Intro to the Reading Room

Where to begin with reading my writings...

The texts available on this website span over 30 years of writing. They document the long evolution of my thinking. I would guess that the earlier pieces are more accessible than the later poetry, since my poetry was visioned step by step, with each succeeding piece built on earlier concepts and explorations.

Ottoman Beachcombings is a prose work, easy to read, divided into three books. It is a travelogue of my live adventures, beginning in the former Yugoslavia, and proceeding around the eastern Mediterranean. Mostly, it describes scenes far from the beaten tourist paths, at a time (the early 1980’s) when travel in this region was safe, easy, and cheap. I was in high spirits on this five month trip, and my tales are told with wide eyes and many a grin. Click on one of the following links to read that section of Ottoman Beachcombings:
Book 1, Book 2, or Book 3.

The only other prose writing in the Reading Room is a slightly more challenging piece. My wife and I spent two months in Turkey in 1977. She was doing groundwork for her graduate degree in Islamic Art History, and I was her mostly-fearless travel guide, and occasional nemesis. In 1977 Turkey was still off the edge of the world for most Western travelers. Like the Bible-belt of the US, the interior of Turkey was, and is, deeply devout, but of course, it is Muslim, not Christian. I had never really come across religious fundamentalism before, so what I found in Turkey was fascinating, but hard to understand. My story,
A Pilgrimmage to Mecca is an attempt to explore the issues of faith, experience, and scepticism, without committing to any position. It is written in a style I would liken to Gerard de Nerval’s: lush and personal. I have deeply religious friends who have criticized the piece for falling clearly to the sceptic’s side. Other friends, who are rationalists, have criticized it for falling clearly to the religious side. From that I have concluded that I have done my job well. I believe it’s a memorable story.

For the fearless, my poetry is meant to take you on a journey that will reshape your world-view. It is not light reading, but I certainly hope it is not oppressive or ponderous either. My early teachers and guides were Shelley, Blake, Milton, Nietzsche, and the Prophetic Writings of the Hebrew Bible. I have learned from, and loved Greek and Sumerian literature, and Dante, as well. Further down the road I found new life and awe in the writings of Chaim Bialik, John Neihardt and Fred Turner. As for Pound and Eliot, may they rot in oblivion.

Although not my first long poem, by any means, In the Harvest ov Nations is the poem with the earliest origins on this website. It’s the best place to begin if you’re not familiar with my poetry. It is a narrative in three books, about a nuclear war and the building of a new society. Book One is named
Old Wirld; Book Two is Passaj; and Book Three is Nu Wirld. As you can see from these subtitles, I have already embarked on my journey of transforming English (for more on that subject, see my little essay, “Wy I Rite So Funnee”). I confess with some happiness, that upon preparing this poem for the Shivvetee Reading Room, I reread it for the first time in many years, and it brought me great pleasure and amazement. I hope it does the same for you.

From 1982 to 1986 I worked on a long mythic poem that remains largely unexcavated from my notebooks. It morphed into The Song ov Elmallahz Kumming, a poem in six books. This is a historical poem, in a manner of speaking. It is the story of a Divine Messenger (Elmallah) who is sent to Ertha to graft a conscience into her. Each book is a particular historical moment.
Book 1 is Elmallah’s first impression. Book 2 is a prehistoric panorama. In Book 3 Elmallah takes the form of Dumuzi, of Sumerian myth. He is the husband/worshipper of the goddess Innana. I have rewritten that myth, holding closely to the original narrative, but giving it a new intention. Book 4 is set in Constantinople, as a retelling of the story of Justinian and Theodora, rulers of Byzantium at its pinnacle. From my extended stays in Istanbul I gleaned the detailed backdrops for many of the scenes in this book. In Book 5 I move to medieval France and the remarkable story of Heloise and Abalard. It is a very cinematographic retelling of their history, the penultimate scene in Elmallah’s awakening of Ertha. Finally Book 6 is set in the Shoah (the Holocaust). A young woman devoted to Kalonimus Kalman, the great sage and rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto, escapes from the nazi death grip to carry a Torah scroll to Palestine. This book is still a work in progress and must be read in its rough copy version (a formidable task, I daresay). And this brings us to the current state of Elmallah’s awakening of the human Soul. I have reread this richly textured poem many times, and yet it still astonishes me. I often wonder if I was the author, or merely the stenographer.

Ammung the Ruwenz ov the Tempel, I Herd... is the first manuscript in which my poetry takes on, not just a Jewish flavor, but a devotedly Jewish voice. It is a collection of gleanings from the corners of fields that have been planted and harvested by my many teachers. In these times, the sages harvest in such abundance, that even gleaners like me come away with visionary wisdom. You will hear the songs and prayers and revelations of a profound Jewish renewal that is reshaping the world, in spite of everything. These poems have no overt narrative connecting them as a single story, but they are grouped thematically.
Book 1 tells the tales of the spiritual guardians of Israel. Book 2 describes the laws that guide us to messianic times. Book 3 is a collection of miracle stories that have happened to me.

In 1972 I had a moment of clarity and wrote, “What is spirit to the flesh is flesh to the spirit.” I didn’t understand that aphorism until ten years later, after watching my perspective move in a slow sweep from the physical and literal towards the spiritual and analogic (or metalogic). Another 25 years later, and now I see that this movement has become the defining feature of my poetic development. My focal point has moved progressively to more rarified levels of consciousness. In the Harvest ov Nations is grounded in a personal and psychological perspective. I wrote The Song ov Elmallahz Kumming over a 15 year period. I began it more or less on the same plane as Harvest, with a fairly linear and continuous narrative. But by Book 3, the Innana story, the narrative began to fragment, as the focal point oscillated between the human and transmigrant (a phrase I’m coining here to convey a very literal transpersonal state). That became the dominant mode for the rest of Elmallahz Kumming. With the poem Ammung the Ruwenz ov the Tempel, I Herd... physical reality faded into a metaphor for higher states, including the transmigrant and the Prophetic (in which one approaches the Divine Imperative). In the poem I am currently composing, The Pardaes Dokkumen (available only on my blog - , the dream state is the closest I come to the physical world.

Back to Courtyard
Poetry, Writing, and Art by Stephen Berer © 2010. All rights reserved.