Announcing April Dailies

AprilDailiesOne of my readers asked me recently, "Are you going to publish your National Poetry Writing Month poems? Because otherwise, we're going to have to resort to just printing them out." My mother said the same thing to me last year. In both cases, I promised that I could improve upon a sheaf of print-outs.

On that note, I'm delighted to be posting today to announce a new chapbook -- April Dailies! Here's the official description:

Writing daily poems is a discpline designed to prime the pump of creativity and to hone attention to the ideas, phrases, and everyday miracles which are a part of every life.

This chapbook collects the results of an annual month-long experiment in attention: daily poems written during the spring of 2013 and 2014, now revised for publication.

(It also replaces the chapbook I put out last year, which contained last year's daily poems plus the commentaries I'd posted alongside them -- that one's now officially out of print.)

Here are this year's poems, arising out of recent travels in Jerusalem and Hebron, Pesach and the journey into the Omer, small-town country life -- and last year's poems, arising out of parenthood, brushes with sorow, and spring.

Many of the poems have been substantially revised from the original versions posted here during NaPoWriMo.

I love the discipline of writing daily poems, especially in the context of a community of others who are engaging in the same practice. It's a lot like writing weekly poems, a practice which I've had off and on for years. (See 70 faces and Waiting to Unfold, both published by Phoenicia.)

Whether writing daily or weekly, the process mimics my former life in small-town journalism. The relentless constancy of regular practice mitigates against perfectionism, and that in turn lets me access a different kind of creativity.

Writing daily poems keeps me attentive to the poetic possibilities of ordinary life, just as daily prayer practice keeps me attuned to living with prayerful consciousness. I hope that reading them brings some joy to you.

Available at for $5.70 at, and for £3.50 at and €4.00 at Amazon Europe.

April Daily: a chapbook of 30 poems

As of April 30 2014: this title is currently unavailable - a revised second edition will be out soon, containing daily poems from 2013 and 2014 (though no commentaries alongside -- the poems stand alone.) Stay tuned!


As of May 2014: that second edition is now available! Read all about it: April Dailies.


AprilDailyCoverNational Poetry (Writing) Month was fun this year. Over the course of April I wrote 30 poems: about parenthood, morning prayer, a rooftop New York city bar, a walk to the beaver dam, Iron Man and the golem of Prague, and more. The vast majority are poems I never would have written if I hadn't been doing the NaPoWriMo experiment this year.

Earlyish in the month, my mother emailed me and asked if I could make all of the poems available to her in one file, easy to read, with the commentaries alongside -- maybe even in hard copy, something easy for her to thumb through? I said sure, I'd be happy to do that.

And then I realized that as long as I was making a single file with all 30 poems and all 30 commentaries, I might as well make it look pretty and make it available to anyone else who wants it, too. So I asked Twitter for help coming up with a chapbook title, and, well, here you go.

I feel a little bit silly sharing a new chapbook when I've just announced the release of a new book. Let me be clear: April Daily is the result of a month's worth of play; Waiting to Unfold is a real book, the product of years of work and hours of editorial back-and-forth!

So, y'know -- if you're just going to buy one, get the real book. Seriously. But if you're into daily poems, or if you participated in NaPoWriMo and you're curious to see what I did with the product of the month's work, or if you're just a completist, here it is. (And Mom, don't bother ordering a copy -- one's already on its way to you, just as I promised.)

With deep thanks to 30/30 poetry and NaPoWriMo for the prompts. Here's to National Poetry Month!

Daily April poem: riffing off of a famous phrase



Ben Zoma said:
Who is wise?
One who learns from everyone,
as it is written: from all of my teachers
I gained understanding.

Who is happy?
One in pyjamas watching cartoons;
one who rejoices in the combination
of puddles and rain boots;
in trains of any dimension.

Who is frustrated?
One who yearns for a cookie
upon waking to the dawn
even though it is known
cookies are not a breakfast food.

Who is fortunate?
One who says thank you
for the trees, for the cars,
for the new Spiderman undies,
for the moon.



This poem grew out of a NaPoWriMo prompt which invited us to take the first few words of a famous saying, plug them into a search engine, and make a poem with what we found there. It's traditional to study Pirkei Avot -- "The Ethics of the Fathers," a compilation of rabbinic wisdom -- during the Counting the Omer, so I thought of the saying from Pirkei Avot (chapter 4, mishna 1) "Who is wise? One who learns from everyone, as it is written: from all who taught me, I gained understanding."

