Forms of poetry; forms of life

Exploring poetic forms

Since creating this blog and embarking upon this chapter of my life journey nearly one year ago, I have taken to experimenting with various forms of poetry.

From the first, I had no intention of becoming a poetry blogger. I only wanted to create a personal website on which to host my blog series about my year of mourning for my Papa, which had originally been published on the Times of Israel.

But then I wrote a poem in Papa’s memory; that was a spontaneous decision… I think I was feeling that my ‘kaddish’ blog needed a cover page ~ and a poem seemed suitable. I hadn’t written any poetry for some two decades before that.

Long story short, that first poem whet my appetite for creative writing (especially poetry), and I found other poet-bloggers on WordPress, which, in turn, led me to the d’Verse poets’ community (specifically through Dwight’s blog). By way of d’Verse and other writers, I was gradually introduced to forms of poetry that I had never heard of or imagined.

What fun!

An unexpected insight

Living according to Jewish tradition

I am a Jew, and I am very invested in [exploring] my Jewish identity. This comes across in my poetry and prose all the time. Heck, my blog is named for one of the most universally known Jewish prayers.

So I suppose it was just a matter of time before I made the connection between forms of poetry and forms of living ~ namely, traditions.

It’s important, for the purposes of this blog post, to understand that traditional Judaism is very ritualistic. We have traditions for putting on our shoes, eating, using the bathroom, sleeping, making love, etc., etc.; you name it.

Now, I would say that the majority of people who strive to live their lives according to all of these religious strictures believe that this is what God wants of them. At the very least, this is certainly the official party line; it is what one hears declared from Orthodox pulpits all across the world.

But for those of us who don’t believe “God said so” (or – “men said so on behalf of God”) there is rather a problem. Many traditions are, at best, simply meaningless in and of themselves. If I (we?) want to consistently follow ancient traditions without becoming deeply unhappy, I (we?) must find other, personally meaningful reasons to do so.

The inspiration of limitations

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what it is that draws me to these many forms of poetry. Why not simply write free verse poetry, as so many others do?

For one thing, there’s an element of curiosity for me in my poetry adventure. After all, these sundry forms were developed by brilliant poets around the world, throughout the ages – who am I to dismiss them out of hand? Also, I’m constantly wondering – how do these many differing forms affect the intending meanings of my words?

Beyond that, I would like to develop my classic poetry skills before letting loose with my own style. Picasso, for example, didn’t create cubism until he had mastered classical painting.

However, above and beyond any of the above reasons, I would say that I find these endless poetic forms fascinating and even inspiring. I come up with images and ideas for poems that arise from the forms themselves – the struggle against the limitations they impose upon me births pieces that I never would have imagined, let alone imagined coming from my mind.

And this has led me to think… could the strictures of [Jewish] tradition also inspire one to live a more creative, more fruitful life?

The limits of limitations

To an extent, I think there is truth in my insight, but there is a clear “flaw” in it as well, from the perspective of a [Jewish] traditionalist.

The “flaw” is this – my fruitful excitement at exploring poetic forms is not only a product of the forms themselves – it is no less a product of my search for forms that suit my shifting moods and thoughts. I could not honestly say that any one poetic form best suits me.

Of course, a committed traditionalist would probably argue that there are many different traditional paths within Judaism, and they would be correct in their assertion… but my counterargument would be just as sound: there are many more traditional paths outside of Judaism than within it, the vast majority of which I have never explored.

That said, the greatest caveat to this counterargument would be my mortality – at the end of the day, I must decide how live life based upon inherently finite experiences, just as we all must.

So… to what extent should I embrace the forms of life that I was born into?

Addendum: Some words of wisdom

By coincidence, I just came across the following video on Lesley’s blog; and it’s the perfect bookend to this blog post of mine:

41 thoughts on “Forms of poetry; forms of life”

  1. Thank you for linking back to my blog, David, and also for the follow. In the last two weeks, I have walked away from my religion and I hope that none of my posts offend you. I mainly want to focus on the joy of life and the wonders of our world, but now and again other subjects might crop up as I try to work my way through my thoughts.
    There is so much more to say about this post, but just had a message from daughter to say she’s coming over tomorrow and I have months of cleaning/tidying to catch up on. Panic stations!

    1. I have walked away from my religion and I hope that none of my posts offend you.

      Lesley – believe me – that is one of the last things that would ever offend me.


  2. I’ve often wished that I could get an infinite supply of the writing prompts that English teachers used to give us for creative writing. Having that seed of an idea, the faintest outline of a structure, rather than just staring at a blank page, is very conducive to creativity.

    Having a ritual structure to work within is also really helpful, because you can get creative within that structure but it gives you a container, a sacred space, a shared framework.

