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:

Gerard, or: Me

My first ekphrastic poem

Inspired by Gerard Richter’s ‘Abstract iii’

My fingers brush across the keys
Clickety clack, clickety clack
Symbols appear upon the screen
Clackety click, clickety 
I've nothing else but what I mean

The middle

What changes most is color scheme
Two in one, two in one
Black cloud travels to the right
One in two, one
Explodes in red like ruptured heart
Two, one, BLAM!

A d’Verse poetics prompt:

‘The Poet as Painter’

As instructed by Laura at d’Verse, the first half of my ekphrastic poem was written before I had seen the painting itself, but only with the title of the painting in mind.

After seeing Gerard Richter’s painting, I wrote ‘Through the middle’ and then went on to write the second half of my poem.

Artists want to hear that…

No matter how short the presentation, how fragmentary the excerpt, or how early the stage of development, artists want to hear that what they have just completed has significance to another human being. This natural condition can be so intense at times as to appear desperate.

– Liz Lerman & John Borstel, ‘Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process’, page 19