Anyway: today's poem arose out of that bit of Pirkei Avot. The first stanza is a direct quote from Ben Zoma; the other stanzas are my own invention. Consider it a fragment of Pirkei Imahot, the Ethics of the Mothers.


Daily April poem: a Biblical erasure poem


Any person shall be holy.
You must treat them as holy
outside the sanctuary.

No man may
enter behind the curtain --
instruct them throughout the ages.

As soon as the sun sets
if a daughter marries
she may eat.

When any man
presents a burnt offering
it must be a male.

A sacrifice must be
blind, or injured, or maimed
bruised or crushed or torn or cut.

Sacrifice it
so that it may be
in your favor.



The folks at NaPoWriMo invited the writing of erasure poems. I've been reading daily erasure poems from Dave Bonta at Via Negativa for a while now (see The Pepys Erasure Project so far), so I was excited at the prospect of trying to create my own. Instead of working from an existing poem, I worked from part of last week's Torah portion, parashat Emor -- specifically from Leviticus chapters 21 and 22.

As a poet, I'm fascinated by the erasure process. As a rabbi, I do want to point out (in case it isn't clear) that this erasure process has substantially changed the text of Leviticus -- this is not what the Torah portion says! It's interesting to contemplate the version of scripture which would have argued that only women may enter into the Holy of Holies, or that in order to be fit for sacrifice an animal needed to be damaged rather than whole.

Below the cut: images of the erasure, so you can see how these words were carved out of the text.


Continue reading "Daily April poem: a Biblical erasure poem" »

Daily April poem: sidewalks (or lack thereof)


It's all downhill from here:
the winding driveway, the road
even the turn onto Silver
toward the cave and waterfall.
When cars careen past we walk
single file at the asphalt's edge.
Once we reach the beaver dam
the surface turns to hardpacked dirt,
gentler beneath our boots.
The chorus of frogs grows loud.
Look, a mallard duck sails
slow and regal across the pond.
A tiny plane soars, buzzing tinny,
across the blue expanse of sky.




This poem was written for the "sidewalks" prompt at 30x30. It was inspired, at least in part, by the experience of coming home after two days in New York City. Life in the Berkshires is a lot quieter, and there's a lot less pavement! Still, there are things happening here, and things to see and admire -- they're just...different.


Daily April poem: a triolet


Above the city, rabbis talk
laughing in a rooftop bar.
I lost my scarf, our crosstown walk --
above the city rabbis talk
of love and colleagues, get a lock
on each others' guiding stars.
Above the city, rabbis talk
laughing in a rooftop bar.



This triolet (written to a NaPoWriMo prompt) was inspired by a nightcap at the Gansevoort with a handful of my fellow Rabbis Without Borders. It's a bit flimsy -- there's not a lot of substance to it; I'm curious to see if I can write a triolet with a bit more gravitas -- but it was fun to write, and I figured y'all would enjoy a poem that's not about religious practice or my three-year-old for a change.

Edited to add: for those who are curious, here's no NaPoWriMo defines the form: "A triolet is an eight-line poem. All the lines are in iambic tetramenter (for a total of eight syllables per line), and the first, fourth, and seventh lines are identical, as are the second and final lines. This means that the poem begins and ends with the same couplet. Beyond this, there is a tight rhyme scheme (helped along by the repetition of lines) — ABaAabAB."


Daily April poem: inspired by a Yiddish folksong


Ribbons and pearls adorn
this golden land, and messiah

will come this very year.
If we can only believe.

The man who taught me this
wept every time he sang

his body shaking with yearning
for the world redeemed

where no oil fires burn
and no mothers grieve

where no one would pour water
down another man's nostrils, or

pack a handmade bomb into a square
where joyous throngs have gathered.

I don't know anymore
what would bring her, what

he's waiting for, but
tradition says moshiach sits

with the lepers outside the gates
with the sick and poor and frightened

waiting for us to offer
a drink of fresh water

a clean bandage
an embrace.




This poem was inspired by the Yiddish folksong "Shnirele Perele." You can watch/listen to it on YouTube, read a bit about its history, and read the lyrics here at Perry Greenbaum's blog if you're so inclined. I love this song, though the melody (and meaning) wrenches at my heart.

The last few stanzas refer to the Talmudic story about the messiah sitting outside the gates.

Daily April poem: lifecycle event


The family huddles close together.
The mountain beams, now devoid of snow.
The tasseled fringes of prayer shawls flutter.

