“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that, I try to make sure my experiences are positive.” — Maya Angelou
My first experience of Maya Angelou, who died this week at the age of 86, happened in high school. We weren’t required to read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in a literature class and my all-girl’s private Catholic school definitely didn’t have a Black History course. No, the first time I heard Maya Angelou’s words was out of the mouth of young black women about my age performing “Phenomenal Woman” at an event for the black social organization I was a member of, Jack and Jill. I’d definitely heard poems read and recited aloud, but this was the first time I felt the words of a poet come to life. We were in our teens, so the material was a bit mature, but the fact that the artist put her own spin on Ms. Angelou’s timeless words of black female empowerment and an awareness and pride of the female body left an impression on me.
More diligent and disciplined parents, tracing the first months of their kids’ lives, fill out pretty diaries, recording the minute progress, saving bibs, pasting photographs — in short, getting started on the great family blackmail file. We’ve made a few feeble attempts in that direction, too, but the efforts weren’t exactly sustained. Our son’s first birthday, however, loosely coincided with the publication party for my first book of poetry, “Jazz Talmud,” which contained, among other writings, a few frenzied efforts to capture some of the particularly memorable moments and sketches of our son’s life. To coincide with National Poetry Month, (April) I recorded them:
Jake Marmer is a poet and performer, and a frequent contributor to the Forward.
Adrienne Rich has died, and a voice who provided invaluable insight to the discourse on motherhood, on feminism, on Jewish identity and on sexual politics, has been stilled.
Rich, who was 82, died Tuesday at her home in California. Described in her New York Times obituary, as “a poet of towering reputation and towering rage,” Rich was a prolific writer who authored 32 books of poetry and prose, and indefatigable political activist.
Born to a Gentile mother and a Jewish father, Rich grew to identify strongly as a Jew. When a student at Radcliffe, she married a man from an observant Jewish family, and together they had three sons. Though her early poetry had been praised by W.H. Auden, she stopped writing, for a time, when she married. It was domestic life that brought her back into writing, and into her evolving identities.
Jake Marmer, who writes about poetry for the Forward, is an excited father-to-be. He shares what it’s like to be an expectant dad in this piece of performance poetry, titled “Kicks”:
Marmer is working toward his Ph.D. in comparative literature at CUNY Graduate Center and developing the Jazz Talmud Project, which combines poetry and music in neo-Talmudic performances. His next performance is tonight at the Cell Theater. Information is at www.jakemarmer.wordpress.com.