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
2, or Book
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
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
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 - http://shivvetee.blogspot.com ,
the dream state is the closest I come to the physical world.