Monday, December 31, 2007

Landscapes in Anxiety

The following series continues the building of portraits of the four sages who enter/realize Pardaes. At the same time I am drawing spiritual/existential maps of Messianic Time and the paths/gateways to approach it. The trek takes its toll on the four sages (and their author). Each of them stumble, and we see them now, faent, falling, failing.

I originally pictured 5 landscapes, one for each of the sages, and the fifth perhaps sung by a chorus of Jerusalemite women. One might imagine the chanting of Aicha (Lamentations) in the background, or perhaps Eleni Karaindrou’s brilliant score for Trojan Women. The five poems are:

Ben Azziy:        Exhaustion
Avvuya:          Twisted Sinews
Ben Zoma:       Broken Sapphire
Akiva:             Night
chorus:           Rain

I have sketched out the first 3. As always, it’s impossible to tell if there’s any value in this work, still so raw. Yet to do on the next overlay: sharpen the rhythms and enrich the slant rhyme.

Lanskaeps (Landeskaeps?) in Aengziyettee
Wind karvd roks, slate an shale,
Glassee an blak in a steddy raen.
Ben Azziy huddelz in the last shaedz a kuller
Eroden in kanyenz at the far endz a dusk.

Huddelz in shivverz az thot goez granee,
Abzorbd in shaddoez az the lite groez dim.
Leevz baerlee ster in a faent wind.
It kut intu hiz skin, isee sharp.
Slo and langward. He push aggenst a dark.

This pardaes raen and pardaes wind
Iz rush thru the kanyenz.
It karv a klef between Addom and Seel.
No plase for a root tu kleeng,
And evree breth a battel a will.

Twisten Sinnewz
Avvuya waeks befor the don.
Swimmenz in dreem fragz ov saelen ships,
Or emtee howzez, abbanden an dekay.
He heer leevz ster in a chill wind,
The fraegrenz iz gardeenya, faent in the aer.

Like mooring roeps strechen in ebben tide,
Straenz, a kreeken. Like a waggen
Overlaed with rubbel an brik,
Its bordz sag an axxelz skweeken...

So Avvuya liez in bed,
Hiz stummak overtite an notten.
A faent nawzhya stifelz appattite;
A faesless dred pressez down aggenst hiz chest.

Dutee kallz. He sit. He stand.
Iz ungst remaenz unnaddresst.

Broken Saffiyer
“The kortyardz ov the Hevvenlee Tempel
Ar a pave ov solled saffiyer.
And I am klime tu hiyer korts...”
     Immajjen Ben Zoma.

Rubbel now, az if erthkwake heevz
Until iz Messeyannek Pallas iz kollaps.
Like a mudbrik hows.
Like so much terrakkotta.

Beneeth iz soelz, shivverz ov the saffiyer tielz.
Wuz that Hevven? A lenz intu Seel
Refraks a ten dimmenshen skaep:
     Saelen ships an howzez in dekay;
     Pardaes raenz, blowen chill an faent.

Wuns iz miend kaskaden kristel praer;
Now twisten iz tung tu kerstellen vers.
A Divvine shelter, Divvine sheeld
Serrownd him no mor.
Voisez kry owt, “raze him, raze him!”
Thay kast Ben Zoma owt a grase,
An like Miltenz injerd aenjel,
He tummellen hedlong
Thru the flintee slivverren iz faeth.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Muriel Ginsberg - her life and death

I have not been able to write a eulogy, but these personal thoughts (2 poems) came to me for a matriarch departing, and now departed.

Muriel Ginsberg, Malka Yehudit, may her memory be a blessing.
May Janna and all of Mrs. G's children, "step children," and friends be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

Verses to One of the Mighty Ones
                    13 Kislev, 5768
                    Shabbat Vayishlach

Dear Mrs. G.,
What do you see now,
From your high mountain crags?
     Those real mountain crags --
          Light and energy upthrusting
          Beyond the warmths of stone and blood,
          Of human loves and human wisdoms,
          On the vast edges of cascading star streams.
     Peaks rising out of the world's illusions.

You who are so present,
     Blood and touch and wisdom.
You who would speak in clarities so complex
     They sounded simple.
Like when you said to Janna's question,
     "What should I do now?"
          A cold day, and you said,
          "Wear a coat."
Such a perfect koan; such a volume of poetry
In three words.
     "Oh but really, mom!"
          "You're on your own now, baby."
Another koan that we'll unfold
     For the rest of our lives.

Is Ezekiel's chariot parked at your bedside,
Waiting for you to step aboard?
Or Elijah's wings spread above you,
     All 6 of them (or is it 60,000?),
     Refracting showers of spectral light,
          Blinding to us, so we can't look, can't see.
     Just about the right amount of light for you, now,
          As your strength and wisdom carry you
          Beyond your body, organs, tissues, cells, atoms,
          Infinitely small and infinitely large.
               You can understand that now.
               We can only say it in wonder.

Have I mentioned how awesome you are to us,
Both here and in the palaces beyond
     Where you have begun to dictate new Torah?
Have I mentioned that I am not crying, right this moment?
     I am too much in awe,
          As I watch you step with such strength
          Across the borders.
I will listen closely for you,
     From this side,
     As you teach me things no one else has taught.
          With all my love, I remain...

A Mighty One, Departed
                    28 Kislev, 5768
                    Shabbat Miketz

Now you have crossed over.

Storms, blown in from the sea,
Tore into us through the night.
Across the street a eucalyptus down
     Its roots turned up, a gaping hole.
Floods, and now the aftermath
     Debris and knee-deep muck.

I sit here stunned in my own wreckage,
     Bouts of violent weeping
And in its lee,
     Exhaustion, gaping empty.

Cavalier, so cavalier
I spoke about your journey
And all the awe I felt
At what you might yet see.

That you have taken flight, perhaps, is true.
But back on land
     A hole is dug that we must fill.
     Violent storms that scatter all our thoughts.
     Our halls pile up with each day’s new debris.
The clock ticks. How slow, how wearily.

And all my words, so cavalier,
Are now become my mockers and accusers.