The photographer calls encouragement --
turn toward him, that's right; adjust
the lapel, good, now smile, look at me

-- and all I can imagine is our own son
awkward and gangly at thirteen, draped
in a loose and flowing brand-new tallit

the opposite of the swaddling blankets
we pulled tight around his flailing limbs
just now before I blinked my teary eyes.



I wrote this poem on a Shabbat afternoon after presiding over the bar mitzvah of a young man in my congregation. I've been part of many b'nei mitzvah ceremonies before, but this was the first bar mitzvah I've done since our son was born, and the realization that someday it'll be our kid up there was poignant for me.


(Another) Daily April poem: words chosen by NaPoWriMo


Powered by an everlasting generator
until bedtime when you shove your fists
into your eyes. Curl beside the giant tiger.
Playgrounds are miraculous. So are trains.
Changing from blanket sleeper into clothes
is a tragedy, sunscreen is an insult.
You're mercurial as April weather, sunny
with occasional snow squalls. I don't want
to squander your long arms clenching my neck,
your solemn rendition of Twinkle Twinkle,
your long willowy body sidling into our bed
to mark a new day with a blue bear kiss.



I'm posting two poems today because on Tuesday I won't be posting a daily poem here -- I'll be sharing something exciting and don't want anything to draw attention away from that day's post.

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt includes a list of words and invites the writing of a poem which uses at least five of those words. I wound up using six of them: generator, curl, miraculous, mercurial, squander, willowy. I love prompts like this one because they often impel me to work with words I wouldn't otherwise have chosen. Unsurprisingly, I worked their words into a poem about parenting, which is so frequently the subject matter on my mind.


Daily April poem: unprompted


The first spring peepers clamoring outside every window
The last of the old year's strawberry vodka swirling in my glass

the first dream about reading in an impossible bookstore
the last week before the book emerges, slick and glossy-blue

the first tefillin I've worn in months, wrapping my arm snug
the last heavy boots of winter, overheating my tired feet

the first time he lifts the silver cup and doesn't spill a drop
the last blessing won't be obvous until the next doesn't come



This poem was written on an uneasonably warm evening as the rain began to blow in. I don't think it requires any explanations.


Daily April poem: same word


-- and some days are grey from the start
of the too-early dawn, and when I hear
footfalls on the stairs I can't bear
to open my eyes. The sky is striated,
sadness and overwhelm in alternating bands.
And tomorrow will be the same, and --




This poem came out of the NaPoWriMo prompt which invited us to use the same word at the beginning and the end of a poem. Beginning and ending the same way put me in mind of depression, which can take the form of feeling as though nothing will ever change and the clouds will never lift.


Daily April poem: a greeting


I sense you waiting in the wings, but
my nearsighted eyes can't quite make you out.
What are you holding: a new sun hat?
A pair of floaties, to help you overcome
the swimming pool's vast aqua deeps?

I can't wait to press my lips
against your sunwarmed skin.
Even if you still hunch your shoulders
to telegraph abject woe
when I put the Milanos too high to reach.

If you're anything like the little boy
who plays hide-and-seek with his ballcap
and asks me to pretend to sit on him
so I can leap up in mock surprise,
we'll get along just fine.

But say: would you consider
letting me sing to you again?
I wasn't ready for that window to slam shut.
If I have to, I'll murmur while you're sleeping,
serenade you as you dream of four.



The folks at NaPoWriMo invited us to write poems of greeting. I found myself greeting the next parenting milestone: our son turning three-and-a-half. As of this writing, that milestone is (unbelievably) only about six weeks away.

Daily April poem: a "translation"


Whatever: bewig yourself with volts,
hit the sauce this evening, go vague.
It renders me villainous, sere and low.
I'm dishy, muddled, made of raw helter-skelter.
Follow me. This place is a zoo.
Empty your glass, empty your glass,
empty your glass.




This poem began its life as a "translation" of The Bee-Keeper by Hungarian poet István Kemény (per a challenge from the NaPoWriMo folks). I don't speak Hungarian, so I rendered the syllables in rough approximation, based on their sounds. Then refined and smoothed the "translation" a few times.

I wound up with a poem about getting hammered. It has absolutely nothing to do with the original poem (which is beautiful and worth reading!) -- but it's an interesting short piece which I wouldn't have written if I hadn't started out with my phonic rendering of the unfamiliar Hungarian words.


Daily April poem: unprompted


When we planted this red maple
it was barely a foot high,
shorter than a frill of kale.
We'd been married five years.
We dug a little hole and hoped.

This week the snow is finally gone
and we walk the perimeter, unearthing
sandbox toys, faded cars,
plastic tee and bat.
I almost don't recognize the tree:

sprawling gangly, reaching
over my head toward the clouds.
Ten years make a solid foundation
for curled-tight leafbuds, balanced
across branches, ready to burst free.



