Friday, May 02, 2008

A Poet's Seder

Last Saturday, April 26th, I participated in a Poet's Seder, a retelling of the exodus of Jewish slaves from ancient Egypt using poetry, at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California. In Beyond Baroque’s lobby, we saw Rick Lupert, the organizer of the seder, and his colleagues set up a feast including wine, juice, Passover matzah, macaroons, gefilte fish. I dove in and sampled the excellent gefilte fish as well as received my copy of the Passover Haggadah, the book Rick had published which had poems by 36 poets from around the world interlaced with elements of the Passover seder.

In the auditorium Rick, the organizer of the excellent website Poetry Superhighway, poured either wine or juice in our paper cups to start our poetry seder and then we individually made the blessing over the wine. Then he and his colleague handed out hand wipes so we could wash our hands and say the blessing over hand washing.

In the seder tradition the youngest person present asks four questions starting with, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The first poet to read was Ellen Maybe reading “The Four questions” a lovely poem with Whitmanesque long lines about a family moving from anxiety to serenity as the “family sits shivering for a week, trying to make forgiveness a verb.” Lynne Bronstein in her poem about the four questions “Kasha’s,” gives warm memories of family Seders including a friend observing “that he never saw my mother/so happy as when she sang at Passover.”

Next Pam Ward read “Passover Blues” about her “runaway slave roots/roof jumpin’ fools/ who’d rather rot/ than be tied” mixing up the blues, runaway slaves, and the Passover exodus. For the plagues that Moses rained down on pharaoh in order to convince him to let the Jews go, Claudia Handler gave us her scary poem “Upon Your House” telling us what terrible plagues she will send at us. I read my poem “Miriam’s Song’ which tells when Moses was sending the plagues how his sister was busy sweeping up the mess. Rachel Kahn gave her personal retelling of “dayeinu,” a traditional song that tells what would be enough to free us from Egypt.

Then Rick handed out matzah so the whole audience could read the traditional unleavened bread. For the festive meal we eat on Passover, Elizabeth Iannuci read “At Dinner" about the trials and joys of a festive meal with “yam-fisted toddler’s sticky-lipped whispers” followed by Laurel Ann Bogen reading David Gershator’s from “Seder.” Then Larry Colker’s read ‘Visitation," his poem whichis a lovely evocation about the opening of the door and offering of a cup of wine for the prophet Elijah: “opening the door/is such a steadfast gesture; / a silver cup of sweet, purple wine/is such a heartfelt offering.” For the giving praise of the 4th cup of wine Scott Sonders in his poem “Enosh Introduces Idolatry” praised God.

We found the hidden matzah and then repaired to the lobby for more drink and food. Only a small number of poets from the anthology A Poet’s Haggadah read as the anthology has 36 poets in this marvelous poetic response to the seder and Passover.

You can order the book A Poet’s Haggadah from

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