From this I must rebuild again,
Among the ghosts of laughter
And the silences that once were full of prayers.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A difficult vision to bring back to earth, but here's my best attempt so far. Your feedback, as always, will be greatly appreciated.

Skechez for a Therd Tempel

     In the time ov Barrakhu* this iz the seen,
               * Jewish liturgy: the call to prayer

          (But in lower ellevvatenz the gaets ar rare tu glimps
          And the inner koryardz ar oenlee a mith).

The Rume a Merakkelz! All hevvenz reveel.
The Seel konformz, owter an inner,
     Az Addom benden the Miend intu spase.
The iy seez and deklaerz, “Holee!”
Time and spase but shaddo dimmenshen.
“This iz the day ov the Lor. It iz awsum.”

Ware thay dru wotter in the Ferstee Tempel
Now the wotterz por itself forth.
Yu will proffessiy and say, “Marbel. Marvel.”*
               * See BT Hagiga 14B

All the seengerz and all the luvverz
And all the prayerz and all the weeperz
And all the mumblerz and all the grumblerz
And all the kerserz, all ar holee.

Arrownden this holee a holeez ar ruemz
Full ov the arts and Torrahz ov the werldz.
     Here the thot iz being klarafyd.
     Here the sens ar being fokust.
     The saejez ar a spoken. Assend the werd
     Frum owwer unknowen we aspiyer a God.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 6

And this, my last excerpt from Ottoman Beachcombing:

...On to Sivas (SEE vas) where we remained a great attraction to the people. We were blatantly stared at, constantly approached. One after another, people asked, in German or in Turkish, whether we were German. This is the heart of the worker exodus to Germany. Even the gray beards who wear the skull caps and tattered gray sports coats and old woolen pants, the ones who go to the mosque at each call, even they came up and spoke in broken German. Not once have we been approached and asked if we were Americans. Always German or English. Sivas seemed rough and outpost-like, a large town with few cars, but lots of horses and carts. The line-up of push carts at 7:30am, at least 50 of them, waiting at the central warehouse to buy fruit and make their rounds, many with wheel-spokes painted blue, red, and white, with rural scenes painted on the sides. We loved it there, the smells like Afghanistan, like times when we were wilder.
From there to Tokat (toe KOT), and instantly we knew this place was better still, magnificent, untouched, prosperous but old. Sometimes it looked Alpine; other times smelled like Darjeeling. The stark stone mountain and kale (CALL ay; fort) behind, and the Afghani women begging (refugees from the Russian invasion), sitting on the street corners. Not Sivas, but Tokat was the place to come for a month or a year to do research. Tokat even surpassed Bergama in quaintness, beauty, livability. The children, who in groups, would call out "How are you?" as we passed, a chorus that crescendoed when we'd call back, slowly, clearly, "We are fine," repeated and repeated as we walked away. The children who'd giggle when we'd say "Merhaba" (MARE ha BAH; hello), and excitedly whisper "Merhaba sogledi" (SOY led eh; he said 'hello'!). The parading escort of children when we explored the back streets and saw the women spreading wheat on blankets in every open space. The friendly smiles; the curious "Merhaba's" when we'd say "Merhaba" or "Iyi gunler" (EE yee GOON ler; good day). Sometimes five or six would gather round, and we'd chat in Turkish awhile. The boys who held my hands as we walked and explored. Once they asked my age and I said "12 years old" and they laughed and laughed....

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 5

As a reminder, you can find the complete text of this unpublished book on my website, in the Reading Room, in the bookcase marked Ottoman Beachcombing.

May, '83, "Riding a trail to who-knows-where" (Maverick's theme song)
...As the plains slant imperceptibly into lowland, the thirsty vegetation grows greener. The fields are divided by narrow paths or winding gullies. Though the creeks are dried or are barely trickling, deep green reeds crowd the banks. Poplars and cypresses line the roads and are scattered in ones and twos elsewhere, like proud and stately sentinels. Or, you pass over a rounded ridge and see lone cypresses marking the corners of fields, deep green spires against dry soil and grey green crops. This is the epitome of a Turkish valley.

And then there are the other spires, the minarets of ruined mosques and new ones. Where their tops are flat, by choice or by decay, the giant nests of storks can be seen. You see one and you will want to see more. Scan the roofs. Each village has a few storks as residents. Lucky the family that is chosen by a stork to build its nest on their roof, for they are believed to be omens of prosperity and happiness. And I am sure it is true! These birds are truly lovely, and yet awkward in their elegance. Sometimes they can be seen standing on one leg in their nests. Other times they appear, gliding lazily with their legs stretched behind them and their long wings extended casually, black in front and white behind. Or else they are wading in the marshes and stream beds, picking for food with their pointed beaks. You stop. You watch, as if savoring good news. And it will happen to you as it did to me: you will forget what you meant to do. I meant to speak of mosques!...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 4

Continuing in this series, this excerpt from Sketch the Eighth: a letter to friends back in Provincetown.

Summer '83, on the road in Turkey and elsewhere.
...And to Beachcombers in Provincetown, Wellfleet, Beach Point, and places far flung and far fetched, you wanderers, outcasts, mindless laborers, sailors who have taken one too many voyages, and you who stare in wonder or terror at the changes that swirl around you:
Hail! As you eat your steak and potatoes, and smoke your various plant-stuffs, and imbibe your murky liquors and your clear ones, consider us in foreign lands, wandering on strange and rocky beaches; following muddy alleys till they end in ruins or in ancient monuments; no more at home here than anywhere, and no more lost, either; sharing our meals with hobos who know no English. Remember: a cup of liquor is only a cup of liquor, but a moment of pleasure is always a moment of pleasure....

Friday, September 07, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 3

I was living in Provincetown, renovating my family's cottage before I began this adventure into an ancient modern myth. My wife had gone off to Turkey on a Fulbright seven months before, amidst our floundering marriage. It was now early April. Evening began to streak the sky, so I went out to the dunes of the Provincelands. As was not uncommon in those days, in that place, I entered into an elevated state of consciousness. The sun was setting, and directly opposite in the sky, a full moon was rising. Standing between them, a series of profound visualizations cascaded across my mind. At the same time, I realized that I needed to make another effort to save our marriage. I wrapped up my work and was on the road a month later.