This poem wasn't written to any prompt; it arose on its own. I wrote it on the 20th day of the Omer, the day of yesod (roots, generativity, foundation) within the week of tiferet (harmony, balance). I had that combination of qualities in mind as I worked on the poem. Hopefully their presence is manifest.


Daily April poem: address book


An iphone can't be a palimpsest.
And the old one I used to use,
the one with a crack in the crystal

has lost its second life as a toddler toy --
won't hold a charge anymore
to power zebra or water sounds.

The pale blue onionskin paper
of my mother's red-bound datebook
still crinkles between my fingertips

but who will feel nostalgia
for smudged old screens
once the data has been transferred

to its afterlife
in a shape
we can't yet imagine?



This poem was written to the "address book" prompt at 30/30 poetry.

I haven't had a paper address book in years, nor a paper datebook, though I remember the way they used to get written-on and overwritten, outdated data scrawled-over, marginalia sprouting like mushrooms after a rain.


Daily April poem: cobbled out of a day's errands


If you can't make a poem out of that,
she said, I'll be disappointed --

but I've forgotten what
the raw materials were: our visit

to the Ghanaian cobbler
with racks of dusty shoe polish tins?

The international market
with the forlorn plastic Santa

in the window, boxes of fufu
and Goya tinned mackerel on the shelves?

Maybe it was the blackboards, chalked
with the names of spring beers.

Cartoon stars soaring and twirling.
The little boy, jumping with glee.



This poem wasn't written to any particular prompt. Instead it arose out of an afternoon's errands in Pittsfield.


Daily April poem: a trio of tankas



He watches Dora,
Talks back to the screen with glee
Calls her his new friend
Someday he'll know she's not real --
My heart will break a little.


The blanket sleeper
Adorned with smiling snowmen
Lies limp, discarded.
This house feels too quiet without
His three-year-old energy.


Careen down the slide
Clutching Bear beneath one arm.
Galoshes touch earth.
Someday you'll sail into air
And land in your own grown life.



This was written for the Day Eleven challenge at NaPoWriMo, which invited each of us to write a tanka. This is another syllabic form; the classic American tanka contains lines of 5 / 7 / 5/ 7 / 7 syllables, and often the last couplet takes the poem in a new direction or casts new light on the first part of the poem. I worked again with the recurring theme of parenting our three-year-old, and this is what emerged.



Daily April poem: what gets in the way


Whatever gets in the way of the work
might be the roasting pan from last night's chicken
aswirl now with suds and schmaltz.

Might be the yellow pansies nodding bravely
in the window box outside the coffee shop.
The bitter dregs of coffee in a big white cup.

It might be the half-remembered dream
of ice floes, furlined coat, the little bird
vibrating like a beating heart in my hand.

It might be the little boy on Thomas sheets
who's thrown every single stuffed animal out of bed
and is waiting for me to intuit that he's alone.

What gets in the way of the work is this cold wind
whipping past my leather jacket to kiss my neck.
The daffodil-bright sign at the VFW.

And I'm blessed to gather this armful of images
and stitch them together with blue thread, because
whatever gets in the way of the work is the work

and whatever gets in the way of this day
is this day that the Lord has made:
let us rejoice and write poems in it.




This daily April poem wasn't written to any particular prompt. I stared for a while at my empty text window, waiting for an idea, and what came to me was the mantra I learned from my teacher Jason Shinder, of blessed memory: "Whatever gets in the way of the work, is the work." (I've written about that many times before.) That's what gave rise to this poem.


Daily April poem: noir-inspired


A bright morning
on a hillside
that doesn't keep
a single secret.

The wind dances
the leafless trees
side to side.
They hum aloud.

The repeated thud:
a hapless robin
who doesn't know
to avoid windows.

Here and there
tiny green shoots
mark the spots
where crocuses begin.

An ant investigates
the venetian blinds.
Ladybugs stroll silently
along the sill.

Spring's the dame
who winks merrily
short skirt fluttering
over long legs.

And we, punchdrunk
on her proximity
fall over ourselves
to invite her in.



Tuesday's prompt at NaPoWriMo invited us to write poems inspired by noir. I narrowly resisted the urge to attempt something about Veronica Mars, and instead wound up with a short poem about the leggy lady who's got everyone's heart aflutter around these parts. The opening stanza is a riff off of Garrison Keilor's Guy Noir bit on Prairie Home Companion.