My first poetry reading

Poets of Babel

By very happy coincidence, Shoshana Sarah, whom I discovered ~2 weeks ago here on WordPress lives only five buildings down from me.

It’s a funny thing… Not so long ago, I was kvetching here about not connecting with any Israelis on WordPress, despite having met so many friends throughout the world; and then, purely by chance, I stumbled upon Shoshana’s poetry group here in Jerusalem (‘Poets of Babel’).

Shoshana and I established a correspondence, and she informed me that Poets of Babel meets several times annually. I wasn’t expecting a get-together any time soon, but, as chance would have it, Shoshana arranged a poetry reading in her family’s sukkah (traditional booth for the Jewish Festival of Sukkot) on Sunday, Sept. 26; and she graciously invited me last Wednesday.

The sukkah

Shoshana Sarah’s sukkah, Sept. ’21

I would be remiss not to mention Shoshana’s sukkah in my telling of the event. Honestly, Shoshana’s sukkah puts ours to shame; she and her family are among those who seriously invest in creating a special space in their sukkot.

The photo I’ve shared above provides a panoramic view of the space, so it doesn’t give you a good sense of the sukkah’s size, which is not very large. With eight poets (and a couple of small children) sitting on cushions and mattresses in the festival booth, there was very little room for us to move around.

Honestly, I was hugely impressed at the magical hominess of the sukkah… Sheets of many colors and designs covered the walls, along with dresses and some other items of clothing. There were a lot of colorful rugs and mats on the ground, and various bells and other items (like stockings) hanging from the ceiling. Also, there were reading materials there.

In the photo, you can see open windows and a woman standing on the right, moving aside some of the sheets to let in more air. The weather was quite warm yesterday, and with eight of us crowded into the sukkah, the light breeze was very welcome… But when I first entered, It felt that having the walls entirely covered with that eclectic variety of blankets and fabrics imbued the space with the feel of a cozy pocket dimension…

The poetry reading

The reading itself was very comfortable and friendly; the vibe was welcoming and warm, although, of course, that was to be expected. Also unsurprisingly, seven of the eight poets were women; I was the only male present until the very end when another man arrived (although he arrived too late to share a poem).

Something I had not expected is that some of the poets did not read their own works. One woman read a prayer from the siddur (Jewish prayer book), which related to the holiday; one played her guitar and sang a song translated from Portuguese into Hebrew; one read a short poem and a short story in Hebrew, neither of which were hers; and one woman read the work of a French poet in the original. All of the readings were moving; but I had been under the assumption that each participant would be sharing their own work.

Of the four original pieces that were shared, two directly related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which felt to me very natural. See, it’s not that I am constantly thinking about our political and military reality in Israel, for I am not. Rather, it’s simply that our local conflict permeates our lives in Israel… Even when we’re not thinking about it, it’s in the air. Listening to local poets’ reflections on various aspects of our shared, lived experience felt like home to me in a way that sharing poetry online cannot.

Here on WordPress, I have published poetry that is both Israel- and Jewish-themed; and this is empowering because these are the subjects I know best: Write what you know, as they say. Also, it’s heartwarming to share tidbits of my culture and heritage with people throughout the world who otherwise would know little about Judaism and Jewish people.

Of course, an in-person get-together of Israeli poets would, inherently, be a very different experience than ours on WordPress. Actually, now that I think about it, I haven’t actually written any poetry on the subject myself…

Anyway, after the poetry reading, I stayed a while and chatted with the few who remained, including Shoshana. That too was lovely, and one of those present is an organizer for a group called Jerusalism, which, among its other goals, aims to “organize and lead the community of people interested in Israeli literature in English.” And… Jerusalism also offers open mic events!

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