The following excerpt continues off where Part 2 (posted 9/5/07) ended. The moment of reunion...

Edirne, Late April

...After I had walked about two k's in complete silence, a car passed. The driver stopped and opened the door for me. I shrugged and got in. My Turkish was very rough, but I understood that he worked at customs and was driving back to Edirne (eh-DEER-neh). Perhaps he was going for lunch, or perhaps he was curious about the crazy American who didn't mind walking all morning. I tried to explain to him that I was looking for my wife who was somewhere in Edirne. No, I didn't know the hotel. No, I had never been to Edirne before. Actually, no, I wasn't even sure if she was there. For the sake of my self-respect I hoped he assumed I simply could not express myself clearly. Surely no one would travel halfway around the world to meet someone they claimed was their wife, in a town of over 100,000, relying on nothing more than a chance encounter on the street. Until I tried to explain my intentions to this man, my plan hadn't struck me as being utterly absurd!

In no time we had entered the confines of Edirne's narrow cobblestone streets. I had no idea where my driver was going, or where he intended to drop me off, but in short order it was clear that he planned to drive around until we found my wife. Thinking back on it, the man must have been utterly fascinated by my madness. We passed over a muddy river lined with trees and parks. Ignoring my mounting excitement, he played the tour guide, explaining that this was the site of the famous Turkish mud-wrestling contest, a yearly event that determined the best wrestler in Turkey. Indeed, the contest was due to begin in less than two weeks, so I gathered. I, on the other hand, was more interested in the bridge we drove over, a beautiful series of stone arches hundreds of years old. He then turned down a narrow street crowded with pedestrians and little shops, and as if it were meant to be (and perhaps it was) I SAW HER! She was thinner, prouder, more aloof than I remembered. I shouted "There she is!" forgetting my driver knew no English, but I think he understood. He quickly stopped and I burst out of the little car like a meteor, shouting "Nancy, Nancy!" She turned, and with a smile like Mona Lisa's (I swear that's how I remember it) we embraced briefly.

How can years of resentment, anger, suspicion, unhappiness, and all the things that can make marriage hell, how could they dissolve so effortlessly, so utterly? We went back to her hotel. I could still hardly believe that she had actually decided to come to Edirne to meet me after all. We made love, quickly, intensely, surprised, then went out to explore this gorgeous town, once the capitol of the Ottoman empire. (We have been back since, and it really is a little pearl.)In the following weeks I kept waiting for the ax to fall, but it never did. After two days in Edirne we returned to her apartment in Istanbul. Day by day, being together got easier, not harder, and we began to believe what we were feeling: restored love. Somehow, between the polarity of a setting sun and a rising full moon a world of negativity had been reversed, and I can explain no more today than I could when it happened.

So we prepared to travel together. Again.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Remembrances from lives past, 2

Continuing from my previous post, this excerpt was written a few weeks later. As a reminder, you can find the complete text of this unpublished book on my website, in the Reading Room, in the bookcase marked Ottoman Beachcombing.

Edirne, Late April
...Nine a.m. and the day was brilliantly clear, and already warm. I found the bus to the border, though I forget how. On the Greek side, the guards harassed me a bit, then let me go. I love walking across borders, and this is both a beautiful, and a very intense one, with Greek-Turkish relations being what they are. Crossing the long, empty bridge, I could hear the sparrows and crows, the frogs and insects, the river bubbling. The banks are marshy and lined with poplars, willows, and dense reed beds. They trembled in the slight breeze. Behind me a Greek soldier glowered. At the other end of the bridge, as I passed, Turkish soldiers saluted playfully. I was laughing, dancing inside. Freude, Freude!
Turkish customs welcomed me. How could they not! Stamp, stamp, and I was thru. I was told that Edirne is seven kilometers, there was no bus, but by my good fortune there was a taxi.... [But] I had already decided to walk, to savor every moment and every image of the beauty around me. I set out, wrapping a turban around my head to be all the more outrageous.
The land was deep green and fertile, and as silent as on the other side of the river. I passed a few groups of women in the fields. In the Turkish manner, they worked together in a line, all bent over, legs straight and spread wide, picking weeds, or planting seeds. They wore baggy pantalons, baggy blouses, and head scarfs, all in bright mismatched floral prints, and they slowly moved in unison down the rows.
After I had walked about two k's in complete silence, a car passed. The driver stopped and opened the door for me. I shrugged and got in....

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Some personal remembrances from lives past

In ancient days I traveled thru a country that has ceased to exist. It was an exotic, multi-ethnic land of peaceful people and travel demons who liked the fresh taste of my thin skin. This mythical land was known as Yugoslavia. Now all that is left are the shattered pieces of its myths lying in the arid earth east of the Adriatic. In coming days I will post some trinkets I collected as I passed thru, on my way to another mythic land, the Ottoman Empire. BTW, you can find the complete set of trinkets on my website, in the Reading Room, in the bookcase marked Ottoman Beachcombing.

Sometimes, moving fast is the only way to stop feeling lost. You outrun it.
I'm going as fast as I can go. As the scenery around me keeps changing, a delusive thought swirls: "I must be getting closer to where I want to be." But that place is always one town out of reach. There is a demon chasing me, or a siren singing, imploring. I have to keep running. The dirt road is shaking this bus to pieces, but it only lulls me. I must be losing that demon in the dust. I must be getting closer!
I am headed for Kraljevo (crawl-YAY-vo), three hours out of Beograd, due south. I imagine it to be quaint, simple, untouched, with plenty of cheap hotels. I'll lay over for a night, catch my breath, and then hop a bus to Pec (rhymes with wretch). Pec is a village 20 kms. from Albania, in the Mokra Gora Mountains, and I'm sure the sirens are singing from there. I passed through it in 1970 on motorcycle and I don't remember the first thing about it. I was running to Afghanistan then, and Pec was nothing more than a dot on a map to me. But since then it has been intruding into my fantasies. So I did some research, read some history, discovered some pictures. It's architecture has been untouched for hundreds of years. Deep gorges, waterfalls, forests, and mountains sculpt its landscape. A medieval Serbian monastery broods just outside the town. Sirens are definitely singing there....

