April 12, 2016

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Poetry Friday, Poetry Shabbat

Tabatha is hosting today's Poetry Friday
round up at The Opposite of Indifference

Last week, Jews all around the world celebrated the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

Baltimore-based poet Charles Rammelkamp invited me to attend a Poetry Shabbat -- a Sabbath service at his temple -- during this special season. Poetry and worship have long been intertwined, dating back even further than the Hebrew Psalms. 

David the king and poet has long been a popular subject in art.
I couldn't attend the service, so I did the next best thing: invited Charles to tell us all about Poetry Shabbat.

You may remember Charles Rammelkamp from his guest post during my vintage Poetry Postcard Project last winter. See that post, in which Charles exchanges regular postcards with his twin, here.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone! Enjoy this post from Charles.


For three years now, Beth Am Synagogue on Eutaw Place in Baltimore has had a Poetry Shabbat during the High Holy Days.

It takes place during the Ha’azinu parsha (Deuteronomy 32:1-52), which occurs on a Sabbath between the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot.  

During the harvest festival Sukkot, families build
a temporary outdoor shelter, decorated with fruit,
vegetables and leafy branches.
The scriptural precedent/justification is the Song of Moses, which is part of the parsha, one of two songs or poems Moses speaks in the Bible. Ha’azinu is Hebrew for “listen.”

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
Let my teaching drop as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
As raindrops on the tender herb,
And as showers on the grass.

At Beth Am, poets of varying styles read one poem of their own and a poem by another poet on a given theme chosen by the rabbi, Daniel Cotzin Burg (himself a part-time poet. See his poem in The Potomac issue # 11 ). Poetry Shabbat, in fact, was the brainchild of Rabbi Burg, who took over the pulpit at Beth Am three years ago.

The first year (5552 – 2011) the parsha was read around the time of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in the Jewish calendar.  The theme, appropriately, was teshuva – repentance, or forgiveness.  The second year, with the parsha being read closer to Sukkot, “Jewish Thanksgiving,” the theme was joy.  

This year, the theme was renewal. Seven poets participated, Carol Berkower, Zack Berger, David Drager, Liz Moser, Brenda Serpick,  Claire Stoltze, and me, Charles Rammelkamp.

I’d love to share my poem here, “The Gematria of Five Sisters,” a poem about my mother-in-law’s funeral in Delray Beach, FL, last November (the day Barack Obama was re-elected, though that was not the aspect of “renewal” I was going for), but the poem is going to be published elsewhere – in Star 82 (  -  soonish, so I shouldn’t).  ( I do have a Jewishy “postcard” in the current issue, which I note since my previous guest blog for Laura was on postcards – 

This photograph inspired Charles's prose poem,
which you can read at Star 82 Review (link above).
Take a good look at what those two food trucks are selling.
The other poem I read for Poetry Shabbat was “God’s Grandeur,” by the Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was also a Jesuit priest.  It’s such a killer poem and really nails “renewal.”  (Nobody minded the reference to The Holy Ghost!)

God's Grandeur
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The poets addressed various aspects of “renewal.” To close, here’s Zack Berger’s wonderful renewal poem, “Hagode shel Peysekh,” which originally appeared in Tidal Basin Review. Wish I could show you everybody’s but one will have to do.

Hagode shel Peysekh
by Zack Berger

Have you ever seen one people taken out of another?
I woke up once and felt all the Jew drained from me.
I felt miracle prickling my skin. A horseradishkait
no longer numbed my sense. Now I can freely be.
Hobbled by particularism no longer, I can draw
my inner child from every bloody river. Sorrow
is the plague of the unrooted khreyn. Wit
is the biting jelly of the khreyn-uprooted worm.
I saw a person taken out of another. Half-asleep,
the half-draped half-pregnant half-mother murmured
“a do-”
ot o do
a daughter
The river stopped:
Live in your bloods!
Live in your bloods!

Thanks for visiting again, Charles. For more "Poems of Jewish Faith and Culture," stop by the Poetry Foundation's page of that title. Does your church, synagogue, or place of worship have a poetry service? Please tell us about it in your comments.

CHARLES RAMMELKAMP lives in Baltimore and edits the online journal, The Potomac. His collection entitled Fusen Bakudan, involving missionaries during the Vietnam war, has just been published by Time Being Books. A chapbook of poems entitled Mixed Signals is forthcoming from MuscleHead Press.


Diane Mayr said...

Thanks for sharing this, I love learning about different cultures and traditions and poetry.

jama said...

What a beautiful idea to have a poetry service! Thanks to you and Charles for telling us more and sharing these poems. :)

BJ Lee said...

I was fascinated by this poetical peek into a different culture and tradition! Thank you for sharing!

Tabatha said...

Glad to have Charles back to tell us about this inspiring tradition. Thank you!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

A wonderful tradition. It opened my eyes to something new and inspiring today!

Liz Steinglass said...

What a great tradition. It seems like a very natural fit.

Janet said...

Thanks for sharing this! I loved learning about this tradition, and I never tire of "God's Grandeur."

GatheringBooks said...

What a very powerful poem (Hagode shel Peysekh) - so moving. It's my first time to hear of a poetry service too. Seems fitting. :)

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Hi, Laura, and thanks, Charles. Hopkins is one of my favorites but you helped me read "God's Grandeur" in a whole new light.