Sunday, April 06, 2008

Last weekend, a publication party and a bookstore wake

I'm reading Sara Forth's Eve's Bible: A Woman's Guide to the Old Testament because Sara is my friend, a feminist theologian, and published one of my poems "Miriam's Song," in her book. Sara had her book party last Sunday in at a spectacular wooden house in Brentwood full of fantastic folk art. I read along along with Sara, of course--the star--and also Terry Wolverton, leading L.A. poet/novelist/writing teacher; and Dinah Berland, who read from Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda's Book of Prayers. Fanny Neuda was a 19th century German Jewish woman who was the first Jewish woman to write the first full-length book of prayers; Dinah has rendered them into English, helping bring Neuda's lovely prayers to our consciousness.

In her introduction in her book to my poem Sara actually was the first person in history who understood the poem! I was touched. I mean I've read from my book Shlulamith, which has poems in the voices of biblical women, and people just don't understand it. Some poetry audiences often think I'm some kind of fundamentalist for writing poems inspired by biblical woman--odd. Sara said,

"When contemporary circumstances required specificity the Bible lacked, the rabbis would start with a biblical story and then, using its characters or context, spin a new tale that addressed the question at hand. Modern women of many religious persuasions have used the form to create everything from short parables to book-lengths works. Here is one example of what biblical Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza calls a 'narrative amplification' of an existing story 'Miriam's Song' by Julia Stein.'

When I read that, I nearly cried, as that was the first time in four years that my book has been out that someone actually understood it. Sara's party was splendid, with the interweaving of voices who read; Sara and her family's great hospitality; and the breathtaking house with a skylights over a two-story living room. Sara's book is terrific midrash of the Bible, bringing the Bible alive to us once again, helping us connect, explore and understand.

After the publication party, I then went to the closing party for Dutton's bookstore Brentwood. As I arrived the courtyard was packed to the rafters, people on the stairs, and more people on the balcony. Dutton's staff gave talks at the microphone including Doug Dutton himself who has just been one of the most terrific most wonderful supporters of writers in Los Angeles for decades now. Doug has two loves: books and music. He's going to teach music at LACC, Santa Monica College, and Colburn School of Music, but he and his bookstore will be missed by thousands of us.

Then poet Scott Wanberg who worked at Dutton's for many years read a marvelous poem about the store. Then former mayor Richard Riordan said a few words at the mike how in the Irish tradition this party was a wake for a bookstore--and a great wake it was.

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