Friday, August 17, 2007

Spiritual Ascenders and those who drown in earth

Sitting in shul some years ago, I saw Lynn Greenhough praying, and then I saw this:

Drawing a Kerten

I saw a wouman rapt in her praer shawl
Leening aggens a wall, werd mermerz.
The shaddo frum her eyz astreek her fase,
A streemen ov teerz, a vort ov praerz.
Between her and the Divvine Prezzens
Oenlee a silk shawl separaten.

Her silken tullet*, aglint ov the lite           *praer shawl
Arrownd a Soel unkloken tu the Lor.

I saw a man hu haz lern wun thing:
     If he kloke hiz Soel, he kan hide frum the Prezzen.
     He kan hide in the Prezzen, and justis will be bliend.
Kloekt in the vaelz ov Ertha he travvael,
Exxempt frum reproof, vale uppon vaelz.

He kareed hiz Soel down tu Addom,
Kloking ov lite in the dens shaddoez.
Mor he hiedz, afrayen hiz Soel
Till it thredbare and seesez tu exxist.

We ar born naked,
But we kan hide ower Soelz tu deth.

But thoze hu begin tu leev the vaelenz,
Assending the ladderz with Yakoevz aenjelz,
Thay hav bin kalld, Preestlee Wunz.
Deziyer tu be tranzparen in the Prezzens,
Thaer Soel a lenz tu a lite.

I saw her, rapt in her tullet, weeping,
Divvine Pressens astreek with shaedz.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Diamoms, reforged

Yesterday I posted Nancy Gerth's "Diamoms" and my critique. The following is the result of Nancy's rethinking the poem. Comments welcome.


On blue ground,
Their loose charm a sudden jubilee of patience
For all the world to wash away,
Grow, phosphoring in shadow,
Round, radiant gazes
Glow-bezeled all with hair;

Pressure-proved and fire-intensed,
Some brew a kindly brilliance that forgives.
Their cradlings--overblued, and hard-edged,
Do rough and darkly trudge,
Save mothers smooth and light the ground
With dust and shine
From their own mother's diamonds.

Seeded with a billion and a half
Old sharded stars,
Earth’s early heart
Slips them one by one
From out beneath the mantle,
And spews them up the self-same pipe
We all must ride to heaven.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Talking to other poems

The following poem was entered by a friend, Nancy Gerth,, into a Mother’s Day poetry contest. She wrote the following comment when she sent it to me:
"I know, I know, my poetry isn't what they are looking for. But I used it for a writing prompt."


Earth’s early heart.
Seeded by a billion and a half old
Splintered stars
Slips mothers one by one
From out beneath the mantle;
Spews them up the self-same pipe
We all must ride to heaven.

Diamondiferous, on blue ground,
Their hidden loose charm
A jubilee of patience
For all the earth to wash away.
‘Til grow, phosphoring in shadow,

Round, radiant gazes,
Gold-bezeled all with hair;
Trans-parents with fair
Clarity and fire.
By pressure harded, heat intensed,
Yet glowing with soft brilliance,

That forgives their cradlings,
Overblue and hard edged,
(Each sees hers the first one offered Mary);
That smooths and lights our way
With dust ground from sharded stars.
-- Nancy Gerth

What follows is my (unsolicited) critique of this poem. Really, a dialog between me, the poem, and the author. I wrote:

“I confess, this is not the kind of poetry I like to write, or read. In truth, it is an exceedingly difficult form to succeed in, at least in my narrowly bounded world. Thus my delay in reading and responding. Please forgive.

“Here's what I think:

“Lots of wonderful word play. I sure hope I'm not the only one that gets it and likes it (but I fear it's outside most peoples' boxes).

“Poem structure: complex superimposition, which, honestly, I doubt most will comprehend.

“Abstract. I couldn't really find a narrative, so it's hard to walk away holding onto anything more than ephemeral image-feelings. The poem's superimposition structure causes or amplifies that. And in general, superimposition is a hard mode to work in. I'm not even sure this is the right place to be trying something like that. [I'm sure *that* makes you feel good. Not.]

“First stanza: I'm not sure I understand it, but it's the best stanza *by far*, ending with a very powerful image of ascent/death/birth.

“Last 2 lines of 2nd stanza: "Til grow" clashes with the tense/movement of the rest of the stanza. I know you want the clash, but I don't think it works. Piss-assed me.

“I don't get what "that forgives their cradlings" refers to.

“Last stanza doesn't wrap it, even tho I know you like the "lights our way With dust ground from sharded stars" image. It doesn't clarify enough into a big bang. In my opinion, it's the momentary clarities that make this kind of form really powerful. But without those clarities that emerge from the relative chaos, abstract poems fall flat, at least on my ears. Actually, I'd try putting the first stanza last. THAT can stand as a closer, for sure. Then do a bit of touch up, if needed, to make it all work.

“But remember, I like diamonds because they're geologically and chemically interesting, not because they're valuable, and as for moms, they are all-too-human in my little mind. So this subject is going to be a hard-sell to me from the get-go.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

Blog talk (blogtok) and stevespell

In September of 2004 my very good friend, and Shivvetee webmaster, Steven Toleikis, had the following brilliant insight. He wrote:

Was reading the paper ystrdy 'bout blogs. (If by some small chance you don't know what they are see: )

They were going on about how they're changing how people communicate, report on news, yadda, yadda and how they also seem to be leading to an evolution in ........ SPELLING! Bingo - I thought, the perfect arena to use SteveSpell! Whatdoyouthink. It might just catch on!

My response:
Well, blogtalk (blogtok?) has definitely caught on. Both my 19 and 9 year olds are teaching me new "words," acronyms, and abbreviations all the time. Perhaps it will indeed open a door of acceptance for stevespell. In that case, stevespell might take on the status of the (dare I say) priestly and "high" form of the language, while blogtok will be the cockney or bronx dialect (or "dialects" assuming the evolution of variants). On the other hand, perhaps blogtok, as the organic form that is evolving in a communal arena, will ultimately become the canonical form, while stevespell will be rejected as a contrived and academic aberration.

