In dreams begin responsibility [Radical Torah repost]
One last poem at the BAP blog

Contemporary psalm at Best American Poetry

I've posted another poem at The Best American Poetry blog, this one a kind of creative version of or contemporary poetic response to psalm 147. The poem is called Seven reasons (Psalm 147.)

Psalm 147 is part of psukei d'zimrah, the collection of psalms recited near the beginning of morning prayer. This section of the service begins with an opening benediction praising God Who speaks creation into being; then comes an interlude of Biblical material; then psalms 145-150; then another interlude of Biblical material; then the closing benediction (yishtabach, also called the "blessing of song.")

There is much which is beautiful in the classical psalm which didn't make it into my poem. I begin with verse two of the Hebrew, about rebuilding Jerusalem, and verse three, about God Who heals the broken-hearted and repairs their sorrow. Then I jump to verse eight, about the One who covers the sky with clouds; then to verse fourteen, about God Who "scatters frost like ashes" and "casts out ice like crumbs." (That's in the traditional rendering.)

In commentary on this psalm (found in Lawrence Hoffman's excellent My People's Prayerbook series -- the volume on Psukei D'zimrah, naturally enough) Ellen Frankel writes, "Blessings flow earthward because of our gratitude, not our pride... What we interpret as impediments to our freedom and ease -- snow, frost, and ice -- are just the opposite in the divine household; they represent the wool, ashes, and crumbs of God's handiwork." I'll try to bear that in mind as the snow continues to fall today...

My poem owes much to zen abbot Norman Fischer's interpretive renderings of the psalms (collected in a book which I reviewed in early 2007.) Though I deliberately didn't check his book to see his version of this psalm before writing my own, I did learn from him the technique of speaking psalms not about God but to God -- embedding the I/Thou relationship in the very shape of the poem at hand.

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