  3. I’ve been in poetry workshop settings before and WordPress is the first poetry community I have come across where the focus is more on formal poetry rather than free verse. (It might be that I’m used to the “write a shitty first draft to a ridiculous prompt in a ridiculously short period of time” – hard to write a villanelle under those conditions.)

    I hear the argument from both religion and poetry that the formal traditions lead to more creativity, I think there is truth to it. But I also don’t believe in formal tradition only for tradition’s sake and I give myself permission to break those rules when they stop working.

    1. I also don’t believe in formal tradition only for tradition’s sake and I give myself permission to break those rules when they stop working.


      I don’t follow all the rules by any stretch of the imagination… but I am hesitant to discard them because I perceive them as binding the Jewish people together (and as having bound us together throughout the millennia). That’s important to me… so every time I stop adhering to a religious norm, I feel sad and/or guilty about it.


      1. For me, it depends which tradition we are talking about. Some traditions (eg. Passover seder, visiting the relatives graves before High Holidays, shemira duty for a deceased person, leyning Torah / Haftarah, etc.) are ones for which the pull of tradition and connection to the Jewish people throughout millenia , is a significant (though not the only and not necessarily the primary) motivator. Then there are other traditions (eg. mechitza, kol isha, women not leyning or leading services) for which tradition is not a good enough reason for me to keep this.

        1. sure. yes, I should clarify – there are some traditions (like some of those that you mentioned) that I consider outdated and/or even distasteful and have nothing against discarding.

  4. Really liked the way you expressed yourself here. Learned a lot about you in the process and your admirable striving for learning the classical forms first.

  5. love your new found love of poetry, writing and stretching yourself to learn and grow. Your perspective is inspirational. Your deep digging of meaning woven into your cultural and jewish background are jewels to be polished. Love this video too David and your thoughts here!

  6. Love reading about your poetry journey… It has been fun seeing you attempt various forms, no doubt!! Splendid workπŸ‘β€οΈ

  7. Some of the best art in the world comes from oppression – or limitation in kinder times. I used to teach poetry to children with learning difficulties. Wonderful stuff came out if I was strict on structure or types of words or which senses to consider. A lot could be concentrated into a small thing. the same with art. restrict colours or media – and hey presto the imagination begins to work. Challenges can prove very fruitful and creative.
    Think underground.

    1. Thanks for the insightful comment, Basia. I think you’re spot on! Do you think, based upon your experience, that children who have inherent limitations (disabilities) are especially able to tap into their own creativities?


  8. Thank you for sharing your perspectives, David. I found this post very interesting. You are a gifted poet, and a kind and intelligent human being. I am glad you found your way to writing poems of all kinds. ❀ Take care.

  9. I love how you describe your exploration of poetic forms and the freedom you find in them, and also how you find parallels in following Jewish traditions.

    For me, I find a tend to favour either ballad stanzas or sonnets (when the mood takes me) or a kind of free verse with an underlying rhythm. I shy away from syllabic forms as I like rhythm, though I do like to write the occasional tanka. I’ll shut up now πŸ˜‚

    1. I think it’s important to get to know our comfort zones as poets. There’s something to be said for challenging ourselves, but it’s equally important to know when particular styles are simply not working for us…

  10. Traditions – old and new can inform our actions and spur us to new activity. I love the structure of poetry forms as well as that of religions. I believe you are on to something. Humans do best with boundaries and whether they are internal or externally imposed can make all the difference. Have you explored the Kimo poetry form?

  11. I think there’s a lot to what you said about the strictures of Jewish tradition potentially inspiring a more fruitful and creative life. For me, the structure and traditions are part of the appeal – not even necessarily what they are, but just the fact that they exist. Living a life with virtually zero rules and boundaries sounds appealing at first glance, but it can be stifling in its own way – I can choose anything, but it’s all so overwhelming that I choose nothing.

    1. EIF, I agree with you… although that doesn’t answer the question (as I know you know it doesn’t) of which boundaries to impose upon one’s self.


  12. I learned early on as a designer that limits are your friend. I’m sure that applies to life as well. My objection to religious limits is that most religions wish to impose their beliefs and limitations on everyone, not just themselves. And they are pretty inflexible. When a design limitation doesn’t work for what you are trying to do you look for some other way to solve the problem. Its a framework, not a straight jacket. (K)

    1. My objection to religious limits is that most religions wish to impose their beliefs and limitations on everyone, not just themselves. And they are pretty inflexible.

      I share your difficulty with this, Kerfe.


  13. Fascinating concept, David. I’d like to discuss ‘Jewish traditionalism’ further, but my laptop has fallen ill and is at the computer doctor’s being treating. I am sporadically using my husband’s PC and right now he needs to work, so I am off.
    Shabbat Shalom!
    Air hugs,

      1. Shavuah Tov, David, and thank you for a vote of confidence.
        My son and the kids are here, so I got temporary access to my son’s tablet. I am just answering comments for now.

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