VIEW IMAGES:
  1. Naftali Bacharach
    (Hebrew 17th Century)
    A Poem for the Sefirot as a Wheel of Light
  2. Moses Cordovero
    (Hebrew, 1522-70)
    from The Garden of Pomegranates
    "The Unity of God"
  3. Abraham Abulafia
    (Hebrew, 1240-c. 1291)
    from Life of the World to Come
    "Circles"
  4. Hebrew, medieval
    The Masora Calligrams
  5. Jacques Gaffarel
    (17th century)
    Celestial Alphabet Event
  6. Wallace Berman
    (1926-76)
    from Image of the Wall



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JEWISH VISUAL POETRY

              Rabbi Eliezer said
                      "prayer 'fixed'?
                      "his supplication bears no fruit

                       . . . . . . . . .

            the question next came up: what
                     is FIXED?
            Rabba & Rabbi Yosef answered
                     "whatever blocks the will
                     "to MAKE IT NEW

                                  (Talmud)

Writing, as it creates a visible surface for language, makes possible forms and processes that go well beyond the mere transcription of sound. Languaging of this kind can be seen as creating a range of visual or concrete poetries, often but not always associated with religious and mystical/magical traditions throughout the world. In the Jewish instance the dominant building blocks are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the means employed, as with other such traditions, show real analogies with contemporary forms of poetry and art. The most striking of these are the many types of language happenings that form the "mantric" base of traditional Jewish mysticism and kabbala: "masoretic" visual poems; letters of the alphabet conceived & linked as numbers; chartings of a universe constructed and conceived on basis of the alphabet; word-events used in the transformation of older texts &/or the creation and discovery of the names of God; sound-poems arising from that process or in the wordless chanting of religious celebrants, etc. It may be possible also to read a continuity from these into the work of contemporary poets — both Jews and non-Jews — who have used "visible language" to explore and question the equivocal relation between language and reality.

As a first pass at these works, examples are drawn from Jerome Rothenberg’s Exiled in the Word (co-edited with Harris Lenowitz), Copper Canyon Press, and published oiriginally as A Big Jewish Books: Poems & Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to Present, Doubleday-Anchor, 1978.




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