Poets of Babel is metamorphosing into a larger, less familiar creature. It started in my home with only two rules: (1) Read in any language as long as there was someone who understood (bring a friend!) and (2) Everyone participates.
I had to break rule number one very early on. Sometimes there was only one person who spoke the language to be read in, like the time we had a Danish poem about a taxi driver which was quite the experience! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it based on a silly rule.
I also learned rather quickly that I did not know as many poets as I thought did. In order to preserve rule number two, I had to loosen my hold on how I believed that should look (as in sharing original works only). Then, many friends started coming reading poems that were not their own, but that touched them, sometimes famous poems, sometimes obscure ones, sometimes a poem written by their family or friends, or a poem from books that were gifts, or books that were borrowed. It brought about even more of a cultural exchange and interesting conversations than I had imagined even though sometimes I was the ‘only poet’ there. Even the Mr., who is ‘not that into poetry’ and had assured me that if he hadn’t enjoyed Poets of Babel, he ‘would have found somewhere else to be,’ had a fancy for reading Baudelaire poems translated into Russian.
“So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be
continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”
~“Be Drunk,” Charles Baudelaire
Then I started adding activities that I mostly made-up a few hours before. The non-poets became poets after ‘bobbing for dadaist poems’ in our October meeting,
completing ‘beginnings and endings’ in our January meeting, sending ‘mishloach Valentines’ in February,or going ‘egg poem hunting’ in March.
I’d never conceived of this idea before taking ModPo, the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry course offered by Coursera which exposed me to “To Make a Dadaist Poem” by Tristan Tzara and Bernadette Mayer’s Writing Experiments.
Now all that is about to change. Poets of Babel is going to celebrate it’s 1 Year Anniversary at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. They liked the idea so much, they want to pilot it as a continuous event! The essence will be the same, poetry and languages, but it will be an entirely different energy. It’s a night with a poetic film (“Howl” based on the poem by Allen Ginsberg this time), poetry readings in different languages (this time we will have poems in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian,German and a trilingual poem!), and a spoken word open mic with a jazzy improv accompanyment.
I’m excited! …and concerned, full of hope and full of wonder. What will happen to the spirit of the event that I had created and enjoyed in my home where I welcomed strangers with Antoine Cassar’s Merħba, a poem of hospitality? I cannot read:
“our house is small
yet as big as a world”
at the Cinematheque and really mean it, or
“Welcome to my home, to your home, to our home,
to a home spinning in light,
in dark, in shade,
welcome to a world spinning in the light
which spins in the dark of the blood”
with the fullness of heart that I did in my living room amongst the faces of friends who were and friends who will be circling around me. I fear the intimacy will be gone…and yet. And yet I am reminded of the untitled poem that spawned from the ‘egg poetry hunt’ activity we did two months ago:
Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone
Death, home, Daddy, love, friendship, the masses
they are all inside of us
the music, the wars, the oceans we’ve been in
they are here
the people we haven’t seen in months
the people we have yet to meet
the games you can eat
the hidden things
they are our rebirth
They are here. The poets who shared with me. The non-poets who became writers in my living room if only for a few moments. The poems we light-heartedly created together. The love that eminated from Merħba each time I read it and as time went on, when we read it together, each chimming in to read a language known. And I have no idea what new hidden things await in this new life for a group that started as a conversation in Tel Aviv, in January 2012.
I will take it all with me whereever Poets of Babel goes, into each reincarnation.
I do hope it goes far.