Poetry of the Shofar / The Shofar of Poetry

After a long hiatus, I’m back, to post on Whirlwind, my blog about poetry, the arts, and whatever else passes through me.

Each year, Jews the world over listen to one of the crudest of instruments. In the midst    of abundant prayers, we people of the book, the word, the Torah, the ones who value interpretation of what is written, listen to the orchestrated blasts of a ram’s horn. It strikes me as a paradox, though quite poetic, to do so. It is a mitzvah to hear the shofar being blown. It’s also a commandment. And yet. The shofar blast is the place beyond words, beyond meaning we can articulate, beyond time. Did the shofar blow at the moment of Creation, which is what we are celebrating every year? Did the Jews in the desert hear the shofar when Moses communed with God on Mount Sinai? I don’t know. But I do know that there is something in us, verbal as we Jews certainly are, that yearns for what lies beyond words. What even words can’t say. And so we turn to the animal. The ram. Sign of the akedah: the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, a story we read from the Torah on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Sign of the prohibition against child sacrifice. Sign of the mystery. Sign, perhaps, of the wound in creation. The sound of suffering. The sound of liberation

[The photo, by the way, is of Antelope Canyon, in Arizona. 

It’s how I picture the inside of a shofar.]

For me, the shofar is like poetry. We go to poetry to be moved. To hear language that is encantatory, even revelatory. Metaphors and images that leap in ways that are not entirely rational. But surrounding every poem, each line of verse, is the white space: the shofar of silence that punctuates the sound of words and phrases. Silence we feel more deeply because the words all point to the ineffable. If poems are prayers, then the shofar is the space in between our prayers. The shofar of space. The shofar of time.
We think that we, as humans, are given something that the animals are not given. But it is only humans who need the gift. The animals already embody it. Thus we take up the shofar and blow: Tekiah, Teruah, Shevarim . . . blasts, toots, wails, blares, laments.
I go to synagogue each fall to pray: to recite the words in melodies my ancestors sang but also to stop and hear what lies beyond the limits of speech. What points to the void. Or the transcendent one. The shofar. A footnote: Tonight I went to hear a program honoring John Cage at 100. It was an alternation, a dialogue, of music between Cage and Pierre Boulez. It was the first time I had heard Cage’s 4’33” (1960) performed. It is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Well, there is never complete silence. Just the instruments and musicians were still as was the conductor. Perfectly still. But the sounds, the clicks, the paper rustlings, throat-clearings, all the ambient noise in the audience at Columbia University’s Miller Theater, where I was, including all the buzzing in my head, as in everyone else’s heads, I suppose, continued. This, too, was a shofar of silence.

Word for Word Bryant Park Reading

Word for Word Poetry

Word for Word Poetry features Poetry of Ekphrasis

7:00pm – 8:30pm | Bryant Park Reading Room

Outside under the London Plane Trees at Bryant Park: 6th Ave. and 42nd St.

Sharon Dolin reading with:

Eduardo Corral

Dean Kostos

Michael T. Young

Rain Venue(s):

*The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen

20 West 44th Street (between 5th & 6th Avenues)


Bilbao in my dreams

Yesterday was a day of meeting Bilaoans, including several poets! In the photo below, I’ve just finished a terrific lunch with my Bilbao Greeter, Marivi Puente (great that her last name means “bridge”). The man with the beard and sungasses is the poet Javier Arnaiz; the middle two are the restaurant owners, and Marivi is on the far left. Later in the day I met another poet named Santiago Liveral and we exchanged books.

What an amazing idea/experience this Bilbao Greeters is. Www.bilbaogreeters.com. I found it by chance on the internet.

But I must get this word down: Tzakoli, which sounds like “chokoli.” that’s the white wine I’m drinking in the cafe Iruna down the block from my hotel, a place with photos of Hemingway on the walls.

The main thing I want to say is why I’m an hispanophile and an italophile (and it remains to be seen if I’ll become a francophile): relationships with other people count more than anything. Bilbao has an ongoing cafe/bar life that is as true for twenty-somethings as it is for eighty-somethings.

What has happened to NYC? Where I’m lucky if I see a friend every 3 months. And I hear my experience is not dissimilar from many others.

It’s difficult to post from a place where I’m too busy living, though it was interesting to see how quickly the conversation turned to money and the fact that no one in Spain buys poetry books. Sound familiar?

But there is a group called Noches Poeticas that puts on performance evenings in various spaces, including bars: an evening that intermingles poetry with music and theater. As supposedly, everyone is rapt during the poetry recitations. Perhaps Bob Holman’s Bowery Poetry Club comes the closest to achieving that idea. They’ve finished their programs for the summer, but I’d love to return some day to jam with the locals.