There are some important similarities in the origins of blogtok and stevespell, that's for sure. I began with the dual impetuses of normalizing English and breaking open its grammar to allow the infusion of new rhythmic and conceptual energy. Blogtok seems to have a similar, tho less articulated dual impetus: to speed up (and maybe also normalize) spelling, and to allow, or promote, an "individualized" voice (or more accurately, a counter-cultural voice, since there's nothing terribly individual about it). Not so different, eh? Blogtok has the virtue of being organic, grass roots, and interactively evolving. Stevespell has the virtue of being more conceptually articulated and purposeful in its evolutions.

I'd like to say that this proves that popular culture (blogtok) follows art (stevespell). Or more personally, "see, I told you so!" But given how well-known I am (burn!), I think this really suggests something quite different: that both art and popular culture originate (and bifurcate) from the same sources. Artists may hear it or see it or feel it first, but they don't create it. They just try to represent it.

Now a question for you, Steven. Are you suggesting I do something to promote stevespell in the blogtok arena??? If so, please enlighten me to the opportunities and venues.

Note from 8/2006:
It took me 2 years to get enlightened and create this blog, but here I am blogging tokking on my bloggie tokkee.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Versez in a Werld a Kiendness

What follows is an opening vista from one of the tales in “Versez in a Werld a Kiendness,” from my midrashic poem, Pardaes Dokkumen. The Torah identifies 2 somewhat mysterious states of being: tammay (tamai) and tahhor (tahor). They are usually translated as ‘impure’ and ‘pure,’ or ‘unclean’ and ‘clean.’ I would suggest that perhaps a better understanding would be ‘complex’ and ‘simplified,’ or ‘stressed’ and ‘composed.’ Below are the tammay and tahhor versions of this text. You will see what I mean. For those more interested in the poetry than in my analysis of biblical terminology, I have put the tahhor version (edited and refined, simplified, composed, clean version) of the poem first.

A donkee driver wonderd a krouked trael.
Heer he the vareyan korrus ov the lokus,
Draggenfly, krikket, mosketo, bee,
Ov sparo and jay, mokkenberd, ren,
The russellen mertel and rattellee palm;
The smell ov fig iz rotten by the trael,
The supprize ov gwovva, entoxxakkaten vaelz,
Wield orreggenno krusht by hiz weel,
Ukalliptus branch overhaengen the path;
Seez a pachwerk texcher, thikket and krop,
The raw ferro erths, the almond grove,
Feeldz liend with sipress and boogannveya ro,
The ragged hillside in dustee olliv shaedz,
Pasteesh ov rock, chawkee wite tu gray;
The arid woddee and villij enkarvd
In stone and morter, dome and kortyard,
Kut intu the kontor. The land that iz himm.

And the donkee? Wut will he expere?
The grunts ov the man iz the song he heer.
The dust and stone at hiz houf the horize.
Dung in the roed the frangrens he deziyer .
Hiz masterz rod inspiyren hiz gaet.
And brayz he much ov hiz tedeyus way.

A donkee driver wonderd (a wiended)(a krouked)(iz loenlee) trael.
[Heer(z) he the vareyan][He heer(z) the vareed] korrus (ov a)

Draggenfly, krikket, mosketo, bee;
Ov sparo and jay, mokkenberd, (and) ren;
(The Ov) shudder(ing leevz)(ov ukallip)(ov mertel) and rattel ov

The smell ov fig (rotten on grownz),
The (rare supprize) gwovva (tree), its [hevvenlee (wiffs)]
          [hevven perfume]

          [entoxxakkaten (smell)][entoxxen its smell];
Wield orreggenno (brusht krusht) by hiz weel(z),
Ukalliptus branch(ez) overhaengen (the hiz) (path);
Seez a pachwerk (in) texcher, vinyerd and krop,
The (raw ferro)(unplanten) (erths feeld(z)), the (wienden rokkee)
           trael and
Roedz lien(d z) with sipress and boogannveya hej,
The (ragged rugged) hillside in dustee olliv (shaedz greenz),
Pasteesh ov rock, chawkee wite tu gray;
The (dry arid) woddee and villij (all splayd)(enkarvd embedden

(In Ov) stone and (morter plaster), wall and dome,
Kut intu the (erth lan). Thus the landz (tael himm vois seeng seel).

And the donkee? Wut iz he (expere see)?
The grunts ov the man (the song he heer).
The dust and stone at hiz houf he (reed see).
Dung in the roed the frangrens he (luv kno persu seek follo).
Hiz masterz rod all that he feel.
And (brayz braez) he (much ov)(all)(oft on) (hiz the) (tedeyus) way.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Crinkled words on crinkled paper

I recently found this scribbled on the back of a sheet of paper, buried in a pile on my desk. I don't know what I think of it. Still pretty crinkled, for sure, but maybe something to salvage.

Blak Fiyer on Jennettek Fiyer

We ar the holee riets ov Uddoniy.
Hem riet us in twisten lienz ov karben grammerz,
So unlike the werdenz frum us tokken sperets,
     Grammerz so innert an fixt.
The Divvine werd ar liv a chaenjen,
Evolver sowndenz in reflekt uppon themsel.

I iz a werd it tranzform its oen meen
Tu a hiyer levelz or mor frakterd korz.
I am a fraze, I kan begin in a kursen
And end in a blesser a praer.
I wuz wuns an iddeyum, heer missunderstanden,
And thare, inkomprehensel. Pure verben.

I am wuz the riten by a Divvine Hand
That will forj a nu helix in the hiperleenken Torah.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Literary Complexity and its Antithesis, Ambiguity

This relatively short essay is part of an on-going series of musings concerning language in the service of clearer and more insightful modes of thought. The interested reader who is, as yet, unfamiliar with my poetry and my program to restructure English, might want to read the following, to put this essay in context. I would suggest beginning with:

Why I Rite So Funnee [Feb 13, 2010 on this blog].

