The Arty Semite

Music and the Laws of Poetry

By Jake Marmer

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Courtesy of KlezKanada

If, as Shelley had it, poets are the legislators of the world, then at this past year’s KlezKanada Poetry Retreat their law was music. Hosted at the large, week-long klezmer festival, the poetry was surrounded by accordionists, tsimbelists, people tapping out rhythms or tuning their violins. I was privileged to be co-teaching the retreat along with poet, scholar, and performer Adeena Karasick. It is a further privilege to introduce some of the poems, written at the retreat, to Forward readers. This kind of Jewish poetry, as it became clear throughout our sessions, doesn’t merely escape definitions. It drops words like notes into a stewing, communal, dialogical collective, quite like the one that unfolded amongst us.









Her room
Hinde Ena Burstin

Her room
is dark and musty and smells
of muscles that pulse
and pull me in.
Her curtains are made of tea
steeped in sandalwood.
Her sandals lie in a corner
teasing my shoes
to join them
in gay abandon.

She has racks and racks
of ties on display
by her table.
Khais and khamsas
nestle among books
by Dropkin and Shtok and Korn.
A scarf draped on top
begs me to undress
their words so fresh,
yet written so long ago.

By the glow of the candle
are lines and lines of
numbers that have some kind
of meaning
I’d like to explore.
A half-eaten apple
tempts me to know
the Unknowable,
while a shawl snakes itself
round a lamp
that lights like a moon
in full glow.

I’m a fool to enter this cave
of forbidden delights,
and yet,
my tastebuds are all aflame.
Salty windows
bitter paintings
sour faces
sweet bed
with a velvet cover
to caress away my woes.

I hear breath quicken
Hers?
Mine?
Or both?
I take it all in
from my place by the door
smell heartbeat
hear muscles
taste velvet
touch sweet
see a chance
and so I dare
to enter.


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