Thursday, March 20, 2008

Purim and Women

Spring comes a day earlier in a Leap Year, even though the weather in upstate New York isn’t playing along so far.

Thought: one form of poesis not usually recognized as such is the development of holidays and rituals based on sacred writings. In the Judaic calendar for this year today (beginning at sunset) is Purim, a holiday constructed around the narrative told in the book of Esther. It’s the most playful of the Jewish holidays, but it has serious content, specifically, around the intrinsic power of women. Without political or military power, without unusual physical strength, Esther nevertheless saves her captive nation from destruction. The story reminds us that women have always had, even when deprived of institutional or civic appointments, an uncanny ability to sway opinion and shape events. It is a power based on moral intelligence, access to emotion, the ability conferred thereby to inspire emotion in others, and a keen gift for communication. Which helps explain women’s success in literary art. Also, a flair for sensory (and sensuous) experience. And let’s not forget beauty, of a variety and range that would include the appeal of stars like Rita Moreno, Cate Blanchett, or Selma Hayek as well as figures from the arts like Judith Jamison, Grace Paley, Louise Erdrich, Francine Prose, and Marie Ponsot.

Speaking of the brilliant poet Marie Ponsot, now in her eighties and soon to publish a new book, she will be introducing a reading I will be giving on March 27 at the Stella Adler Studio (31 West 27th Street, New York, at 6:30 or shortly thereafter). My fellow reader is Ravi Shankar, whom I’ve known since he was a student in the Graduate Writing Program at Columbia. He has published one book of poems, Instrumentality, and has edited an anthology of Asian poetry in translation, scheduled with Norton for next month. Also, he is an editor of the online magazine Drunken Boat, mentioned in yesterday’s entry.

To finish up, here’s a plug for a new collection of essays titled Poet’s Bookshelf II, edited by Peter Davis and Tom Koontz. It’s a follow-up to the earlier volume I, and the premise for both installments is that a wide range of poets should provide a list of books that shaped their writing. Pieces like those by Sandra Alcosser, Rane Arroyo, Dan Bourne, Forrest Gander, Sandra Gilbert, Grace Schulman, and Lloyd Schwartz more than justify the price of admission, sometimes leading you to books you might want to read, and at the very least giving a sense of who the essayist is.

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