This essay is also on my website, which contains a number of book-length poems, plus some of my art and manuscripts.
Then I would search this blog for the following posts:
     A docent’s tour of my poetry, Part 1. [July 10, 2006]
     Part 2 of a docent's tour of my poetry. [July 10, 2006]
     The definitive function of true art. [August 29, 2006]
     Musings on a Non-linear Narrative Poetics. [July 20, 2006]
     RE: the poem: Guerden ov Addomz (see 10/26/06) [November 10, 2006]


There are many ways to be accurate in thinking and writing. A marvelous statement on “traditional” understandings about literary accuracy can be found in Richard Moore’s essay, “Seven Types of Accuracy” in his book The Rule that Liberates. However, we have made enormous gains in science that are not reflected in our arts, and especially in poetry. Our language and our use of language have not kept pace with our ability to See. We still measure the accuracy of language by our ability to say one thing clearly, unambiguously.

Sadly for the traditionalists, we have passed beyond a world of one dimension. We realize (or must realize) now, that we live in a highly superimposed world. There are many ways of seeing, many ways of feeling, many ways of knowing, all coexisting, each with its own particular value. There are many competing, and often co-equal truths, that point to a higher truth or truths. An educated, and more importantly, an ethical individual must become aware of them all. This is the job of literature in this era. We must implement these ways of thinking, and not merely theorize about them.

To this end, in my poetry I sacrifice accuracy in one dimension (one level of meaning) to gain accuracy in multiple dimensions (multiple levels of meaning). For some people it makes my writing too difficult to penetrate. I truly regret this, but I will persist in my vision. Perhaps if I explain how it works (how I think and compose), I might be able to make my poetry a bit more approachable. What follows are two common examples of superimposed meanings that can be found in my writing. The first involves modifications of spelling. The second involves modifications of grammar and verb tense, as well as spelling.

On September 25, 2006, you can find a poem entitled “Kinder, Prepare Yurselz.” We will go no further than the title, which contains two variant spellings representing superimposed ideas. The first is the word “Kinder,” which is intended to have two meanings: 1) “to be more compassionate,” which, if I didn’t intend a second meaning, I would have spelled “kiender” to indicate the long “i” in pronunciation, and 2) “children,” from the German and Yiddish. The second variant in spelling that signals multiple meanings is “Yurselz.” The word refers directly to the word “yourselves,” but I have substituted “-selz” for “-selves” to show that this is not simply a psychological process related to the self, but a process that must penetrate all the way into our bodies, into our cells. We children must prepare ourselves profoundly, physically and mentally. And we must prepare ourselves to be kinder, more compassionate. I could delve further into the implications, but I hope that gives a sufficient taste.

The second example can be found on November 2, 2006, in the poem “Plowmen with Taelz.” In the second stanza I write:

     "I meet a plowman a reternen frum feelz.
     "He will say, ‘For jennerratenz I am plow this expanz.
          ‘My lingz ar groen frum its oxxide dust.

There’s a lot going on here! We have the clashing present tense of “meet” with the future tense of “will say.” I did this for a number of reasons. The simplest is that often our experiences are not understood until much later, so that what we hear now, we will re-hear differently in the future. Secondly, time is purely a function of consciousness. I have come to believe that past, present, and future all coexist, but our experience is limited, as Blake says, “by our senses five... which are the inlets to the Soul in this age.” “For jenneratenz I am plow” suggests another aspect of the time-consciousness unity. The moment of consciousness in this statement spans generations. Such a claim has important implications, both for the definition of “self,” and for our understanding of how experience and belief are culturally transmitted. Finally, “lingz ar groen” is fraught with meaning. “Lingz” are both “lungs” and “languages” and “groen” is both “grown” and “groan.” And all the possible combinations of meanings coexist and amplify each other.

Understanding how I write may not make reading my poetry any easier, but perhaps you may be comforted to know that there’s reason, purpose, and intention in it. Perhaps it is only cold comfort.

However, I think it is very important to make this distinction: what I’m trying to do is the opposite of what I see as an overwhelming tendency in modern poetry, that is, the creating of intentional ambiguity, the purpose of which is to create the illusion of deeper meaning(s) without the author’s intentionality of what that meaning is. We know this kind of ambiguity creates merely an illusion of depth, because a byword of modern poetics is that “the reader must create the meaning,” thus absolving the author of that responsibility. I reject this perspective entirely. It is the author’s job to create meaning, and to convey it clearly.

Now, the search for multi-dimensional accuracy is not a matter of (mere) rationalism and logic. Often the choices one makes are intuitive, or based on feeling and sensuality. Depending on the author’s success, the accuracy and richness of the language may be deteriorated or amplified. The author is guided, to one degree or another, by personal, transpersonal, and/or transcendent (dare I say Divine) knowledge, and the literary outcome is dependent on the quality, authority, and genuineness of that knowledge.

In pursuit of the scientific method, modern language has evolved to strip ambiguity, at the cost of reduction in levels of meaning. English has been the leader in this enterprise, thereby becoming enormously powerful (and by the way, a highly intimidating carrier of dangerous culture to those who resist this process). I have tried to break the mold of English, not as an act of resistence, but in an effort to regain complexity of knowledge and efficiency of expression, while holding onto accuracy of language. This is not a strange or unique or aberrant goal. Mathematical notation epitomizes this process. One need only read a modern physics text (say Feynman, who speaks to expert and layman alike) to experience the efficient complexity of thought embedded in mathematical language.

In sum, our art and language have the ability to evolve, and to evolve us, into higher levels of consciousness, but that requires new kinds of language and language tools. Failing that, our art will remain mired in Aristotelian one-dimensionality, and we will, with impotent romanticism, look back on the literature of “ancient” languages, such as Hebrew/Arabic and Sanskrit, as the last bastions of holy ambiguity.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

For my sister; from my sister

Deer wunz
          Du not say, "We hav loss the way."
          But neether say, "It iz shorlee knowen."

My Rizel Frum a Narro Plase
               For my sister, Rizel Laya

It happend wuns, Rabbiy Yosee wuz wokking
Ammung the ruwenz ov the Tempel, the nashenz.
The saekred stoenz wer a sarro dissarray,
The pure morter intu krumbelz and lime.

