to make it to shul in time for either, I'd have to miss my Saturday Zumba class, where people dance with gusto and soul. Not going to happen, my friend.

(Of course, I could go to shul after I dance, but then I'd get there just in time for the Torah service--and frankly, the older I get, the less patience I have with the celebration and cerebration that surround that particular text. The earlier part of the service speaks to me; the Torah, not so much.)

So, what are my options? Find another shul, or a havurah? I have plenty of options, at least on a map--but realistically, between theology and politics and aesthetics, I don't know of any, and there's the whole "aid and comfort" thing. Go back to being a free-range (i.e., "unaffiliated") Jew? I'd feel awkward playing and singing at the shul after I'd left it, and those bands--and the friends I have in them--mean a lot to me. Join some other faith community? Believe me, I've thought of it. But what would be a better fit? And the other problems crop up here, too.

Cue The Clash. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shapiro, Moss, Heller, and Me

The latest issue of Parnassus: Poetry in Review is out--and, with it, my long essay-review (13,000 words or so) about Harvey Shapiro, Stanley Moss, and Michael Heller.

Here's a taste of the opening:
In the closing pages of Speaking the Estranged: Essays on the Work of George Oppen, Michael Heller recalls the way a line from the older poet saved his literary life. “It was 1965,” he muses. “I had won a small poetry prize from The New School for Social Research in New York City, resigned my well-paying job as head technical writer for a major corporation and, with my first wife, had taken a Yugoslav freighter from New York to Europe where I planned to live for an extended time.” The pair settled in the Spanish village of Nerja, east of Málaga, where under the Mediterranean sky Heller trudged through a slough of despond. “Here, nearing thirty and on the whim of a minuscule prize,” he realized, “I had thrown a whole career away.” Tolle, lege, came the impulse—and what he took and read was Oppen’s The Materials, flipping first, as was his wont, to the final poem in the book. The involuted opening of “Leviathan,” “Truth also is the pursuit of it,” hit with a visceral wallop. “I read the line over and over,” Heller confesses, “like a chant, feeling a raw ache in my chest. What did the words mean to me? I had only the vaguest idea, but also a sense of wanting to weep.”

As a middle-aged father pushing fifty, I choke up a little myself. You gave up your job to do what? In a few years, that could be one of my kids lighting off for the Costa del Sol. The middle-aged teacher and scholar in me gets weepy for different reasons....
It's a jam-packed issue, with fine looking pieces by Zukofsky scholar Mark Scroggins (writing on Guy Davenport), Lewis Hyde, Langdon Hammer, and others. Worth a look


On an unrelated note, I'm thinking of starting up a new blog--more or less anonymous, with no comments section--in which I can think through my vexed relationship to all things Jewish, and not just poetry. Congregational tsuris, political sorrow, grumbles about the weekly portion, commentary on prayers, etc. And poetry, probably.

I'll get the word out, when it's up and running.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Paul Celan's The Meridian: Final Version—Drafts—Materials

Edited by Bernhard Böschenstein and Heino Schmull
Translated by Pierre Joris
Stanford University Press

The Meridian speech is one of Paul Celan's key works. This meticulous, fascinating, and, finally, compelling edition begins by unlocking what seems to be the work's multifoliate nature. Ultimately, though, and with the help of Pierre Joris's eloquent translation, we discover that that under the many surfaces of this magisterial essay is an abyss of poetic thinking struggling to emerge into the light of our encounter

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