April may have been “the cruelest month breeding/lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/memory and desire, stirring/dull roots with spring rain,” according to T.S. Eliot in his opus “The Wasteland.” But poets and literary arts organizations have reclaimed the month of April as a time to celebrate the beauty and wonder of poetry. The Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) has eagerly jumped on that bandwagon by sharing a poem with Greater Boston from Yehuda Amichai, the closest figure Israel has had to a national poet. The New Yorker has praised Amichai, who died in 2000, as a “secular psalmist.” JArts is displaying Amichai’s poem “Poem Without an End” in posters placed in that most public and egalitarian of places: MBTA trains (Red and Green Lines).
Joey Baron, JArts artistic director, spoke to JewishBoston last month about his organization’s initiative to commemorate Passover and its related theme of freedom throughout Boston. Baron explained: “April as poetry month is the second generation of ‘Pathways to Freedom’ [JArts’ public art installation last spring]. Over 25,000 people saw the installation on the Boston Common last year.”
Baron said JArts is committed to presenting a major project related to the Passover holiday on even years and noted: “There is something rooted in the holiday of Passover that has a story of universal acceptance. The Exodus story fits the bill. We’re aiming to have a conversation about freedom every spring.”
Since this is an off year, Baron said JArts wanted to initiate a conversation about freedom through poetry. And what better time to do that than with a distinctly Jewish poem presented in April for National Poetry Month.
The poem is as follows:
“Poem Without an End”
Inside the brand-new museum
there’s an old synagogue.
Inside the synagogue
Inside my heart
Inside the museum
inside my heart
My reading of the poem understands the speaker as bringing together the worlds of ancient and modern Israel. The old synagogue is housed inside a “brand-new museum,” which suggests Israel’s notion of its freedom is deeply attached to the past. Perhaps the new museum is Yad Vashem, which presents not only an unprecedented rupture in modern Jewish history, but also the fragile notion of faith Amichai is exploring. The poet rests inside the synagogue and the museum, as they both signify two distinct aspects of Israeli culture. It’s a maze from which there is no clear exit or end.
“The whole premise is that this is a conversation on social media,” said Baron. “We want people to look for it on the T and take a picture of themselves with the poem, using the hashtag #JArtsLiberty. The more people who tag it and visit the site, the more interesting the conversation. The poem is asking all of us to think about it. It’s more rewarding to attempt a close reading of a poem than to read an advertisement.”
Baron and his team are ready for various reactions to Amichai’s cryptic poem. After all, the work is by an Israeli poet and features the catchword “synagogue.” There’s also a curriculum guide for teachers and librarians to utilize with students.
“We have a thought-provoking poem with a Jewish theme,” said Baron. “We’re putting out good vibes of Jewish culture. That’s our job and our mission.”