Pressing between the falen piller
A witen dust on hiz tungz and breechez,
Thare kumz he intu a dirj, a breth
Ov wind, a Dotter ov a Vois*, a rushing.
                         * In Hebrew: “But Koel,”
                         where Koel is “voice”
                         and But is “daughter/feminine.”
                         The phrase is usually translated
                         “Divine Voice.”

And she sed:
     “I hu am dowting; unwerthee, unwerthee!
     “No mor may I enter in dwelling the Lor.
     “I must liv my sarro, an unspeken exxile;
     “No mor may I heer the salmz on my hart.

     “Silens, silens, wut a punnish yu ar!
          “Tu understand no mor the ling ov my Soel*!”
                         * Utherz say: yewth

Then Reb Yosee sat down on the shardz and ponderd,
Tu heer this vois a rizel in hiz Soel,
Him huze hole life a devvoten tu the ling
In hiz Soel, hu kan heer her praerz so klare.

Then this faent breez, this wind breth, Reb Yosee:
     “O Sister ov a Vois, so dowtful, dowtful,
     “Huze iyz ar blerring in this Tempel a Ruwenz,
     “Huze vois iz chok ov the dust all a werl,
     “Lissen, o lissen. Wut ar theze werdz
     “If not a brij? Take wun mor step
     “Bak tu yur Soel, tu yur waeten joy.
     “Weeping, weeping. Return frum yur exxile.
     “Ammung the Ruwenz, Sister Vois, arize!”

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Slow to drink, but deeply

I confess, this one always makes me smile. With thanx to Louis, Reb Arya Zev, who helps me unravel myselves.

Sweet Wotterz
               "The unholy surrounds the holy"
               -- Rebbe Nachman
Thare iz a pool ov wotter
And evree day I see it,
Sitting still and kalm
Reflekting the shaddoez and liets.

I see it and it kallz tu me:
     "Kum dreenk. Defer
     "Frum yur goingz a duingz.
     "This Momen ammung mennee momen,
     "Take a sip and reflek."

A kleer pool in a kleering.
Wy du I feel such dout?
Wy du I hezzatate tu go
Tu take the steps, tu neel,
Tu kup my hand and dip it in?

Thare iz a well, deep and silent.
If yu wisper down, nuthing reternz;
If yu speek, garbeld sowndz will ekko;
If yu drop a rok, yu heer but a splash.

A deep well, not far awway.
Wy duz it draw me
Tu lowwer a bukket, tu werk the pullee?
Wy du I not draw frum it?

Iz thare not a tumarro an marro?
Hav I not drunk mennee time?
Iz it not kleen and kleer and refressing?
Iz thare a feer or a lak ov therst?

Thare iz a gergelling brouk, not far...
A path I kno well; I see it now,
That leedz ammung the russelling boushez.
I louk at my woch and I tern...

Evree path arrownd me overgrowen,
Wen Reb Arya Zev, sent by Reb Yosee
Kumz frum behiend and wochez me awile.
Then he asks, "Du yu theenk the wotter iz safe?"

     "This iz not just wotter
     "And yu ar no littel sipper.
     "This iz a likker that taerz yur Seel,
     "And that iz a mikveh intu Deth-Staets.

     "Wen did yu last dans naked down the street,
     "Or ly konvulsen yur oen vommet?
     "Ar yu reddee tu sakrafise yur luv wun, Izak
     "Or tu maek yur bed in a lyon den?"

Then Reb Arya smielz hiz smielz, and askt,
"How ar theengz?" and befor I waested
Hiz time, he left; and I, I just marvelld.
     Thare iz a pool, dellereyen sweet...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Our 'reason' is a bucketful of one-dimensional correspondences

This, from my collection, Ammung the Ruwenz ov the Tempel, I Herd...

Offeringz Thru the Nite

And the Lor enterd intu Proffets,
Frum Moesheh tu Ezra,
Tu emmerj a Torra thru them.

And Uddoniy askt them,
     "Yu hu kry ekstattek weepingz
     "In Owwer speretchuwel kohabbettate:
     "How will the chieldz rememmer This Moment,
     "And how will the knowen My Prezens be sustaend?
     "In the day wen My rezen iz unfathem.
          "The paganz will hak at the branchen ov my Tree.
          "Thay will wieldlee tare at its illumennaten leevz,
          "And bern owt the nests in its swaying arberz,
          "And the dellakkut frute thay will kast in the street
          "Tu krush with the heel ov thaer pawlish boots.
          "And the faent iyz pepel will refuze tu see.
          "Thay will fill thaer iyz with delluezhen and mith,
          "And no mor deziyer the taest ov trueth.

     "And thus My riten
     "Until yu understand:
          "The offer on its piyer on the Alter all nite
          "Until the morning the fiyer on the Alter keep berning.*
                    * Viyeekra/Leviticus 6

     "If yu keep the fiyer berning all nite
     "Then My absens will kum tu an end.
     "If not, tu hume and tu wut will I retern?
     "Hu iz slaying the bullz?
     "Hu iz laying a hart-wept peese on the flamen?"

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thinking of David van Dusen and broken worlds

In Zohar, the author-prophets talk about the Divine Light shining so brightly, so powerfully, that it shatters the vessels intended to contain it. (A Divine engineering flaw? A flawed Kabbalistic metaphor?) In any case, the result is that we, in the 8th day now of creation/creating, are mandated (and womandated) to carry on the process of creating, while the Divine withdraws and observes our work (avodah). The Gnostics, who see the Biblical "God" as evil, would translate "avodah" here as "slavery." More traditional readers of Bible would translate it "holy work."

Meddattaten a Braken Vessel

We ar the 8th day, werld kreyatenz,
Extenden the Divvine Prezzens
Deeper intu matter, expanderz ov time.
Intu the rejenz still void,
Intu the klowdee werldz arrownd Addom,
Dens mist ov tohu and vohu,* raenz a Divine Life.
               * see Genesis 1:2

Kan it be? This! Godz werl,
Konshents hewn ov Uddoniy?
Kan thare be rejenz a remoov frum lite?

