BLESSING THE SEA – ISSUE 9, July 2021 “Poetry: A Secret Path to the Soul”

The David waterfall at Ein Gedi, the Judean Desert © Lane Igoudin, 2019

“What did we learn at Ein Gedi? To make love in the water.
What else? That the mountains are more beautiful as they crumble.”

— Yehuda Amichai “Return from Ein Gedi*

Maybe it’s because I don’t teach during the summer, I have a lot more time these days to enjoy poetry. Twice a week, for the last 3 weeks, I’ve been getting up at 6 am to hear, read, and sing piyyutim (liturgical poetry) from various Jewish traditions (Ladino, Moroccan, Yemenite). The course is taught by the renown singer Yahala Lachmish from Jerusalem, hence the time difference. One thing I’ve learned – quite imperfectly I should confess – is how a particular singing mode or ornamentation can reflect a particular emotion encoded in a poem, as the sound doubles down on the meaning of a line.

In my current post for Applied Jewish Spirituality, I describe a fascinating technique I learned in part from the Vipassana teacher Philip Moffitt for turning the very act of poetry reading into a meditative exercise. A selection of contemplative poems included in the post helps to try out this practice.

My personal literary discovery this summer: the astonishingly deep and modern poet Yehuda Amichai.

To quote from one bio/overview of his work, Amichai held “monumental events of the world’s historical narrative responsible to the individual histories of those who lived through them. . . Using imagery from the Bible and the mystical tradition, Amichai, a committed secularist, never ceased his dialogue with God.” In a recent online talk as part of the Opening Doors‘ Heshbon HaNefesh poetry series, the translator and scholar Robert Alter, who edited a definitive collection of Amichai’s poems, reviewed the poet’s legacy and read his poetry live in English and Hebrew. Most stimulating, emotionally and intellectually.

In July, I had the pleasure of participating in another Heshbon HaNefesh (“Accounting of the Soul”) event – a writing workshop held on a rooftop of a downtown LA highrise. The poem I am sharing here – “A Life Not Lived, A City Not Departed” – was written and read there.

In another recent reading, I learned a new performance format. I’d taped myself reading the essay “The iPad Wars” for City Tales, an annual storytelling event produced at LACC, and sent it to the organizers for post-production.

The show went live on YouTube June 4. Previously published in The Citadel, “The iPad Wars” is about a parent confronting his teen tech wiz about her flourishing, yet potentially dangerous social life online.

This last item is about contemplative writing – a topic related to contemplative reading I mention above. I recently published an academic book chapter on self-reflective writing in language studies. My site post “Writing Inward: The Transformative Power of Self-Reflection” is the chapter redux/rewrite, explaining critical self-reflection in a broader context. If applied linguistics / critical theory / literary studies your game, take a look.

Reading, hearing, writing poetry are all wonderful ways to ‘turn the lamp inward’. I am glad to share here my recent discoveries, and would love to hear from you about the poetry that inspires you, the poems that illuminate and kindle your inner light. Warmly,


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