We ar the 8th day, dessenden with life,
Addomz upspringz: the Devoraz, the Ruets.
A long kerv ov departen, now reternz.
Ternd owwer baks on kulcher ov konker,
On the krude koedz and hewmen sakraffise.
Attanenz tu preesthoud, we unvois the rebbel seel
Frum Nebbakh-kannezzer tu Soddee Jehod.

Kan thare be pepelz remoovd frum Lite?
Hewman life unyoekt frum Uddoniy?
Kan thare be konshents withowt a Kawz?
It kannot be!

But wut ov them, the hatrenz and vilen?
Them ov kersen, thaer faeth a wor?
Thay ar not seelz soen ov evel.
Thay remoov the Lite frum themsellz.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Written in Beijing

Beijing Journal: Hutoongs

I know I cannot see far
Among these alleys and their crooked, aching ways.
But step by step and veil by veil, I pick my way,
As if thru gauzy curtains; as if thru dusk and shadows.
Another dead end. I turn and brush aside another veil.
It slides across my face in whiffs of charcoal and kabob.
Beyond, I push back courser curtains of dust and fumes,
Swirling in the wake of a motorized rickshaw.

With each step I traverse a momentary universe.
This one is bordered in a frayed brocade of rubbish.
And then, behind a curtain of airy music,
A man squats on an oily stone, picking for ball bearings
From a pile of motor parts. Like a fine machine, he rolls them
Between his finger and thumb, to test if they are worn.

Now, sitting within a lacy cloud of boiling tea
Two men play a board game with ivory disks,
Thinking, slamming, sliding, then... I've passed beyond.

On a slower board, a roof tile slides.
The world thinks; it slides some more, and slams
With a muffled crash into a hidden courtyard.

Wondering, searching, I bend and peek
Around a low and narrow doorway framed in banners.
What say these hieroglyphs on crimson drapes
Fluttering around doors into a still more narrow path?
Aha! I see the broken roof tile, where it lies
Among a stack of crates, a twisted broom,
Some broken pots, a heap of coal.
So much more, but these veils close so fast...

I come to another set of doors, all patched and shrouded
With hammered plates of tin and heavy bolts.
Someone else’s hand throws askew these veils.
Inside, a wall of broken bricks, aslant to the vertical.
By art or by decay, it achieves a certain grace,
As I pass by. And that veil, too, turns once again opaque
Within this maze of glimpses and conjecture.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

More on science and religion

In his insightful comment to my last post, David Van Dusen <> says:

"The dogs will fight." & "There is a (divine) gradient to nature." --- Indeed! --- And a divine gradient, also, to the blood-feuds, cock-fights, and peace-by-other-means we wage over Divinity, and Nature?

Well David, a "Divine gradient" does not mean a straight line. To the contrary, it means a tendency with many irregularities and seeming inconsistencies, and even much that appears retrograde.

One example: The Romans destroyed the 2nd Temple and did their best to destroy Judaism, but what resulted was a renewed Judaism, Rabbinic Judaism, with a profoundly powerful social, moral, and intellectual trajectory. That’s the Jewish view, and we’ve been saying it for 1800 years, but you would be hard-pressed to find much Christian (or Muslim) acknowledgment of that point of view until the enlightenment was well under way (1750+). In fact, in Europe (as opposed to the US, whose founders used Judaism as an important model) it only became "reasonable" to openly talk about Judaism’s historic value and validity after the military destruction of European nazism. That war, which dismantled the last vestiges of Europe’s moral and intellectual "authority," allowed a more open and honest reevaluation of Judaism and Jews. In sum, in spite of, shall we say, 95 generations of active resistence, the Divine gradient, which we Jews believe establishes Judaism’s priesthood role, persisted. Israel was restored, and Judaism’s fundamental importance to Western and Middle Eastern culture is now beginning to be acknowledged and studied by people other than Jews.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The clash of science and religion, in its 'discussions' section posed the following question to its readers, under the title of The Clash of Scientific Understanding and Religious Truth:

"Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that the controversy isn't between evolution and creationism, nor is it whether God exists. The issue at heart is that man cannot be both made in the divine image and be equal to other species.

Are you convinced? Does human capacity for understanding our physical world separate us from everything or do biological similarities trump religion? Can science and religion ultimately be synthesized?"

I responded:

I think the Reb is a bit inaccurate in his thinking here. Science can not, and will not extinguish the divine spark in humans. That spark is an existential fact, tho many may not be attuned to it. Neither will science diminish our (apparent) higher consciousness of the divine; that is, higher as compared to other animals. The conflict between science and religion is really not about truth. It is about modes of thinking, and authority.

As for authority, the transfer of power from religious institutions to secular ones (or vice versa), was and is a turf war. The dogs will fight.

I think the more interesting issue is modes of thought. Put in its simplest terms, science asks how, and religion asks why. For example, we would not go to an evolutionary biologist to get an answer to why we humans exist. We would rather ask how we (probably) came to exist here. We would ask 'why are we here?' to a person who specializes in addressing questions of ethics and values.

However, the 2 modes of thinking are critically dependent. The Hebrew Bible often addresses the issue of how, and produces anecdotal evidence to describe the process. For example, Beraysheet/Genesis begins as a clearly scientific text, addressing the issues of origin of the universe (1:1+), origin (and evolution) of species (1:11+), origin of culture (2:16+, 6:18+, and other places), and origin of nations (10:1+). Science has filled in a great deal of detail in some areas.

But the evolutionists (and I am being specific here for the sake of brevity), for all their focus on process, have failed to grasp and work with an essential fact: there is a (divine) gradient to nature. What drives evolution, a process that goes from simple to more complex? There is no survival advantage in greater complexity. Indeed, it violates the principles of inertia and entropy. Specifically, "life" appears to be non-inertial in its behavior. There are no physics to answer the questions of what sets life in motion, what resists it, and what impels it. Life is anti-entropic in its trajectory towards greater complexity and organization. The evolutionists simply ignore these essential "details" and not a few other issues as well.

In sum, there is no conflict between science and religion, even tho there are many foolish and uninformed (or ideologically pre-formed) people on both sides.